The Secret Weapon Against Burnout Could Depend On Finding Your ‘Placeholder Purpose,’ Resilience Expert Says. Here’s How

Fortune Well December 31, 2023


The Secret Weapon Against Burnout Could Depend On Finding Your ‘Placeholder Purpose,’ Resilience Expert Says. Here’s How

Many workplace experts will tell you that finding your purpose is an effective way to reverse the effects of burnout. Knowing that today’s work will propel you one step closer to where you hope to be 30 years from now may put a little pep in your step. But what if you don’t know the long game for your life (yet)? 

If writing a purpose statement for who you hope to be decades from now sounds daunting, Dr. Amit Sood, one of the world’s leading experts on resilience and well-being, recommends choosing a “placeholder purpose.”

“Purpose is not something that you invent. It’s something that you discover. You already have it. It’s just a matter of you searching for it,” says Sood. On your journey of unearthing what’s important to you, it’s okay to dabble in different purposes. “I like to ask people, what is your story? What are you passionate about? What do you really care about?” he says. 

Maybe you feel called to protect the environment or advocate for reproductive rights; maybe you want to fight for education reform or gun control. Whatever it may be, Sood recommends considering this your “placeholder purpose” or your GPS for the next stage of your life. 

“With this purpose in place, your energy levels go up, your mood improves, and—because your GPS is now a little bit more aligned with where you want to go—that small thing may lead to a bigger connection and a bigger connection with your purpose,” he says. Research even shows that those with a purpose tend to live longer, have stronger immune systems, and sleep more soundly. 

As you think about your “placeholder purpose,” remember that it doesn’t have to be forever. All you’re doing is pledging that right now, you will contribute at least some of your energy to volunteering, donating, or practicing advocacy in the space of your choosing. “Purpose plays out over a long period of time,” says Sood. “Your purpose is not to become a senior VP or CEO or whatever. Purpose is how you have changed the world in a small way or a big way. It’s what you want to look at one day and say, ‘This is my body of work.’”

A few prompts to help you discover your placeholder purpose: 

1. What sociopolitical issue do I feel passionate about? 

2. If you could change one thing about the world right now, what would it be? 

3. When was the last time you helped someone? What was the outcome, and how did it make you feel? 

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