28 Aug Questions, Doubt, And Purpose
Every day we are faced with decisions to make, problems to solve, and questions to resolve. Some of these decisions may be easy; a decision about whether to brush our teeth. Some of these decisions may be difficult; a decision about how to handle a conflict with a friend. Questions come to mind and sometimes doubt about our own ability to handle or resolve situations.
I remember a moment in my career where I had reached a significant milestone; I had become an expert in the area of sales and use tax. From the point of view of an outside observer, it would have been easy to assume that I was filled with pride or even happiness over this achievement. I had become a respected voice in my profession. Tax professionals wanted me to give talks on my experience and peers respected my point of view on sales and use tax matters. Yet, I felt like something was missing and I had doubts about my future and career.
As I learned more about tax, I learned more about what I didn’t know. I felt inadequate at times. I sometimes felt like I made more mistakes than ever before. I even approached a family member and talked about leaving tax and getting into an entirely different professional altogether. I had doubts about myself and my future. What difference was I making? What was the point of it all? Was this it? Was this what life was about? Becoming a tax expert? Is that it? Is this the best it gets as a professional? Is there more?
I spent several years working with these questions in the back of my mind. I would find ways to stay focused on work and put aside my self-doubts and questions, but they were always there.
Years later I worked closely with an experienced executive. He commented on my success and admired what I had achieved professionally. I opened up to him and shared my questions and doubts. He smiled and simply asked a few questions:
“What is the purpose of your company?”
“What is your purpose?”
I struggled to answer questions that, in my mind, should have been easy to answer. I honestly didn’t know. I sat there for a long while. I had worked for 20 years and couldn’t tell someone what my company’s purpose was? How embarrassing… I started to think about things that had nothing to do with work. I want to be a good dad. I want to be a good friend. I want things to be better, not worse. I then turned to work… I want to be a good leader. I know I want to be good at things. I think I told him that I want to be good at things. He said “Good, but why? What motivates you? What inspires you?”
That was easier for me to answer. I remembered an email from a professional on my team – an email they sent while on a vacation with their family. They told me this was the first time in their career where they were able to be with family and not be worried about work. I remembered another email from another professional on my team who recently bought a new truck. They were so excited. I remembered the moments when my daughters would laugh so hard they nearly cried.
I then remembered an email from a senior tax professional who had worked for 40 years in tax. She was about to retire and before she left, she made the time to send us an email. Her email said “thank you” in the subject line. She went on to explain that in the past 2 years of using TTR, she, for the first time in 40 years, felt confident that she understood sales and use tax. It had always been a bit confusing for her, but the past 2 years were not. She wanted to say thank you for making the end of her career a good one.
There were many more memories like these that flooded through my mind. Memories of people I’ve known who shared moments like these. Moments where their lives were improved somehow, where they were filled with happiness over what they had achieved or were able to enjoy.
That was it. That was my light at the end of the tunnel. That was my way out of the years of doubt and questions for me.
I love seeing people do well and if I can be some small part of that, then it is all worth it to me. I knew that the thing that motivated me and got me through tough times was seeing people’s lives improved. My purpose was to improve people’s lives. The more I looked at this idea, the more I talked with other executives and professionals, the more realized that I’m not alone. Nearly all of us love helping others. Nearly all of us genuinely want others to do well. Nearly all of us feel good when we know we made a positive impact in another’s life. Heck, even if improving lives isn’t a stated purpose of all organizations, most end up accomplishing this purpose. Companies all over, professionals all over; they improve the lives of those they serve. Educators, consultants, public servants, cell phones, movies, programmers, doctors, restaurants, stores, electricity, roads, food, parks, tax professionals, and more… Our lives are improved because of all that we all do for one another and the goods and services we make available.
Purpose: the reason why something is done or why it exists.
I think I stumbled on a purpose that many of us share: the purpose to improve people’s lives.
It’s why I wake up early every morning and never mind working late at night. Even if this were the end of the story and only a single person’s life was improved, I believe it would all be worth it.
Good news is that it isn’t the end of the story, it is just the beginning. Go improve lives today and know that you are!