When Career Success Isn’t Enough: The Search for Purpose

Picture of Amy Bracht

Amy Bracht

Coach | Change Agent | Dream Manager

‍As a successful career coach, I know firsthand the importance of career success to my clients.

The pursuit of career success is often what drives us to work hard, set goals, and achieve great things.

However, as I’ve observed clients over the years, there are limitations to career success.

While it can bring financial stability, recognition, and a sense of accomplishment, it does not necessarily provide us with a sense of purpose or fulfillment.

Often, it’s that sense of purpose that people are looking for when they reach a high level of career success, but it does not always follow. 

In this article, I will explore the search for purpose beyond career success, and how we can find meaning in our lives both within and outside of work.

The Importance of Career Success

There’s no denying that career success is important. It can bring financial stability, recognition, and the satisfaction of achieving your goals. For many of us, our careers are a major part of our identity and provide us with a sense of purpose. We spend a significant amount of time and energy building our careers, and this can lead to a great deal of personal fulfillment.

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t. More than one client has come to me saying “it all looks good on paper, but why do I feel like something is missing?”. Usually, that “missing” piece is a sense of purpose or fulfillment about WHY you are doing something, or how you are contributing to something bigger than yourself.

It’s important to remember that career success is not the be-all and end-all. It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of success and lose sight of what really matters. We can become so focused on climbing the corporate ladder that we forget to enjoy the journey and appreciate the people and experiences that make our lives meaningful.

Purposeful employees

The Limitations of Career Success

While career success can bring many benefits, it also has its limitations.

For one thing, success in your career does not necessarily lead to happiness or fulfillment. You may have achieved all of your professional goals, but still feel unfulfilled or unhappy in your personal life. Additionally, career success can be fleeting. You may lose your job, experience setbacks, or encounter unexpected challenges that derail your progress.

Another limitation of career success is that it can be isolating. When we’re focused on our careers, we may neglect our relationships with friends and family, or miss out on opportunities to pursue hobbies, travel, or other interests. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness, even if we’re achieving great things in our professional lives.

Most of my clients will say things like “I just want to be present to my kids when I’m home” or “I want to feel like I’m supposed to feel about how good things are going instead of feeling worried all the time.”  If you are feeling this way, it’s a good time to think about what you are doing and what it is providing for you in the way of meaning and fulfillment.

The Search for Purpose

So, if career success isn’t enough, what can we do to find greater meaning in our lives?

The answer lies in the search for purpose. Purpose is what gives our lives direction and meaning, and it can be found in a variety of ways. Some people find purpose through their work, while others find it outside of work, through relationships, creative pursuits, or volunteering.

It’s important to remember that not all of us need to find our meaning through our employment.

There is a notion that if you find what you love “you’ll never work a day in your life.”
This is a lofty goal for any job to meet! 

Instead of looking solely at your work for the meaning in your life, it is best to explore what is meaningful to you as a person, outside of the parameters of work. 

Then you can more clearly decide if making your career in that area is an option, or whether you can find fulfillment in other ways while treating your career as a means to support other activities.

Man jumping with joy by a lake

Discovering Your Values and Passions

The first step in finding purpose is to discover your values and passions.

What is important to you? What do you care about? What brings you joy and fulfillment?

Take some time to reflect on these questions, and write down your answers. This will help you identify areas of your life where you can find purpose and meaning.

My clients work through simple exercises in my values and priority workbook to assist in this process.  Once they have defined the values and priorities, it is much easier to align daily activities and make decisions to support them.

Finding Meaning Outside of Work

While some people find purpose through their careers, others find it outside of work.

This can take many forms, such as volunteering, pursuing a creative hobby, or spending time with loved ones.

The key is to find activities that align with your values and bring you fulfillment.

For example, if you value helping others, you may find purpose through volunteering at a local charity. If you enjoy writing, you may find purpose in starting a blog or writing a book.

Give yourself permission to dream during this process! 

As you evaluate what is meaningful to you, don’t box yourself in to what you’ve always known.  Instead, allow yourself to think without boundaries. 

One helpful way to do this is to make a list of 100 dreams. These don’t have to be dreams like “climb Mt. Everest”! Dreams can be as simple as “Take my kids somewhere for the weekend and not check on work.”

Balancing Career Success and Purpose

One of the challenges of finding purpose is balancing it with career success.

It’s easy to become so focused on achieving professional goals that we neglect the things that bring us joy and fulfillment outside of work.

However, it’s important to remember that a balanced life is a fulfilling life. By making time for the things that matter to us outside of work, we can achieve a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment in all areas of our lives.

Feeling Balanced - Balancing Exercises in Nature

Navigating a Career Change for Greater Purpose

If you’re feeling unfulfilled in your career, it may be time to consider a change.

This can be a daunting prospect, but it’s important to remember that a career change can lead to greater purpose and fulfillment.

Take some time to explore your interests and passions, and consider how you can incorporate them into your career. This may involve going back to school, networking with professionals in your desired field, or taking on a new role within your current company.

An important note: just because you may want to take on a new career journey does not necessarily mean a pay cut, or a downgraded title, or other equally “negative” outcomes. You might find yourself limiting your own desires based on those constraints. Avoid doing this!  I’ve seen more than one client make a change into a career aligned with their purpose and maintain (and in some cases, increase) salary and title levels.  

Success Stories of Individuals Who Found Purpose Beyond Career Success

There are many success stories of individuals who found purpose beyond career success.

For example, Oprah Winfrey has dedicated her life to helping others, through her talk show, philanthropy, and other endeavors.

J.K. Rowling found purpose in writing the Harry Potter series, which has inspired millions of people around the world.

These individuals found purpose by following their passions and values, and making a difference in the world.

You probably know people in your life who have also found purpose beyond their careers.
Take them for a coffee and ask them about the journey. You’ll find out more about how they successfully navigated that path and possibly some useful tactics you can also use.

Tools and Resources for Finding Purpose

There are many tools and resources available to help you find purpose in your life.

These include books, workshops, online courses, and coaching programs.

Some resources which clients have found helpful include the book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, the online course “Find Your Passion” by Marie Forleo, and the coaching program “Live Your Legend” by Scott Dinsmore.

Visit any local bookstore or online platform and you’ll be able to find multiple resources. 

See which one resonates with you and dig in!


In conclusion, while career success is important, it’s not enough to bring us true fulfillment and purpose in our lives.

The search for purpose is a lifelong journey, but it’s one that is well worth taking.

By discovering our values and passions, finding meaning outside of work, and balancing career success with purpose, we can achieve a greater sense of fulfillment and happiness in all areas of our lives.

So, take some time to reflect on what’s important to you, and start your own search for purpose today.

Want to know more about how I assist my clients on their journey to fulfillment? 

Book a free discovery call with me today!


As a career coach, clients often ask me about how to align their purpose with their career.

If you’re in need of this kind of support, please reach out to me for a complimentary consultation to explore working together.