What is Your Mission?
During my six decades on this planet, one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I need a sense of purpose and contribution; without these intertwined forces I feel adrift.
During my three decades with the Government of Canada, which started in 1982, I was happiest and felt the most full-filled when I knew that my work had substance, contributing to my organization’s mission. When I moved later into a management position, I felt even more energized when, after falling down a few times, I saw my team doing amazing stuff. Our clients loved our products and services.
My previous work in consumer lending, which began after university, lasted only two years. Realizing that finance companies were essentially ripping off people left me feeling dirty and confused. Plus, having to spend half my time collecting money, often from single moms whose deadbeat husbands had taken off, proved to be an exercise in observing human despair. I finally quit, all the while with a new baby girl, and went back to school to earn a Masters degree in economics. It was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.
However, my public service career was not all roses. After almost two decades working in a small regional office, which served a region of almost 2,000 employees and where my team and I interacted regularly with the education system, companies and our provincial government colleagues, I moved to Ottawa in 2000.
Ottawa, Canada’s gorgeous capital, is a terrific place in which to raise a family, or to live if you’re unattached. But working in a federal government head office is an experience that leaves one feeling disconnected from reality, lacking any concrete sense of purpose and contribution.
I hit the eject button at the end of 2010, no longer wanting to be part of a dysfunctional culture. That culture has continued to deteriorate under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canada’s once internationally respected public service has become a sad spectacle, characterized by high levels of employee stress, lack of trust and respect, and political gamesmanship by the Harper government.
It’s about purpose and contribution in our lives. Work is but only one avenue where we may, if we’re lucky, attain it. I did okay for some 20 years in government.
Fortunately, I’ve always managed to maintain a strong sense of overall purpose and contribution in my life. Whether it’s been raising four terrific kids to adulthood and watching five grand children arrive; or volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross, the United Way or Scouts Canada; or returning to start playing the piano again after a 32 year absence, it’s about discovering what drives you forward and what makes you feel that you’re contributing to society.
For the past six years I’ve been blogging actively on leadership issues. I started blogging on a whim before I retired. I wanted to start something new, and because I’ve been writing professionally for 35 years I thought that blogging would be a good creative outlet to express myself. I never thought I’d stay with it this long, or create a readership from over 160 countries on six continents. That has been both inspiring and humbling.
So folks, find your mission in life. As a former undergrad classmate, Randy, said at the end of his valedictorian address on contribution to society at my graduation in 1978, “Leave a mark.”
Think of the power those three words reflect, especially if each of us truly attempted to find one way to make our world a better place.
We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.
– Max DePree
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