Personal development

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Stick to your purpose, not the plan

Are you able to concentrate on your day job, without distraction? If you’re anything like much of the population it’s been a while – and you’re starting to feel it.

A recent Gallup study of 7,500 workers has found that almost seven in 10 Millennials finds themselves burnt out at work constantly, frequently or sometimes. Many Millennials, remember, might be in their late 30s now.  They make up a large proportion of the workforce. Even in older generations, over 20% of people experience some level of burnout.


Why burnout?

There are plenty of stressors in today’s workplaces. We’re matrixed into more teams than ever before, so our relationships often don’t have time to grow before they’re put under pressure by deadlines or disagreements. More is asked of leaders than ever before; they’re expected to be inspiring coaches who lead with heart, while keeping an eye on productivity too. Many people are under severe time pressure – and while that’s to be expected for, say, paramedics, whose job is built around urgency – it doesn’t mean that their risk of burnout is any less, nor does it mean burnout should become expected or accepted.

In a workplace landscape where only 60% of people are clear about what’s expected of them, it’s no wonder so many of us end up burnt out, by working beyond the boundaries that our role profiles would suggest. Taken together, these seem like a bunch of reasons that make burnout seem likely. So how do we keep ourselves healthy, balanced and safe when our workplaces demand so much of us?


Think purpose, not plan

Nietzsche wrote,


He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

Purpose provides the ‘why’. It’s important to have a purpose you’re working towards, whether it’s getting that next promotion or eradicating child poverty from the world. If you feel you don’t have one already, then spending time considering what your purpose is, and what you’ll have to do to achieve it is a huge fillip for a satisfying work life. Once you have done that, if you stick to your purpose, no matter what it may be, two things can happen: you get to achieve a big life goal, and you manage to avoid burnout.

In support of your purpose, you’ll probably create a plan – but you should know that it’s likely to be knocked off course regularly by the exact same things that cause burnout: lack of role clarity, not having time to invest in the right relationships, or being a leader torn between getting your people strategy right or doubling down on productivity.

So, be prepared to ditch your plan if you find it isn’t serving you well. Hold fast to your purpose instead. When you do, your decision-making process will become that much simpler. Can I devote time to that volunteer opportunity? It supports my purpose, so yes. Can I squeeze this project timeline down, from six months to 4? Limiting the scope of the project would be contrary to my purpose, so no.

As author Jim Collins puts it,

The only truly reliable source of stability is a strong inner core and the willingness to change and adapt everything except that core.


Make your purpose the core of your life, and you’ll be less likely to be pulled in 1000 different directions –  because you’ve already set your own direction, and you’re making all the right moves.


Andy is Chief Executive Officer of Insights Group, where he guides us to fulfil the Insights purpose - to create a world where people truly understand themselves and others and are inspired to make a positive difference in everything they do.