Transcend Your Job Description: A Fun Way to Give Yourself Purpose at Work

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By Jesse Sostrin

Today's hypercompetitive job market – which leaves most of us looking over our shoulders, wondering whether someone younger, smarter and more talented is right behind us – marks the age of uncertainty.

The best response to uncertainty is clarity of purpose and decisive action. To achieve these, you need to look beyond your job description and discover ways to add value to the team and organization.

A well-crafted purpose profile can be a source of inspiration, guidance and discipline for you to stay focused on what matters most at work.

Ask yourself, "What would my team be missing if I left now and never came back to work?" If you can't realistically answer that question in a way that reflects a substantial void, you should work to refine your purpose on the job.

Comprised of three distinct elements – vital role, value-added contributions and hidden challenges – your purpose profile is your unique signature at work. It isn't a canned assessment or a personality type. There are no shortcuts to figuring it out on your own.

To help you fine-tune your work purpose, consider the following sample purpose profiles that include descriptions of roles, contributions and barriers to watch out for:

The catalyst


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"I make things happen when nobody else can."

Catalysts are the sparks that make things happen. They think in innovative ways, and their actions ignite progress when pressure and resistance build. Whether it's a subtle insight or a grand plan, catalysts have respect and use it to push ideas forward.

On the negative side, bright, shiny objects can distract them from priorities, and their impatience with structure can slow catalysts down. At times, they fail to ask enough of the right questions to identify important considerations.

The lookout


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"I make the critical observations, insight and connections that keep us out of trouble."

Lookouts are watchful of liabilities that can derail the show. They're compliance-minded and often ask hard questions that create a helpful pause for necessary consideration. They see details that others don't, which enables them to make connections between opportunities and risks.

Lookouts can get tunnel vision and fixate on potential risks that are actually acceptable to take. This can create pessimism and resistance that prevents progress.

The forager


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"I connect people, ideas and resources in surprising, innovative ways."

Foragers are resource magnets. They understand people and can spot talent when they see it. They're clever and creative at identifying multiple options for achieving one goal. They're efficient, innovative and industrious when it comes to stretching resources. This makes them versatile, productive and essential on any team.

Foragers can sometimes wander off and follow unnecessary leads that distract from urgent priorities. Their unpredictable nature can cause others to resist relying on them.

The storyteller


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"I help people to understand and believe in something bigger than themselves."

Storytellers can get people on the same page by describing current scenarios and possible futures in ways that help people assimilate complex ideas. With powerful images, they translate the landscape around them to encourage belief in what's possible. The connections between people and the ideas they communicate present a vision and a path forward that makes new initiatives more likely to succeed.

But storytellers can get captured by the drama and intrigue of their vision, which causes them to drift and overreach.

Regardless of your title, tenure or slot on the organization chart, you're the single greatest influence that shapes the quality and character of your working life. If you're proactive, you gain tremendous power to shift things if you're unhappy with your job, the quality of your work or the prospect of what lies ahead.

The initiative-taking process that will clarify the elements in your purpose profile, and ultimately give you the momentum to reach your potential, is as simple as asking three key questions at the start of each day:

1. What vital purpose can I play during meetings and conversations with colleagues?
2. What value-added contributions can I deliver during my key interactions?
3. What challenges could surface and interfere with my best work, and how can I get in front of them?

As you begin to see patterns and themes, you'll recognize the attitudes, skills and abilities you bring to the table in support of your purpose and value-added contributions. And you'll get better at anticipating challenges and going beyond your job description to solve them.

Jesse Sostrin is the author of Beyond the Job Description. He writes, speaks and consults at the intersection of individual and organizational success. Follow him @jessesostrin and visit his site here.
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