Finding purpose … in a nutshell

I think I already shared with you that I changed careers and jobs way too often. What I didn't understood until later was that the thing that drove me to change was a lack of purpose. I always hoped I find purpose in the next job, but I never did. "Follow your purpose" did not work for me. It was a chase that never ended.

This is why one of the first things we talk about in the Life Design course is purpose and how it can be understood and achieved. Below is one inspiration and two prompts that can help you cut to the chase when it comes to purpose(s).

To find purpose, we have to know what it is. Strangely enough, most people who tell you “follow your purpose” have a hard time telling you what exactly they mean by purpose. Here, I found the work of Prof. William Damon (Stanford University), really helpful. According to him “purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.” This follows that in order to find your purpose, you need to know three things.

If you want to know what is purposeful to you –  and yes, you can have more than one source of purpose – you can ask yourself two questions based on Damon’s definition of purpose:The first question concerns the world beyond yourself. Here you can ask: Which causes, conversations, groups, or individuals matter to me? Be careful not to make this too general, otherwise it is hard to find a way to contribute. In my case, I wanted to support people in becoming who they want to be next. The problem with that group is that it is way too broad. So if you end up with something like that e.g. “people who are treated unfairly” you will have to make it more specific. Otherwise, you won’t be able to accomplish something consequential to them. In my case, I went on to identify career changers who seek purpose and fulfillment.

The second question concerns what you want to accomplish for them. How would you like to contribute to the people or groups you identified? And while Damone does not specify how you could contribute, I would like to add that the best contribution you can make is one you enjoy. This does not mean you have to be the best at it. It simply means that what you do in service of this group is something you enjoy doing and that it energizes you. An example here is a course participant who wanted to contribute to animal protection using her writing skills. This resulted in her specializing in professional editing and proofreading of animal protection-related texts and supporting a local shelter by contributing to their email newsletter.

One limit of conceptualizing a purpose in your head is that you never know if it is true. To know if it is true or not, you have to experience what you wrote. One way to do this fast is to ask yourself a third question: “How can I experience supporting GROUP with AThingYouEnjoyDoing in a simple way?” Answering this question can help you increase the chance of experiencing purpose:

“I can experience purpose by empathically listening to a family member in distress for an hour.”

“I can experience purpose in writing a newsletter that focuses on supporting career changers in finding purpose.” 

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