Pondering Purpose

One goal of this week’s class exercise was to articulate our purpose, both in our lives and in our careers. The class discussion was supplemented by readings in “Guts!” and “Good to Great”. The focus in Guts was to identify a heroic cause. The current focus in Good to Great was the contrast between foxes and hedgehogs.

With these readings in mind, our goal was to formulate our own purpose statements for our lives and for our careers using the following format: The purpose of my life/career is to ——– so that ——–.

I crafted the purpose of my professional life at age 6 and while it has been refined over time it largely has not changed. The purpose of my career is to alleviate suffering from incurable diseases via biomedical research so that people will live longer, healthier lives. Does this fit the hedgehog criteria? Yes, I am excellent at this. Yes, economically it is currently feasible. Yes, I’m passionate about this.

Why then am I about to finish up my MBA? What is missing here? Is this chosen path too restrictive? Many in the class who critiqued my career purpose statement felt that it was far too narrow and limiting. We were also asked to jot down as rapidly as possible the purpose of our lives. This I found much more difficult. One of the criteria we were asked to include here, in addition to the heroic and hedgehog concepts, was to give something to the community with our life purpose, to have an outward positive focus. I have to confess that not all of my “off the top of my head” ideas met this criterion. As I worked through this, I found that my “purposes” fell into two major groups: discovery/personal development and improving the world. So my selfish purposes included: being excellent, learning, discovering/exploring genetic disease mechanisms or to say it more grandly unlocking the mysteries of human health and disease. My more outward looking purposes included: making a difference, organizing and optimizing, promoting and supporting learning, adding to the knowledge pool, and promoting happiness/alleviating suffering.

So looking forward 5 years, if I shorten my purpose to “The purpose of my career is to alleviate suffering” what else opens up that is not currently possible? How else might I achieve this as the economics of my chosen path get less tenable (i.e. federal dollars for research dry up)?

2 comments on “Pondering Purpose
  1. Irene says:

    After reading your post this morning, it has been on my mind all day. I would have loved to been a part of that assignment… This was undoubteldy food for thought. I’ll get back to you on this one… I am, however, totally in awe that you knew exactly what your path was since age 6.
    I’m also a hedgehog…

  2. Cathy says:

    It’s an interesting class. When I signed up for it, I thought that it would help me with my job as interim director of my research institute by teaching me to become a better leader. While we are learning some interesting things about effective leadership, the major focus is inward on our own personal growth and development. In general I think that it’s a terrific opportunity, although for me it’s somewhat uncomfortable sharing these things with a room full of strangers. Of course blogging is similar! One reason I’m writing about this class is that I’m finding it very useful, so I hope that others may benefit from the exercises, in the privacy of their own homes.
    When I was 6, my mom was engaged to a man with 3 children. His oldest son, who was about 10 (?) at the time, died of cancer. I don’t think he ever got over his grief. He and my mother never married. I decided then that I would cure cancer when I grew up. While I did not end up working on cancer, I did stay fixed on a path to do biomedical research with the hope of one day curing disease.