Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life is a #1 New York Times bestseller and has sold over 35 million copies. It is considered one of the bestselling nonfiction books in history. Whether you are a Christian or not, the information presented in this book is solid and full of insight and wisdom. I wanted to review some of the concepts that I thought were relevant to career discovery to help you on your journey of figuring out your next steps. I’ve done my best to make the information presented in the book to apply to people of all faiths or no faith at all, but the book is indeed written from a Christian perspective. Warren is a Pastor of a large church in California.

Love is Our Greatest Purpose

This is a biggie. We need to get that love is our primary purpose. When we are trying to figure out our career, it is easy to think that our lives are all about our work, money, social standing, etc. But step back for a minute and consider the bigger picture. According to Warren, you are here to love: to love the one that created you and to love others.

While this may not seem directly connected to finding out our life’s work, I think it is a very comforting thought. This concept takes a bit of the pressure off and re-orients us to a deeper truth. Yes, careers are important but there are other things in life which are more important. We need to have that foundation first and build from there. This sets our life on something lasting and true.

Learning to Love Others

Warren discussed how we need to live with others peacefully and be mature enough to love, or at least handle, difficult people. How do we do this? We focus on the things we have in common and we try to encourage one another and avoid criticizing. This is how we grow in virtue. I can’t think of a career out there that doesn’t deal with others either in the form of customers or co-workers. Having this framework of making peace with others is a great idea.

Though dealing with others can be incredibly challenging, Warren suggests we start by working on our thoughts. Don’t allow the negative thoughts about others to fester. Try to imagine how the most loving person you can imagine would think – and think like them. Notice the negative thoughts and let them go to your higher power – whatever form that takes. And be patient! This will take some time.

What is Your SHAPE?

Warren discusses finding our SHAPE so we can best know how to love and serve others in the work we do. Every physical object has a certain shape that relates to its purpose. A cup has a shape that holds water, a couch has a shape that allows our bodies to rest. The form follows the function. You too have a shape. SHAPE is an acronym that stands for:

S – Spiritual Gifts. What were you created to do? What are the special talents you possess that help those around you? Why were you created the way you were and what unique gifts do you bring to the world?

H – Heart. What are your desires, dreams, and interests? People usually are good at the things they are passionate about. What are you enthusiastic about? What activities do you engage in out of pure enjoyment? Warren tells us when we don’t have heart for what we are doing we are easily discouraged.

A- Abilities. What skills do you naturally possess? Think about what you are good at and what comes easily to you. Are you a great organizer and planner or are you good with numbers? You may also spend some time thinking about what you are not good at.

P- Personality. We all have aspects of ourselves that deal with how we interact with others (introversion or extroversion), how we orient to the world (orderly or spontaneous), how we learn (by intuition or through our 5 senses), how we make decisions (with our feelings or with our head). Our personality will tell us a lot about how and where we will use our gifts – what industry we may be drawn to and what types of work activities.

E- Experiences. This doesn’t just include our career background but also includes what types of events we have lived through in our lives. Each one of us comes from a certain family, culture, and has had experienced joys and pains. What experiences have you had that have shaped you?

Translating Your SHAPE into a Career

Warren encourages readers to make a careful examination of who they are. He pulls this all together in one of my favorite quotes from this book,

“You will be most effective when you use your spiritual gifts and abilities in the area of your heart’s desire and in a way that best expresses your personality and experiences.”

The book suggests you go through several exercises:

  1. Assess your gifts. Make a list and ask yourself where have you had positive feedback regarding your gifts. Have other people told you that you are especially good at something? Where have you been successful? Can you think of ways to experiment with different areas of service or offering your gifts? Volunteering can be a great way to start discovering and experimenting with your gifts.
  1. Examine Your Experiences and Lessons You’ve Learned. Warren suggests you take a weekend and do a life review. Think about all you have learned. Recognize your limits. Concentrate on figuring out what you do best and when you are at your best.
  2. Think of Yourself as Someone Who Serves. This can be life-changing. I have heard people in 12-step programs say things like, “focus on being useful”. It is so powerful to get out of the ego and shift into seeing yourself as someone who makes things better for those around them. Warren says to do all things with all your heart and keep a low profile.

Pull It All Together

Thinking about your SHAPE and going through the exercises suggested will certainly bring to mind a few options for potential careers. Talk to a Career Coach who is experienced in pulling this information together. You may also want to pick up a copy of the book.