Practise what you preach! How I found my purpose at work

Sven Dekker

by Sven Dekker

“Wouter, what is all this talk about ‘having purpose in your job’ about?! Well, I could give you tons of definitions. Or I just tell you my own personal story.”

A real eager beaver, that’s how I started out in my first job, just after graduation. Aim for the moon: start as a boardroom consultant, work for the big corps and get to the top ASAP. The reality was a bit… disappointing. Doing 80 hours a week in Excel, not having any real influence or impact. I wanted more. I studied International Relations to have a positive impact on society, hence I decided to move (a bit) more in that direction and started my management traineeship at energy company Nuon. I really liked working on ‘the good stuff’ such as sustainable energy projects. But my aim to get to the top fast was in my way of me enjoying this traineeship. Luckily I got a job that fulfilled most of my wishes: as project developer I worked on sustainable supply chains. I enjoyed being the entrepreneurial project manager building business across the globe, but again I wanted more. I also wanted to live abroad.

Within 3 months after this decision, I moved to Sweden. I started as Commercial Manager at an airline. I was good at it, got the best feedback I’d ever had, but I was not happy. The management-part I enjoyed, but the subject of the job was something I was not passionate about. I wanted to make a positive impact on the world, but working on the most polluting transport method created a big internal struggle. I was demotivated intrinsically, but still got  great reward because I did my job so well. It tore me apart and brought me on the edge of burn-out. We tried to find a way to make it work, but we just couldn’t figure it out.

I was stuck! Did I wanted the impossible? Shouldn’t I just be happy with what I’ve got? Settle for ‘less’…?

Personal circumstances caused me to move back to NL. Sometimes these events can cause you to focus even more on what’s really important to you. I started at Ecofys, working on sustainable transport. This job was just great. I’d score it with an 7 or 8. A score that many (including me) would find really acceptable. Could have done it for ages and just ‘stayed safe’.

And then one day, just when everything was kind of normal, I got a call to apply for Business Director at GoodUp. It sounded so good, all possible boxes were checked: social entrepreneurship, sustainability, positive impact, a challenging and responsible role, great colleagues and so on. But it also contained some sacrifices and insecurities, to work at a start-up. But I knew that this was it. Being able to act as an accelerator for companies in their journey to become purposed, empowering employees to do more good, enabling people to do what their best at. Could I do this? Could I ‘break up’ with a job that treated me so well?

I decided to go for it. Following up on my purpose was the best career decision I’ve made.

Many of you, including my friends, have warned me not to take this step. But I’m so happy I’m finally able to combine all the things I care about. I even have my daddy-day off, which might feel like a career-breaker to some, but I feel happier and have more impact and success than ever before.

So that’s my story about me finding my purpose at work. What’s your story? Want to brainstorm with me about finding your purpose at work? Or want to know how you can enable your employees to act on their purpose in their jobs? Schedule a coffee with this eager beaver (because that’s still me 😉), send me an email at wouter@goodup.com.