“Having sacrificed mightily and endured days, months or even years of fierce labor, and pushing away anything and everything but the vision, we get exactly what we want—we achieve our grand vision—only to find ourselves saying, “huh, I don’t feel like I thought I would.” It doesn’t solve the problem we wanted solved, or deliver the delight we yearned to experience. Or, even if it does, for some reason, it still leaves us feeling empty, maybe even a bit numb, instead of full and alive. I call this “Vision Collapse Syndrome.” …Instead of starting with a well-defined vision, end with it. Begin, instead, with values and vectors. What if we gave ourselves room to learn more, pivot and adapt and remain open to better or different visions along the way? What if we let action and information guide the creation of a vision, rather than often-wrong leaps of faith and assumptions?” –Jonathan Fields*
The above quote speaks to someone who has been driven, focused on a goal, and disappointed. You may be coming to this section from a completely different position. Perhaps you’re feeling confused, you’re conflicted about your options, you have a sneaking suspicion that the path you’re on isn’t the right one, you have no idea what to do, or you’re simply curious. These are all valid and relevant places to begin seeking insight to shape your purpose journey.
What is “Purpose Clarification,” exactly?
“Purpose Clarification” is the process of figuring out your purpose- but describing it as “figuring it out” wouldn’t be quite accurate. “Figuring it out” might imply that your purpose is already within you, just waiting to be discovered. Research tells us that purpose is something you can choose and cultivate rather than something we have an epiphany about one day. To cultivate something successfully, we want to make sure we have the right tools, skills, information, and conditions for the job. Clarification is the process of figuring out your specific “tools” and “skills,” etc., for cultivating purpose, rather than figuring out the purpose itself.
You can imagine clarification as figuring out what gear you’ve already got that you can pack for your journey. You’re embarking on this adventure with tons of goodies already stocked. What you have will help you understand what routes, terrains, and climates you’re best suited to. It also helps you keep track of what type of gear you might want to build or acquire to expand your options.
There are several components involved in cultivating a purpose. Our bags are packed with our narratives, values, strengths (or potential strengths), interests (or potential interests), desires, and potential ways we’d like to impact the world.
Researchers Michaéla Schippers and Niklas Ziegler call the process of cultivating purpose “life crafting” and say that the evidence-based approaches that are actually successful include the following:
- Discovering values and passion
- Reflecting on current and desired competencies and habits
- Reflecting on present and future social life
- Reflecting on a possible future career
- Writing about the ideal future
- Writing down specific goal attainment and “if-then” plans
- Making public commitments to the goals set
The above list is specific to their research project- you might add re-discovering your values & passions, and appreciation for the meandering nature of the journey as significant assets to the concept of life crafting they came up with. All of the above are covered (and more) on this page (with the exception of the last two bullets, which are addressed on the Align page).
The approaches to taking stock of your gear offered in this section fall into the categories of introspection and experimentation. Clarify, as a section, is an exploration of how introspection and experimentation contribute to purpose cultivation, as well as a master collection (in conjunction with the Purpose Workbook) of related exercises for you to use to increase your self-knowledge and deeply familiarize yourself with the tools you’re working with. The information you learn while clarifying can then be integrated into the Alignment process where you design, plan, and execute your purpose(s).
Before you dive in, it’s important to keep in mind the following:
- Clarification isn’t a “one and done” process. We change over the course of our lives and it therefore behooves us to revisit the practice of clarifying regularly. People can make radical shifts in direction and identity, so try your best to put your assumptions about what is possible or right aside and stay open to change.
- You don’t have to rush. Being hasty can cause us to overlook important insights. Despite the pressure you feel to get everything figured out as quickly as possible, this process takes time and careful attention.
Introspection and Experimentation
In order to know where to go and why it makes sense to go there, we need to get to know ourselves really well. Deepening our self-knowledge is like knowing where the majority of the cards are in the deck when we’re playing a card game; while it won’t guarantee that we’ll win, it’ll certainly inform our strategy and allow us to make well-informed decisions. And considering it’s our life we’re talking about, it’s probably in our best interest to be as familiar with the deck as possible.
The cards you’re playing with in terms of purpose include your narratives about yourself and life, your values, your interests, your strengths, your desires/dreams, and your most fitting possible impacts. In order to get to know them, you can employ both introspection and experimentation: internal and external processes of learning.
- Introspection – Intentional contemplation and reflection
- Experimentation – Active engagement with the world to learn by trial and error
We do both because deep, well-rounded self-awareness is an iterative, cyclical process between the internal and external, new experiences, and reﬂection. We can then integrate those learning experiences into action in the alignment phase.
“Discovering your calling is not an epiphany but a series of intentional decisions. It looks less like a giant leap and more like building a bridge.” –Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
The rest of this page serves as a large overview and jumping off point for the content in the clarify section topics of introspection and experimentation. To navigate the clarify section, you can return to this page, use the sub-nav map below, or select from the icons along the top of each page.
The Components of Introspection
“Most people think they lack motivation when they really lack clarity.” – James Clear
The components of introspection for cultivating purpose are broken down below. You can read the table below for a brief summary of each and click the titles or images to visit each section. Within each section you’ll find information about the topic and how it affects purpose as well as oodles of exercises to help you clarify each aspect for yourself.
Our narratives are our beliefs about and interpretations of the world and ourselves. They are heavily influenced by our cultures and the other contextual pieces of our lives. What we think and believe influences our choices and behaviors. Examining our narratives gives us the opportunity to release old stories that are no longer serving us and embrace new ones that propel us towards what we care about.
What story(ies) have you been told about how to live a worthy life? About how to live a happy life? About how to live a successful life? Where did these stories come from?
What did you learn about ‘how the world works’ from your parents?
Values are talked about in general, often confusing terms in popular culture. The concept ends up being a catch-all for the things you believe are important in life. While there is nothing wrong with pointing to things we care about, some values can offer us more direction than others. It’s important to be intimately familiar with our most important values so we can live in alignment with them. When we prioritize what we value, we end up doing things that are meaningful to us (an essential ingredient in purpose).
What are some of the biggest decisions you’ve ever made? How did you make them, and what values did you honor in the decision you came to?
What do you choose to do in your life, even though it’s challenging?
What do you do that feels like a waste of time?
“Sparks” are the things that spark an interest in us. When it comes to purpose, getting a full lay of the land of possible interests creates more opportunities for us than focusing on just a few that we’re currently familiar with. Once we know what we are and can be interested in, we set ourselves up to foster both purpose and passion.
You may also determine that you’re overwhelmed by how many interests you have. This is not an abnormal experience. You simply have more to work with! Check out the page dedicated to Multipotentialism.
What activities and ideas fascinated you as a child?
Is there anything you enjoy to a point that you would pay to do it? (Or anything you already pay to do because you enjoy it?)
When was the last time you were enjoying what you were doing and lost track of time?
Dreams & Desires:
While we may or may not directly integrate a specific dream or desire into our purpose cultivation process, becoming intimately aware of what we want can tell us loads about what matters to us deep down. That information can then be used to design purposes that will be the most fitting and fulfilling for us.
What does the perfect day look like?
What would you like your obituary to say?
What can your fears tell you about what you really want?
What strengths and skills are we already bringing to the table? Which ones are within our grasp to learn and perhaps master? Engaging in tasks we’re good at helps us increase self-awareness and focus, identify growth areas, develop confidence and self efficacy, and increase our potential impact through specialization.
What do other people come to you for help with?
What skills do you often find yourself admiring in others?
What tasks feel effortless to you?
Essential to purpose is having an effect on something larger than ourselves, also known as Service. Figuring out who or what you want to impact, how you want to impact them, and why will give shape and direction to your purpose-oriented goals.
What do you think are the most important problems in the world? In your country? In your community?
What don’t you want to be known for?
Who do you want to serve and help?
INTROSPECTION: THE GREATEST HITS
While many of these exercises compliment and build on one another, you may be here just to suss out some heavy-hitters. If you’re struggling to make time to do the deep dive for all of these topics, the following list offers the can’t-miss-it exercises for the entire clarify section. Consider this small collection like an appetizer sampler for clarification: it’ll give you a gist of what can be gleaned, but it isn’t as filling or as complex as an entire meal.
- Purpose Narratives – This exercise is designed to help you unearth essential narratives that are influencing your purpose journey. Spend some time contemplating the stories you have about purpose, where they came from, and how they impact the choices you make. Read about Narratives.
- Narrowing Values -This exercise provides you with a masterlist of values and exercises for defining and narrowing down your top 5. Read about Values.
- Declaring Values – A values declaration gives you the opportunity to commit to and define what a value means to you and how you plan to honor it. From there, your clarified values will help you make decisions with greater ease, as you’ve defined the criteria for what matters to you! Use this worksheet to come up with your declaration. Read about Values.
- Sparks Rapid Fire Question Bank – Use the following bank of questions to generate sparks (interests). You can go through it two different ways: with haste to try to bypass any filtering or slowly, to give yourself ample time to dig. Both are great approaches- you could even start with rapid fire and go through them again slowly to see if you get different answers. Read about Interests.
- Strengths Feedback – We’re limited in our ability to see ourselves wholly and accurately. By asking for feedback from others on what they see as our strengths, we can get perspective we may normally overlook. Read about Strengths.
- Write Your Obituary – Obituaries tend to be short, briefly describing the life of the deceased and naming important events, relationships, accomplishments, or characteristics. Writing your own imaginary obituary at the end of a long life can put you in the frame of mind to consider what the most important things to accomplish in your life are for you. Read about Dreams & Desires.
- Impact Reflections – Use the following collection of questions to generate potential paths of impact. Read about Impact.
Please note that the above, while informative, do not give you the full picture. To understand more about the topics covered in each exercise, check out the respective sections on this page for more guidance!
“Discovering what you’re passionate about in life and what matters to you is a full-contact sport, a trial-by-fire process. None of us know exactly how we feel about an activity until we actually do the activity.” Mark Manson
Experimentation exists in a liminal space between clarifying the “ingredients” we’re bringing into purpose cultivation and the process of aligning ourselves, which is an action-based practice. Experimentation involves taking action in the world to get more information about the ingredients you have to play with. It goes from reflecting to acting to reflecting again and again. It is, in essence, a clarifying action.
There are two types of experimentation that are relevant to various stages of the cultivation process. While they’re not mutually exclusive by any means, they are slightly different in nature:
Experimentation As A Way Of Being
An orientation to our experiences as experimental. An attitude of adventure about exploring life.
Experimentation As Action
Experimenting with new things as a means of discovery and/or for the sake of psychological richness; and intentionally learning about or to do something to test if it’s a match for you and what you want.
To explore both of these dimensions of experimentation, visit its separate page via the button below.* Or, read the section linearly and come back to experimentation at the end. Hit the next up button at the bottom of the page to proceed with clarify!
*Experimentation is a concept that applies to both the clarification and alignment parts of purpose cultivation. The experimentation pages are housed within the alignment section, so this link will open a new window and section of purpose. In order not to get lost, just come back to this window to finish clarify or go to the beginning of the alignment section when you’re finished with experimentation.
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