Practice…People...Purpose...The Meaning Behind What We Do!



“What do you do?” A seemingly innocuous question we ask and are all asked so many times in our adult lives.  At a party, on an airplane, when meeting someone for the first time- it’s the “icebreaker” that helps understand, or perhaps even define each other.  But what’s struck me through the years- particularly since I’ve retired from the military- is what I reveal to and about myself in the answering. 

I’ve written about the challenges of that transition from the world of “We Will to At Will”- departing military service and starting the “what’s next?” as something other than a soldier.  The “what do you do?” question- was, at least on the surface level, easy.   I was a soldier- and while explaining exactly what that meant was an entirely different challenge- it was fairly easy to answer because what mattered to me wasn’t whether the person asking fully understood, but rather how I myself believed in what I was doing.  

Practice, People and Purpose- These three things define much of what we do- in both our personal and professional lives.  And, not unlike a lot of rules of 3 we certainly don’t always have the best of all at all times.  The practice of what we do- whether it’s as a soldier, doctor, teacher, accountant, whatever it may be- it’s your trade, your profession.  The people we do it with, your co-workers, those who work for you, your clients, customers, and yes- your boss.  All of these people factors are so influential in how we get fulfillment out of what we do, and for those with families they too play a huge role in both our willingness and ability to truly commit to our careers.  Finally, ours’ and our organization’s purpose give meaning behind what we do.  How we believe in that mission determines our willingness to make sacrifices to achieve that purpose.   What I’ve learned is that even in the most rewarding of careers very few people- including me- are completely content in all three- all the time. 

Take the P3 Test- We have to be both willing and able to really take a look at ourselves:  “Am I good- and do I enjoy the practice of what I do?”…”Do I get reward out working with and for the people I do it with?”   And..”Do I believe in the purpose (mission) of what I am doing?”  If the answer is no to one of these then you have to prioritize the others.  If the answer is no to two of these then you have to really consider the how of recapturing some of that reward.  And, if the answer is no to all of them, well, it’s only a matter of time before you become so disengaged that you will either feel compelled or be asked to part ways.  How to recapture each or any of these P3 factors is a whole topic in and of itself.  Having the wiliness to self-reflect and measure where you are is the first step. 

While deployed I justified the sacrifices my family endured by leaning heavily on that purpose, and the camaraderie I shared with people serving alongside me- civilians and service-members.  As I considered the transition from the military I, like many other veterans, realized that I could no longer prioritize that mission and the reward of that bond ahead of the people that mattered most- my family.  But, I also realized that I had to somehow recapture that purpose, and how I defined myself in the answering of that simple, yet revealing, question- “What do you do?” 



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