In season one of the television show, The Office, one of the characters says to another, “It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than halfway up one you don’t.”
My undergraduate degree is in journalism. After graduation, I did not automatically get a print job with Newsweek or Sports Illustrated as I assumed, instead wrote a few stringer pieces for various publications for very little money. Then, I was offered a job as a fashion copywriter for a prosperous and well-known retailer in Salt Lake City. It was a prestigious job that paid well for someone so young. Some of my ads were even featured by a national advertising magazine. One day, the manager of the retail chain told me “You have a bright future with the company.” I was horrified. Writing fashion copy was kind of fun, but it had no meaning for me. It did not improve the quality of life for others, which was one of my aspirations. I quit. This was not a ‘ladder worth climbing’ for me. I went back to writing feature articles, for minor newspapers, for very little money. But I was happy.
Fast forward to an interview for a newspaper I did with a clinical psychologist who specialized in sport psychology, Bruce Ogilvie. He studied with Anna Freud, (Sigmund’s daughter). He traveled around the country working with professional athletes. The memory of him is still vivid. Brilliant, kind, charismatic, and he thought I’m make a good psychologist. That was all it took. I stuffed my Ford Thunderbird (so bulky it was dubbed the USS Kittyhawk by my friends) with all my cherished stuff, the TV set perched on the front seat anchored with a seat belt. I drove west to enroll in a sport psychology program in San Diego. I found my ladder.
Loving your work may sound like a luxury, but it is the cornerstone of a healthy life. There are many facets of well-being, and engagement at work is one. A longitudinal study of over 1500 people funded by the National Institute on Aging found that purpose in life reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s Dementia, incident disability, and death. It would not be an overstatement to say that finding your purpose life is paramount above all else to living a healthy life. If you’ve found your purpose, your energy and enthusiasm illuminate the space you inhabit.
If you are still searching for your purpose and meaningful work, then volunteer, explore your world and find out what makes you come alive. I can also highly recommend a book called The Purpose Linked Organization, by Alaina Love and Marc Cugnon. They are business consultants, but have written a book for all of us. They did exhaustive, original research and created 10 distinct passion archetypes. The book includes a fun personality inventory that identifies your top three archetypes. (I was also the psych consultant on the book.) Love and Cugnon have dedicated their lives to helping others discover their purpose.
Go find Your Ladder…