On Purpose

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”
 — Thomas Merton

This period in time has been very difficult for all of us, as we try to manage a new daily schedule at home, manage the kids’ schedules, and deal with a lot of other distractions.  Those of you working from home for the first time might even find that you get done with your work by lunchtime because of the general lack of work to be done right now, and then you have nothing to do for the rest of the day.  Worse, some of you have felt the brunt of the pandemic economy in full force, and have lost your job or been temporarily laid off.  I know that you’ll be back on your feet very soon, but after the hurt feelings and maybe a quick bout of blowing off some steam comes an empty feeling.  “Wake up in the morning, check.  Now what?”

In addition to relying on our job for money, we rely on it and on our routine of “going to work” for a sense of purpose.  When someone asks us about ourselves, we generally reply with what we do for work.  “Tell me about yourself!”… “I work in IT.”  Or “I’m in finance.”  Or “I coach baseball.”  But what about when that role goes away?  If our purpose isn’t our job, then what is it?

First off, I would submit that we have plenty of other roles in our lives that might also “spark joy”, borrowing from Marie Condo (remember her?)  We might not think as much about our roles as partners, parents, or friends, but putting more thought and effort into those relationships might be a great way to create a renewed sense of purpose in our lives.  When you wake up in the morning and you’re planning out your day, think about one of those roles and just one thing that you could do that day to develop your skill in that role.  A couple example items directly from my own list are being more patient with the kids (i.e. no blow-ups!) and actively listening to my wife and kids rather than just waiting for my turn to speak.

Another exercise that can help identify our purpose – what we are truly meant to do in this life – is to sit quietly with a journal or piece of paper and consider the following questions that will help draw out what you are passionate about, what your principles are, and then what your purpose might be.  This exercise is adapted from the Unbeatable Mind training program, which I encourage you to look into further for mental and emotional development if you find yourself with a little bit of time on your hands.

Passion:  What do you feel you are very good at?  What makes you super excited, and you could do it all day if you were “allowed”?
Mine are developing myself, reading, cooking, writing, nature/being outdoors, teaching people.

Principles:  What do you truly value in your life?  What do you stand for?  These could be words or phrases that really ring true for you.
Examples are Family, Serving Others, Taking on tough challenges.

Purpose:  Look at your answers for Passion and Principles.  Do they give you any insight into what you were born to do?  What would you differently in your life right now if money was no object?
I have boiled down my purpose in life, through several iterations of this exercise, to:  To be a leader in my local and virtual communities by developing myself to my greatest potential, and teaching and inspiring others to do the same.

Some people seem to know what their purpose in life is right away.  They’re happy in their job, and it feels like they’re not even going to work.  Awesome!  If you’re not one of the lucky ones, you might have to think about it for a while, iterate through the exercise above.  But once you feel like you’ve nailed down what YOUR PURPOSE truly is, that feeling of not knowing what to do with your free time goes away.  Work on your passion.  Focus on your principles.  Do one thing every day that advances you toward your purpose.

This is a crazy time right now.  But it’s also a time where many of us have a little bit more time on our hands to think.  Let’s take advantage and move toward our purpose – what we are meant to do.  Isn’t that the best use of our time?