Steps for Pursuing Purpose

More Art than Science

If we were created for purpose, why do we struggle recognizing it?

Finding my purpose hasn’t been easy and I don’t think I’m completely there. Instead of knowing my purpose, I feel like I pursing it.

Many excellent resources are available both online and offline to help with purpose and values discovery. Some of the resources can be quite expensive, even offering retreat experiences. Other resources, such as blogs and online articles, are free. Coaches and gurus will help us as well.

Finding resources will only get us so far. Our environment plays a vital role as well. We can have the best resources, but being able to focus and limit distractions can make or break our ability to discern our purpose.

Here are some important steps which aid in our pursuit of purpose:

Find Time

We live in in a time compressed culture. Schedules burst at the seams with work, family, church, social gatherings, entertainment, and other activities. With so many opportunities given to us, saying no can be difficult.

When we don’t know our purpose, we say yes to too many activities, tasks, and appointments. An over-full schedule leaves no time for discovery. Not setting appropriate time inhibits uninterrupted time for thinking and reflection.

One challenge is finding time to step back from the busyness and get a broader view of life. We have to step aside, get off the merry-go-round, and set aside time to reflect and think. Our first purposeful exercise must be setting aside time.

Quiet the Noise

Blocks of uninterrupted time are essential because our minds are as full as our schedules. We are filled with so much noise, we have trouble listening. When we schedule large blocks of uninterrupted time, we are create space for thought, reflection, listening to our life, and discernment.

Voices, internal and external, swirl around us, telling us who we should be and what we should do. Our sense of purpose gets lost in the cacophony. With so many voices, we can’t hear the still small voice deep within us calling us to purpose.

Silencing our internal chatter brings clarity. We do not create silence, we enter into it. Entering into silence is simple, but not easy. Quieting internal noise is more difficult than quieting external noise. Our mind continues non-stop.

The only way to combat our inner voices is through focus. Once we notice that we have lost focus, we bring ourselves back to the task at hand; finding clarity about our purpose.

David Allen’s Six Horizons of Focus may be helpful in finding focus. We begin at the “runway” since runway issues are take most of our focus, and move through each level, ending with our ultimate question; Why are we here?

The Six Horizons of Focus

  • Runway: We are usually stuck on the runway. The “runway” is our current schedule and everything we have to get done. Feel free to write down anything that comes to mind while thinking at this level. One of David Allen’s principles is to get everything out of your head. Once runway projects are out of our head, their “chatter” stops bringing focus.
  • 10,000 Feet: The 10,000 foot level are projects. What must be finished? What are we working on? Again, writing these projects down, whether they are current projects or “someday/maybe” projects will help our focus at other levels.
  • 20,000 Feet: The 20,000 foot level is job responsibilities. What are we required to do right now? What is creating all our projects? Sometimes we have five, six, or more responsibilities. Our responsibilities feed our projects. Knowing our responsibilities gives us clarity in our job.
  • 30,000 Feet: The 30,0000 foot level is our future job or role. Over the next next year or two, how will our job and role change? Roles within our job change over time. Where are we going?
  • 40,000 Feet: The 40,000 foot level is address the industry or company. Culture changes. The climate where we operate changes. Where are things heading for our company or industry? Are changes needed today, to be prepared for the future?
  • 50,000 Feet: Finally, Allen describes the 50,000 foot level as your ultimate bigger picture. What are you on the earth to do? This, my friend, is your purpose.

This outline is only a brief overview. These horizons move us toward a bigger picture of our life. As we write down our tasks, projects, thoughts, and reflections, focus comes. Chatter quiets down and we begin seeing our purpose.

Pursue Your Purpose

Perhaps you are beginning to sense that discovering your purpose will take some time. Yes. Yes, it will.

We don’t end up at the 50,000 foot level by accident. We must be intentional and set aside time. Strategic questions can help (see below), but in order to answer these questions, we must have time to think and reflect.

I’m not convinced even sitting aside a weekend is enough time to gain clarity. Clarity comes over time. Finding purpose is a pursuit that we may never finish.

Live Your Purpose

One of my coaching goals is to help clients discover their “why” because knowing their why helps them to know their purpose. Sadly, many people go through life never knowing their why or even caring. When we don’t know our why, we don’t know what to do and what to leave undone. We react to life rather than prepare for life. If we don’t know what our purpose, there’s a good chance we are living a life of quiet desperation.

While I have focused on setting time aside for thinking and reflection, in the end, action moves us into our purpose. We think and reflect to see connections between our actions and our passions. We ask question such as, “I feel most alive when I…?” or, “If money wasn’t an issue and I could do anything, I would…”

Our actions are key indicators of our passion and values, both vital in discerning our “why”. Some may argue that doing is more important than reflection, however, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.”

Remaining Open

Clarity unfolds over time. After spending focused time in reflection, we may believe we have found our purpose and it will never change. We must remain open to new discoveries. Each experience we have shapes us and draws us further into purpose. We must not assume that after a day or two we know our unchanging purpose.

While I want a map that shows my purpose, I’m given a compass that points toward purpose. Bill George’s classic Discover Your True North discusses purpose as finding our “true north”. A map would be nice, but we don’t get one.

Creating space in our lives to think, reflect, and pray, we are able to discover and begin following our “True North.”

Questions

Here are some questions while pursuing purpose.

1) What excites me?
2) What brings me pleasure?
3) What makes me angry?
4) What am I willing to sacrifice for?
5) What can I do with my time that is important?
6) If I didn’t have a job, what would I do?
7) What was I passionate about as a child?

Action Steps

  • Take control of your schedule by creating space to pursue purpose.
  • Set aside time for the Six Horizons of Focus.
  • Do a search on the web for questions to help with finding purpose.
  • Schedule some time to _do_ your purpose.
  • Experiment.
  • Live life.

Why You Need Purpose in Your Life

Desperate Times

Most of the time, I simply live life. I thought living was enough. For me, living meant that I did what I thought needed to be done. I was too busy living to worry about my purpose and the “why” of life. Who needs reflection and thought when there’s so much to do?

Socrates said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” I can’t remember when I first read his statement, but it stuck with me. I had no idea what his point was. I was living an unexamined life and it wasn’t too bad. I was wrong.

David Henry Thoreau expresses a similar sentiment when he wrote, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” Of course, we may not believe we live desperate lives, but more and more Americans and others in developed countries suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety than ever before. We may not want to admit to our desperation, but it is becoming harder to deny.

Livin’ Large without Purpose

I didn’t think I needed to examine life. I thought living was doing what came your way, dealing with challenges and opportunities. I was living a good life, but, unbeknownst to me, desperation was locked deep within me. My desperation didn’t cause much trouble. My desperation was quiet. But then depression hit and life came to a grinding stop.

I would do a lot of things, but I didn’t know why I was doing them. I did stuff. Sometimes I did stuff because people told me it was what I was supposed to do. Sometimes I did stuff because I believed it was expected. I always wanted to have the “right stuff” and do “the right stuff” but, unfortunately, I didn’t even know what the right stuff was.

I suffered from a purposeless life and didn’t even know it. I knew all the “God has a wonderful plan for your life” shtick, but lacked clarity. While I believed I had a reason to be on earth, I was fuzzy on what it was.

I see others suffering from the same malaise. As Thoreau points out, most people can put up with desperation, because desperation hides below the surface and may not cause much trouble. Quiet desperation describes the person who doesn’t know his or her purpose and, probably, doesn’t even care.

Purposeful Power

Not caring about our purpose is unfortunate.

Purpose brings power to our living and gives us reason to get up in the morning. Our purpose provides direction and clarity. Through purpose, we determine what to say “yes” to, but more importantly, what to say “no” to. We can finally feel good about the work we do, and the work we leave undone. Reflecting on our purpose empowers us to expand our capability and, ultimately, purpose brings us fulfillment.

Depression was part of my journey toward clarity and purpose. I’m not sure I would have embarked on a journey toward purpose if my “quiet” desperation hadn’t started screaming and shouting. Depression led me to finally examine my life.

My world was caving in, but there was also a gift. Without this time of “holy discontent” or, rather, “hell on earth” I wouldn’t have examined my life. Sure, I was forced into the examined life, but I could have chosen to deny the pain and continue to push it deeper.

The Deeper Gift of Purpose

I’m not sure where I would have ended up without going through this difficult time. As it is, I believe my time of depression has helped me end up in a much better place. Now I take time to reflect on my journey.

Purpose doesn’t come all at once. A flash of insight or understanding doesn’t come at once. A light bulb doesn’t go off showing us exactly what we are to do or become. Purpose comes over time and unfolds.

Depression isn’t necessarily required in order to find our “why”. There are much better ways. Ways I wish I could have found and followed. Because I didn’t find a better way, I was forced to take a difficult path.

Today, there are many resources online, in books, and classes that can help someone find their purpose. There are coaches who lead individuals to clarity by helping them understand where they are currently, where they really want to end up, and a path they can take.

Ends up that Socrates was right! In the next article, I will go through some steps for finding purpose and living an examined life.

Five Transformative Books

In a previous article, I addressed the power of finding clarity. I mentioned that a coach could have helped me find clarity, but for most of my life a coach wasn’t an option. Perhaps you are at a place in life where a coach isn’t an option. But what if coaches came in a variety forms? What if coaches weren’t limited to those we could see and talk to?

I have found mentors and coaches living over the past 1500 years. While I can’t talk to them, their thoughts and inspiration are archived in the writings they left behind.
Continue reading “Five Transformative Books”