What people get wrong when searching for their purpose

Last Saturday I attended Wisdom 2.0 The Shift – Aligning with Life Purpose, led by Soren Gordhamer, the founder of Wisdom 2.0.

One of the questions that Soren asked us to reflect on was “What would it be like to be aligned with my purpose?” After the reflection, one woman raised her hand to ask a question.

“Did I miss something?” she asked. “You didn’t cover how to find my purpose. How am I supposed to imagine what it would be like to align with my purpose if I don’t know what it is?”

Her question highlighted the common mistake people make when searching for their purpose.

put-the-cart-before-the-horse

Most people think that they must identify their purpose first, and then they can envision what life will be like. It’s the same mistake people make when deciding what to do next in their careers. Most people trying to find more engaging work try to think of a job title to seek first, before they have articulated what it is that they want to experience in the job. They’re putting the horse before the cart. They aren’t focusing on the end goal.

Living your purpose or finding meaningful work is not the end goal, or in decision analysis terms, a fundamental objective. Rather, they are means for achieving an end. One of the ways to identify whether an objective is a fundamental objective or a means objective is to ask yourself why you want it. Then keep asking why.

For example, money is a means objective, because you can answer the question “Why do I want to make a lot of money?” with a different, underlying objective.

“Why do I want to make a lot of money?”

“Because I want to be able to have enough money to pay my bills and enjoy luxuries.”

“Why do I want enough money to do that?”

“Because I don’t want to stress out about being able to support my lifestyle.”

“Why do I want to avoid that stress?”

“Well, just because. Ultimately, I don’t like being stressed.”

When you can no longer ask “why”, you’ve hit your fundamental objective.

So let’s apply this to life purpose. Why do you want to live your purpose? Why do you want more meaningful work? As you keep asking yourself why, you’ll likely arrive at an answer like “So that I can feel a certain way in my everyday life.

How do you want to feel?

Envision what you want life to be like first, and then backwards map to the purpose or experiences that will help you feel that way. That’s why I teach professionals to think about what they want their work experience to look and feel like first, and then identify roles that will deliver on what they want.

What’s interesting about finding your purpose is that it isn’t really a search, a seeking out of something outside of yourself. You won’t find your purpose in your friends’ Facebook feeds, on Twitter, or even in articles like this one. It’s really about listening to what you already know and what you feel.

So, tune into yourself with this simple exercise.

Every day, over the course of a week, set aside time to write down the following observations:

1. When did you feel the most energized? What were you doing? Where were you? Who were you with?

2. When did you feel the most drained, or the least motivated to do something? What were you faced with doing at that point in the day? Where were you? Who were you with?

3. When did you feel contentment, satisfaction, or joy? What were you doing? Where were you? Who were you with?

After seven days of reflection, review your notes to look for patterns across those three questions. Once you’ve identified how it is you’d like to feel, you can begin to reflect on what experiences make you feel that way. The common threads in those experiences are where you’ll find your purpose.

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