The idea of finding a career with 'purpose' is a lie and you should focus on finding tasks that you love, according to this influential researcher


It's often stated that in order to have satisfying life and career you need to find your true purpose or work in a role, or for a company that fulfills some sort of overarching mission. 

But as consultant, researcher, and author Marcus Buckingham explained to Insider, this idea is misplaced. 

While a sense of mission certainly has a positive impact on people's performance at work, fixating on purpose is "super distracting and makes people feel guilty," Buckingham said. He pointed to fields like nursing and teaching, where practitioners typically have a strong sense of mission, yet leave in huge numbers due to the day-to-day stresses. 

Instead, the secret to a satisfying career is to find the small parts of your job that bring you the most energy, and simply do more of them  — which is something most of us can learn to do, he said.

"The purpose of the job is far less important than the specific activities that fill your day," he said.

How to find the tasks that you love

As  Buckingham argues in his new book "Love and Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life", the most successful people have not figured out their calling. Instead, they've figured out the tasks, topics, and elements of a role that give them energy and therefore come most easily — and worked that into their role. Buckingham calls these "red threads."

Everyone's red threads will be different. But life usually gives us very clear signs as to what they will be, said Buckingham. 

They're the activities or tasks that trigger you into "flow'"— the mental state where a person is fully immersed in the activity they're doing. Tasks that don't leave you feeling drained or elements of your job that you find yourself instinctively volunteering for. 

For example, say you love spreadsheets. If you open up Excel and all of a sudden it's three hours later, it doesn't mean you're destined to be an accountant – you could do investing, economics, or any number of number-crunching roles.

"If you really, really believe in teaching, and yet the day-to-day activity of teaching breaks you down and there's no love in it for you. Then I don't care how much you care about teaching… you leave, you burn out," Buckingham said. 

Learning to love your job starts with believing that your red threads exist and that you work for an employer that will let you explore them. The second is to be intentional about looking for them, he said. 

"So rather than waking up and just thinking of the stuff you have to get done — wake up and start thinking intentionally," he said. "A lot of this is the power of your intention around what you're paying attention to."

Society doesn't encourage people to value the tasks that they enjoy

According to Buckingham, we only need to spend around 20% of our time at work doing tasks that bring us energy and meaning beyond our role in order to feel the results. This is a flip on what's often referred to as the Pareto, or 80/20 Principle

One problem Buckingham argues is that school and society don't encourage people to really think about what they truly love, instead they're forced to follow the same curriculum as everyone else, rather than explore the subjects that they naturally enjoy. 

If we could teach graduating classes to follow their red threads, we'd have happier workplaces and it would give people a much more "powerful way of going through life," Buckingham said. 

"When we do what we love it does have an impact on our job," Buckingham told Insider. "All the stuff we want in our lives, and all the stuff that our companies want — all of it is impossible without love."

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