My very first office job was at a small project management consulting firm in Atlanta, GA. The firm provided week-long in-person workshops to prepare project managers for the PMP certification exam. They had a team of 10 project managers who traveled across the country to deliver corporate training sessions, and I’d been hired as an Assistant/Receptionist.
The best thing about this job was the down time. I immediately took to project management. I didn’t have the experience to qualify for the PMP, so I read the PMBOK instead. I loved helping the PMs edit training materials and would sit in on classes when they were held locally. They were all great teachers, and I was a very eager student. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to “do with my life”, but I knew that I really dug project management. I will be forever grateful to those PMs for sharing their knowledge.
I began my next job at CARE USA as a temp, helping the HR department while an employee was on maternity leave. I’d read about the NGOs’ humanitarian efforts and wanted to be a part of the organization. Lucky for me, they were headquartered in Atlanta. I applied for the ONLY job I was qualified for at the time (Executive Assistant). I didn’t get it, but they offered the temp position which I accepted. I would remain there for 4 years, much attributed to my recently acquired project management skills.
You see, I was so eager to apply what I’d learned at the PM firm, that I would literally beg the leaders in our 30 person HR department to allow me to manage any HR projects that were taking place. Y’all, I still stagger at what they allowed me to manage in those days. CARE is a large, international organization, so I’m thankful they trusted a young whippersnapper in her early 20s.
Around this time, the company selected a new HRIS, and were about to kick off the implementation project. I (of course) volunteered to be on the team. I was in heaven! The consultant let me borrow her configuration manuals (physical spiralbound books, ~300 pages each). I read them all and offered to be her assistant. By the end of the implementation project, I was a product SME, responsible for delivering end-user training, eventually serving as the HRIS Specialist for the organization.
When we have a center compass that guides our career choices, we know why we do the things we do. We ponder our choices and decisions thoughtfully to ensure there is meaning behind them, and they align with our values. We understand there are things that are much more important than chasing just a bump in salary or the “prestige” of a company name.
If I hadn’t defined (for myself) what mattered to me in these early days, it’s unlikely I would have had the amazing career experiences that I’ve had.
Knowing my “why” back then fueled my performance and continues to do so today. In those early days, I wanted to absorb as much knowledge from the people around me, so that I could one day have the skills to do what they were doing. By volunteering, I was given the chance to serve on projects with people across the world from different backgrounds and experiences, all while having the ability to apply my newly acquired PM skills while also learning new ones. As I’ve gained more experience, knowledge, and grown up a bit, my “why” has evolved, but I continue to remain committed to ensuring that what I do is meaningful and aligns with my values.
Over the years, I’ve found the real power of purpose is that it helps us shape our careers around something meaningful. Our success is measured by the depth of impact, not just in milestones. You will not find purpose in your job title or where you sit on the org chart, but in the depth of your engagement with others, the richness of your contributions, and how you approach your own development.
Basically, it comes down to this.
You want to make an impact, find your purpose.