Joe DeGraaf January 13, 2022
As we begin to step back into the normalcy of a post-COVID world, one of the many things we are carrying with us is toxic productivity. There is a sense that we must be always moving, always efficient, always producing. It’s the same mentality that has fuelled Western culture for generations, only now it has come home to roost in our homes through remote work and virtual meetings.
Career professionals are beginning to see the creep of toxic productivity in their clients and students as growing numbers of individuals search for work that does more than offer a paycheck. By stepping back into offices and conference rooms, people are beginning to feel the drain that productivity for productivity’s sake can cause.
Toxic productivity is the vicious cycle of improving production in order to simply produce more. It lacks a sense of purpose and meaning, a way of fulfilling our individual needs. Toxic productivity is draining. It takes more than it gives and leads to inevitable burnout and frustration. This is especially noticeable in helping professions. Those who view their work as a demonstrable service to others often feel the pressure to do more for those they serve. It drives them to search out greater efficacy and efficiency in their work, only to find that their input will never reach the desired output. There is always more work to do.
Productivity on its own is good. It allows us to increase our impact on the world and to accomplish more of what we set out to do. However, it loses its way when we take our eyes off of the goal – our purpose for the work. Purpose provides us with a filter that sets aside toxic productivity in favour of more fulfilling, sustainable work.
What is a life purpose?
Life purpose is the goal and aim that we hold for our entire lives, a calling that we feel we must answer. If toxic productivity is the result of overspending in the areas of work, our purpose allows us to re-evaluate our lives and focus on what is really important. Purpose gives us clarity to know what is worth producing and where we can sustainably put our efforts.
A life purpose, or calling, is not simply what we feel interested in most or where we have the greatest passion. You may have a passion for archery but there are very few in the world who would align its pursuit with their purpose. Instead, purpose can be found at the intersection of your priorities and values, your strengths and passions, as well as the needs and visions you feel drawn to in the world.
“Toxic productivity is the vicious cycle of improving production in order to simply produce more.”
Research on calling and purpose has been evolving over the past decade to demonstrate that searching for and living out of your life purpose increases overall life satisfaction as well as commitment to your profession. Purpose serves these functions by creating a filter for what is important and meaningful, identifying a path forward that matches uniquely to the individual.
As career professionals, helping clients and students discover where these paths come together, along with work that will support their living, is a way of designing a purposefully productive approach to career services. It allows us to focus on what is not only interesting but also meaningful and fulfilling.
The filter of calling
Consider a quick analogy. You are an individual who has a limited amount of currency that represents the combination of all your time, resources and energy. Each day you get to choose how much to spend. You can underspend, spend it all or overspend, but you cannot carry any of today’s currency into tomorrow. If you overspend, you will go into debt for the following day unless you have spent it on something that will pay you back in the future as an investment.
Purpose allows you to determine what you spend your money on each day. It offers a filter of what will be the best use of each piece of time, resource and energy. But here is where we tend to limit ourselves. We only think about the current day and what it might mean for tomorrow, rather than for the next month, year or even lifetime.
Life purpose goes beyond our daily purposes. We all should focus on our daily goals and purposes, but aligning them with a deeper sense of calling can allow us to understand what is worth spending our valuable resources on. Purpose gives a deep sense of meaning to the work we do each day and allows us to examine what impact we can have over our lifetime. With the long-term view of purpose, we are more able to accept our limits and to pursue a path of sustainability, rather than indebted exhaustion.
Life purpose is the cure for toxic productivity for us all, including helping professionals. It allows for the understanding that we are limited in our capacity, but infinite in potential. We are able to dream of the future while grounding us in the reality of each day. It requires great thought and process, but leaves us more fulfilled and less depleted. It gives us a mindset built on long-term sustainability, rather than daily spending.
Career professionals get to work with their clients to go beyond a job or career and take a deeper look at purpose and calling. This begins with helping them to see just how their purpose can impact their life. After this foundation is built, they are able to search out and discover their calling.
There are a variety of ways to explore this, but here are a few questions to get you started.
- What are your non-negotiables, the things you can’t live without?
- What is your unique combination of strengths and passion, where you are great?
- What do you see in the world that draws you out, calls you to action or breaks your heart?
Joe DeGraaf is the Assistant Director of Life Calling at Indiana Wesleyan University and a certified Life and CliftonStrengths Coach. In his varied work, both at the university and in his private coaching practice, he works to help individuals and teams discover purpose, maximize strengths and take actionable steps toward their potential.