How Working With a Mission Can Lead to Career Fulfillment

Mission Possible: Working With a Strategic Purpose Can Mean Greater Job Satisfaction

(Image: Thinkstock)

What comes to mind when you hear about an interesting job opportunity? For most, the answer tends to include one of these three elements: better title, higher salary, more flexibility.

These are all great things to consider, but one critical consideration is missing: greater opportunity to fulfill your mission. Having a mission gives your work purpose, one that goes beyond the organization you serve. Working with this mission in mind will lead to true career satisfaction.

In order to explore the mission-driven career path, I spoke with Lydia Sermons, executive director of the African-American Experience Fund, a former television news producer and public relations executive who is now using skills gleaned from a successful 20-year media career to shine a spotlight on the National Park Service’s African-American focused sites. Here are three tips that Sermons shared regarding how she moved beyond simply working a job to fulfilling a mission:

Assemble your “kitchen cabinet” when planning your career. Many people have a personal board of directors with whom they discuss career aspirations, but Sermons believes that you also need a small group of people—two to four—who know you on a personal level and have a good understanding of where you are in your career. “Talk through your struggles, failures, successes and goals with this close cabinet,” Sermons says. “These are the people who will be able to pinpoint the not-so-obvious things that you need to consider as you navigate your career because they know you so well.” This group proved to be important to her as she considered taking her current position at the African-American Experience Fund.

Have a clear vision that connects to your mission. For Sermons, this came in two parts: understanding her career mission and having a vision for how each role connected to her larger mission. While she did not declare it to be her mission at the start of her career, there were clear moments when she could see that with each role she accepted she was ultimately completing work that supported the African-American community—including a stint with President Clinton’s “One America Initiative on Race.”

Ensure there is a connection between you and your role. Throughout her career, Sermons looked for ways to mix things up. She firmly believes that “if you can only do one thing in life, it limits your opportunities.” She kept an open mind as she considered career transitions, but once each position passed the vision/mission test, Sermons also looked for where she connected directly with the role in terms of her passions, interests and experience. If you cannot bring a unique part of yourself to a new role and see where it aligns with your mission, it may not be the best career option for you.

Ultimately, there will be times when you need to do a job to gain the experience and pay the bills, but if career satisfaction is what you’re after, you need to move past “work” and start fulfilling your mission.

James S. Walker (@jaywalk1 ) is a global digital manager on the Nature Conservancy’s international digital marketing team. Intrigued by how social and cultural insights connect people on a global level, Walker has completed long-term project assignments in China and Mongolia, and chronicles his thoughts on the industry via his blog, PR Prescriptions, and Website, Socially Diverse.