What’s the Gist?
Welcome to the Purpose Gist Page
If you’re looking for a general overview of the wisdom packed into the purpose section, you’re in the right spot. Here you’ll discover the boiled down essence of the most crucial parts of purpose and how to cultivate it in your life.
Keep in mind, however, that purpose is a nuanced and complex concept. All of topics covered on this page have corresponding pages of their own that do their own deep-dives. Reading those (and doing the Purpose Workbook) will offer you a far better understanding of how to integrate more purpose into your life. And, this page is a great place to start if it isn’t the right time to take on the whole thing.
“Your true purpose is articulated at the intersection of what you do well and the worldly need that your abilities tackle best. It must also be translated into specific actions to produce any value. Purpose must be authentic, aspirational and remain focused on the application of efforts toward making the world a better place.” –Ashley Grice for Fortune Magazine
Not looking for an overview? If you’re specifically hoping to learn a bit more about why purpose matters in your life, or why you ought to bother with reading about purpose at all, check out the purpose landing page:
The content featured on this page is based on a variety of the latest developments in purpose and well-being research. Relevant sources for the content on this page can be found on the dedicated pages for each of the topics explored below- just visit the links to learn more!
A Visual Guide to The Purpose Section
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The below video walks you through the above image, which is an overview and breakdown of the entire purpose section, not just this page. The corresponding table provides links to headings on this page that offer “The Gist” in addition to links to the full, proper sections dedicated to those topics.
*Unique to the Gist Page, not represented in the video tour
Passion can be both a boon and a block on your purpose journey. Learn about what it is, how to cultivate it, and why it matters.
Sorry, there isn’t a gist version of this purpose topic.
Visit the Full Page:
Purpose as Your Work
We tend to think of purpose in the context of work. While it can exist outside of work, visit this section to do a deep dive on cultivating purpose within our employment.
Sorry, there isn’t a gist version of this purpose topic
Visit the Full Pages:
The Basics of Purpose
Parts & Fundamentals
“My purpose is to empower people to live healthy lives through creating educational resources and making them accessible.”
“My purpose is to help my own (and other) children live happy lives by teaching them to be responsible, compassionate, and thoughtful human beings through intentionally raising them and working in childcare.”
“My purpose is to help struggling couples resolve conflict by teaching them communication strategies in a therapeutic environment.”
“My purpose is to create thought-provoking art and music that tests cultural boundaries and inspires people to take action in their communities.”
Want to craft your own purpose statement?
Check out the exercises in the Purpose Workbook or browse the Clarify page.
What does purpose look like IRL?
Check out all the following examples of purposeful people who have oriented their lives towards supporting the well-being of children.
Amy Jandrisevits is a former pediatric oncology social worker who creates unique dolls that represent the children with disabilities they belong to. With a background in play therapy, she understands how having a doll that is representative of the child playing with it can help them feel more confident and comfortable in their own skin. Her doll-making venture has become a nonprofit supported wholly by donations that make it possible to never charge a family for their personalized dolls. She offers that, “whatever the costs, whatever I have to do, I’m going to get a doll in their hands. This isn’t a business. It’s just the right thing to do.” Her purposefulness is clearly demonstrated in that statement, and her enjoyment of that purpose is spoken to when she states, “My work is magical.”
Doug Dietz is an industrial engineer for GE Healthcare. He was pleased with his final MRI machines until he witnessed a child cry at the prospect of using it and learned that children often had to be sedated to proceed with their screenings. He set out to design the rooms and machines in ways that would reduce children’s fear, making the screening into an adventure by changing the machine into a pirate ship, trolley, or spacecraft. Inspired by empathy and invested in making a difference for children, his designs spread to at least 27 children’s hospitals.
Beverly Cleary wrote many best-selling and dearly loved children’s books. She grew up loving to read and eventually became a librarian, where she realized that the types of books she would have liked to have read as a child (about kids like her) didn’t seem to exist. She began writing for such an audience, hoping to give the scrappy neighborhood kids of her youth characters they could relate to and inspire a love for reading. She ended up inspiring a generation of young readers to love reading and helped create and implement the D.E.A.R. program in various schools: “Drop Everything and Read.”
Purpose is different from Meaning, Passion, and Happiness
Meaning, Passion, and Happiness can be independent of one another and they can combine in different ways and amounts when Purpose is involved. (You can learn more about how Passion, Happiness, and Meaning relate to Purpose on this page.)
Meaning is directly involved in Purpose (while Passion and Happiness do not have to be). You can think of the relationship between Purpose and Meaning with the metaphor of oxen plowing a field.
Purpose is the yoke that ties together the Four Cornerstones of Meaning: Service, Expression, Discovery, and Love. Purpose applies and directs what’s meaningful in your life, hopefully leading to a bountiful harvest!
Benefits of Purpose
*Click for the full-size infographic.*
The Idea of Purpose changes across time and culture; Your experience of it is shaped by your beliefs.
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In modern industrial nations today there is a narrative that your purpose is something you can choose. It’s something that isn’t an automatic part of your life like it may have been considered in the past.
Questions our cultures try to answer for us:
The beliefs we form as a result:
Your concept of purpose is influenced by your cultural and social context. Your beliefs are shaped by your culture’s answers to life’s important questions. Culture itself is comprised of a great deal of sources; you’re likely being influenced from several angles all at once.
Purpose can take many different forms in our lives.
Your purpose is WHY you do WHAT you do. Therefore, it can show up in many ways.
For example, let’s say your purpose (your “WHY”) is:
“To support people to live healthy lives.”
In this case, any of the following could all be forms (or “WHAT”s) of that purpose:
With so many ways to live your purpose, remember it does NOT have to be your job!
It’s easy to accept the popular belief that purpose happens through a job, but it doesn’t have to! Your job can serve other functions in your life, such as primarily providing comfort and security. It doesn’t always have to check every box.
However, you will spend 80,000-150,000 hours of your life at your job (or shall we say “jobs”, as people today tend to have many throughout their lives). That’s an excellent chunk of time to dedicate yourself to something meaningful and purposeful! This doesn’t mean it has to be your purpose, though. A job can be meaningful without it being your purpose. Studies indicate that the more meaningful you believe your job to be, the more fulfilled and satisfied you will feel at work. So prioritize meaning at work first to make the biggest jump in job satisfaction, and plug in purpose to optimize your life at large.
7 Myths of Purpose
Our cultures tell us many stories about purpose and passion…
Here are a few (on each red flag) that are not in service to developing more purpose in your life
**Click each flag to go in-depth with each myth**
The idea that we have a single, best self/purpose to live into is a lot of pressure and can limit us from considering other opportunities for growth.
This “One thing” can end up being a catch-all for your needs for purpose, meaning, passion, and joy, which could be unrealistic!
You may have multiple purposes!
Believing your Purpose has to be epic can lead to thinking that who you are and what you are doing now is not enough. Thinking that your purpose has to impact tons of people in order for you to be happy can limit what opportunities you engage in. Finally, this belief can encourage the toxic implications of meritocracy; that we only get what we deserve.
Your personal value does not come from your purpose!
Purpose might not make you ‘happy’ in the conventional sense because purpose is challenging and can make you uncomfortable. That’s part of what makes it so rewarding.
Purpose can contribute to our Well Being by creating meaning.
This belief can empower you to try all sorts of things! However, it may be useful to temper it with the notion that it can also cause us to have high expectations, be less receptive to negative feedback, be more likely to be disappointed, and more likely to feel like a failure.
Understanding your priorities will help you increase the odds of achieving what you want.
Not only do our personalities and preferences change as we age, folks who believe they can cultivate passion or purpose are more likely to stick with something while people who think they have to find the perfect ‘fit’ for their interests and skills end up quitting sooner and more often!
Believing we do and can change empowers us to be resilient in the face of challenges.
The idea that dead ends, abandoned ventures, or changing your mind are signs of utter failure won’t help you persist towards your dreams. Frequent career change is becoming commonplace! Finding your purpose(s) or passion(s) may look more like experimenting and learning many ways that don’t work before you find what does.
Your journey to cultivating purpose will have its challenges.
The belief that your Purpose is hiding within you to be discovered could hold you back from putting in the work to create Purpose in your life. Waiting for an epiphany could leave you… waiting! On the flip side, this perspective can encourage some fruitful introspection. Keep what you learn about yourself and then go create what you want!
Having Purpose takes effort, and you have agency in the process.
Beyond the myths, there are some other things that can block you from finding and cultivating Purpose…
Hindrances to Purpose
The things that impede the cultivation of purpose in our lives are multifarious and subtly complex. As children, our worldviews are influenced by the behaviors and choices of those around us, the messages of the media, and the institutions in which we are embedded. Before we’re taught how to think critically of our experiences, we develop an understanding of the world, ourselves, what we want, and what we value.
Unfortunately, we can get sent some mixed signals that can end up hindering our alignment with purpose.
The following hindrances are those mixed signals, divided into cultural and personal hindrances. Dividing the topics in such a way allows us to explore larger systems of influence (such as money or the narratives we’re taught about how to be happy) separately from more individually refined experiences (like your specific set of fears or personal relationship to passion). Darker stones represent cultural hindrances and lighter stones represent personal hindrances.
**Click each stone to visit that Hindrance’s specific page and go in-depth!**
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The questions we get asked as kids encourage us to define ourselves in terms of our work. The questions imply that their future career is essential to their identity.
Changing the questions we ask kids about themselves and their futures to ones that embrace possibility and the complex nature of our identities can encourage them to stop staking all their worth on a job title.
Imagine if we were asked, “What do you want to be next?”
Remember your Purpose may not be your job!
Through the competitive culture of performance and a focus on getting into a good college, schools incidentally fuel conformity in lifestyle and ways of thinking that are antithetical to purpose cultivation.
Failure is an essential ingredient in the learning process, and a system that discourages failure by making it a threat to our futures may then discourage purpose cultivation as well. The purpose journey is ripe with experimentation, dead-ends, and restarts.
In order to cultivate purpose within the context of the traditional education system, we need to become aware of the limitations of its design, normalize failure and experimentation, and develop self-awareness around our interests and values in order to understand what truly motivates us.
Pursuing purpose makes purpose a destination instead of a journey, rendering it a state of being that lies eternally out of reach in the future. Purpose is less of a destination and more of an orientation towards a destination. When we believe purpose (or happiness) is something we must achieve, it can lead to us comparing our current experience to what we’d like to be feeling or doing ideally.
The pursuit of conventional happiness orients us towards experiences that are often less meaningful in the long term and can result in meaningless sacrifices. When we talk about ‘pursuing happiness’ we are often talking about conventional happiness, or a generalized positive experience that is largely characterized by the first element of Well-Being: plenty of pleasure, leisure, ease, abundance, and play. The challenge to purpose lies in focusing on and prioritizing pleasure-based goals at the expense of meaning and purpose.
We’ve been inundated by conventional definitions of success throughout our lives. These definitions generally include things like money, fame, power, and reputation. While all these things might be lovely to experience, they could also block you from purpose when they are not aligned with what you genuinely value.
Money becomes a barrier to purpose when it distracts us from what matters and we haven’t determined what role we want money to serve in our lives. If we don’t know our purpose and focus on the money, we can spend most of our time trying to earn it instead of focusing on experiencing purpose.
Ultimately, the antidote to being thrown off course by success or money is getting intimate with what we believe about them right now and then clarifying what we want them to mean in our lives.
Our cultures, societies, and families tend to prescribe paths for us in life, especially in the realms of purpose and the pursuit of happiness, tell us what we should do in order to have purpose or happiness. Ways we should be.
Sometimes we end up doing things that society thinks are valuable rather than doing what utilizes our best skills. We may spend years building skills in things we don’t enjoy or we could end up doing something that we don’t necessarily dislike or aren’t exactly poor at, but simply do not care deeply about.
Our biggest barriers to purpose lie in our own beliefs about ourselves and the world.
“I’m not capable”
“That’s the way the world works”
“It isn’t worth it” “I don’t deserve it”
“People will think…”
“It’s beyond my control”
Our beliefs about what is possible determine what we try and the behaviors we engage in, which influences our opportunities.
We may think that if it’s our purpose, it’ll come naturally to us. Or we may believe that if it’s meant to be, it wouldn’t be so hard. Or that we simply are the way we are and probably won’t or can’t change. These perspectives constitute our mindset.
On the other hand, we could be afraid of failure, losing people, losing security, or losing prestige. These fears can keep us from taking steps in the direction of our dreams.
While passion can certainly be a boon to purpose, the way it shows up determines its influence. It can inhibit purpose when it is “Obsessive” (passion we engage with because we feel compelled to do it and are uncomfortable not doing it), when it is prioritized for our own enjoyment over impact on the world, or when we have “Fit” or “Fixed” mindsets about it.
You can overcome passion as a hindrance by operating with a “develop mindset,” pursuing interests that can make the world a better place, and committing to it and applying continual effort over time.
Happiness in the colloquial sense tends to refer to a state of positivity and satisfaction with life (Go here to break this down with more nuance).
The vision of happiness as a sense of ease, comfort, or positivity is a hindrance to purpose because it can lead to us giving up more easily when things get tough, and purpose includes challenge, stress, and sacrifice.
Additionally, when we think we’re already happy, we may not consider that greater well-being is actually possible. Many people believe that, at least in terms of what is “realistic,” they already have a majority of their boxes checked. With a perspective that more probably isn’t possible, where does the motivation to cultivate purpose come from?
And a few other hindrances are worth noting as well:
- Ignorance – A lack of awareness of our beliefs/stories and automatic behaviors can block us from purpose by hindering our ability to accurately assess or align with what is meaningful to us.
- Prioritizing Connection – Choosing connection over purpose is an easy and often confusing miss to make.
- Being a Cog in a Machine – Sometimes we can confuse our personal mission with the mission of an organization- and sometimes the mission of the organization isn’t actually purposeful at all…
Cultivation is the process of creating purpose in our lives. And (if the amount of content on this site dedicated to it isn’t a clear enough indicator) there’s a lot to it!
The remainder of the Purpose Gist page is devoted to giving you a sense of what to expect and supplying you with the tools to foster purpose.
Here’s what you can anticipate:
- The Nature of the Journey: Explore what the journey of cultivating purpose is like as an experience. Go here to learn what you can expect if you’ve decided to prioritize purpose more in your life.
- Cultivation is a Process
- Think of Purpose as an Adventure
- There is Joy & Discomfort
- Keep Short & Long Horizons in Mind
- The Cultivation Process: Learn the ingredients, stages, and flow of creating purpose in your life. This heading breaks down the cultivation process into its fundamental elements and explains how they all come together to foster a life of purpose.
The Nature of the Journey
“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” – Carl Rogers
First and foremost, it’s integral to consider purpose as a process rather than purely as a goal or final destination. Purpose is not something we will plot out how to attain, execute a few measured steps towards, and suddenly discover ourselves in possession of. The purpose journey is a process of cultivation– it is building up purpose(s) over time through learning about ourselves and taking consistent actions that align with our values, dreams, strengths, and interests towards something that positively impacts the world. The journey(s) is an experience of learning and aligning that not only serves its own end, but may be embarked upon many times throughout our lives. It can be thought of as a way to approach life itself: living purposefully, rather than something to be attained.
When we have informed expectations of what a process can look and feel like, we can set ourselves up for greater success. Research on hope shows that anticipating challenges, failures, getting lost, and long horizons while being optimistic and having plans for what to do when we encounter such things increases our resiliency. Increased resiliency then makes it more likely for us to stay the course. Knowing how the journey may look and feel can also help us emotionally and mentally prepare for such things so that when they occur we can recognize their value and place in the process.
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As depicted in the above image (further broken down here), purpose can be understood as an adventure you cannot fully plan for and doesn’t have a totally clear destination. You’ll be figuring it out as you go and navigating with a compass based on your values, strengths, interests, and desires. Along the way you’ll make stops to dig for treasure (reflecting and surfacing wisdom regarding yourself).
Like any adventurer who cannot see the whole territory from the start of their journey, you will likely get lost, hit dead-ends, take interesting (or perhaps boring) detours, or even decide you want to go on an entirely different journey.
Rather than view these events as calamitous, you will be better served to regard them with the presence and playfulness of an adventurer exploring life for the sake of learning: imagine yourself backpacking through a foreign country without reaching your specific destination as your ultimate goal, but rather to have a special experience. Every detour offers curious new insights, supplies exciting surprises, teaches you things you couldn’t plan for, and ultimately makes your story more interesting! The unexpected detours, failures, and dead-ends offer more wisdom for the journey.
“Very important: There’s no rush. You will reinvent yourself many times in an interesting life. You will fail to reinvent many times. That’s fun also.” James Altucher
“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.” – Vincent Van Gogh
The purpose journey isn’t quite your quintessential afternoon stroll through the park. Perhaps it’s more like a rigorous hike where you get lost a few times and it turns out longer than you anticipated– and is filled with oodles of awe-inspiring sights, sounds, and discoveries, leaving you pretty dang satisfied.
Part of that satisfaction might come from doing something you believe is meaningful, even if it spells sacrifice, striving, or other discomforts. Part of that satisfaction may come from enjoying yourself along the way.
So while there is plenty of joy to be cherished, it’s not all roses and rainbows. The purpose journey inevitably involves some tough work and sacrifice. Even so, it’s worth it.
Paul Nurse is a biochemist whose discoveries have helped the world understand how cells grow and divide. While he found his work very purposeful, the day to day of it was a challenge for him:
“Like many students, I found the drudgery of real experiments and the slowness of progress a complete shock, and at my low points I contemplated other alternative careers including study of the philosophy or sociology of science.”
Saana Rapakko Hunt used to be an executive for Meta leading the company on growth for Instagram. In order to live more purposefully she left Meta for an organization called “The Mom Project” and took a 40% pay cut. She now feels more aligned with her values and thus more motivated and dedicated to her work.
Martin Luther King Jr. maintained integrity to his sense of purpose in the face of endless abuse on his character and reputation and pressure from every angle to change course. Despite being arrested over 20 times, having his house bombed, being threatened relentlessly, he stayed dedicated to the civil rights movement. Ultimately, he sacrificed his life.
All this being said- do not be mistaken by the spotlight on hardship. There is a great deal of joy involved in purpose that likely outweighs the discomfort. The Purpose Benefits page goes into detail on how purpose is correlated with greater happiness, optimism, hope, and overall life satisfaction. On the other end of the spectrum, it predicts less boredom, less anxiety, less loneliness, and less depression.
Often folks will focus their attention on their master goal in regard to the purpose they are working towards:
- Getting a teaching license
- Becoming a doctor
- Passing legislature as a politician
- Opening an impactful business
- Publishing a book
- Being hired to work for the organization they’ve always dreamed of contributing to
These outcomes are an incredibly important piece to the puzzle- after all, they’re guiding our choices and efforts in the present. However, focusing only on our larger goals can overshadow our sense of purpose along the way.
Other folks over focus on the present experience of purpose, arguing that the future is uncertain and experiencing purpose today is more important than purpose tomorrow. They advocate for investing time and attention in daily purposeful actions like:
- Supporting friends and loved ones
- Staying informed and sharing important information on causes they care about
- Having meaningful conversations
- Making sure their current work makes a positive impact
People in this second camp have just as much of a point as the people in the first camp, and similarly, they’re also missing out on something by not embracing the other perspective as well. When we focus entirely on the current circumstances we can cut off the possibility for greater impact in the future since we do not plan for it.
By giving credence to BOTH short and long horizons, as well as efforting to practice presence along the way, we may not only increase our sense of purpose overall, but have a more significant impact over the course of our lives.
The Cultivation Process
The Purpose Cultivation Process can be a bit complicated, so we’re going to build up to a well-rounded understanding of it. You’ll be introduced to categories of action and then we will plug those into the larger system to show you how the pieces interact. You’ll learn how someone might flow amongst the stages of purpose and then we’ll overlay the categories of action onto that flow to give the process its full dimensionality. Finally, you can dive into the nitty gritty of the actions in each category.
Confused? Yeah, there’s a lot to it! Below is a visual breakdown of what’s to come.
Dimensions of the Purpose Process
The Flow AND The Categories
The Individual Categories (In-depth)
The Categories of Activity (Overview)
There are three categories of activity in the cultivation process: Clarification, Alignment, and Support. The table below introduces each so you can be familiar with them generally while learning about the larger system. You can go further in-depth with each category by clicking the colored circles or you can keep reading and they will come up in the page progression after the models are explained.
Within the context of the adventure metaphor:
Getting a grip on all the important information you need on the journey. Clarification is understanding what tools and skills you’re working with, where you’ve been, where you want to go, why you want to go there, what you need to learn, and what you care about.
Introspection and Experimentation
Within the context of the adventure metaphor:
Active engagement with the journey, like navigating the ship to stay on track with your destination. It involves working out the map, taking consistent action, and staying course. These steps serve to keep you aligned with the things you determine while clarifying. Throughout aligning we continue to discover new insights and integrate new information into our goals.
Ideation, Planning, Action, Commitment & Perseverance
Within the context of the adventure metaphor:
Setting yourself up with beneficial conditions for success. On an adventure this could look like picking an excellent team, making sure you’re healthy enough for the journey, and fostering hope and optimism to increase resilience. These things are like the wind in your sails.
Mentors & Community, Passion, Mindset, and More
Cultivating purpose is a multi-dimensional, ever-shifting process. While the orange model below attempts to capture the steps involved in working with any given purpose, in reality the cultivation process is a bit messier than the model leads on (this is explained further in the next version of the model on this page). So for the sake of offering the gist, the model simplifies the process.
Cultivating purpose isn’t always as easy as 1, 2, 3; it is often less consecutive and more likely to involve bouncing around between the steps. You may be doing multiple steps at once, revisiting steps you’ve already done, or shuffling up the steps in a wide range of manifestations!
The inner circle items (Reflect, Ideate, Plan, Act) are the core steps of purpose cultivation in their typical order of operation. The outer circle (Experiment, Adjust, Support, Commit) includes elements that are revisited often and incorporated throughout the process over and over, without any specific order.
The inner circle:
- Reflect on and experiment with your values, narratives, interests, strengths, and ways you’d like to impact the world.
- Ideate by iterating different combinations of your values, interests, strengths, and impacts. Allow yourself to dream big and in vivid detail.
- Plan out what you would actually need to do to make your dream a reality.
- Act – Take consistent action towards and with your purpose.
The outer circle:
- Experiment – Get out in the world and experiment with your ideas and plans. Learn as much as you can.
- Readjust – Assess and refine your ideas and plans. Readjust what you’re doing as necessary.
- Commit to a purpose (or purposes) for a specified length of time. Recommit as necessary.
- Support – Bolster your efforts by surrounding yourself with support.
The Flow AND The Categories
So how do these inner and outer circles relate to the categories of activity introduced above?
The categories of Clarify, Align, and Support are overlaid on the circles in the version below. Each category is indicated by corresponding colors: Clarify is teal, Align is orange, and Support is red.
Note that the frequency at which a color shows up on this model is not indicative of the contribution size of each category’s role or value in purpose cultivation. The value of each category is probably more or less equal and the amount of effort expended on each category will vary from person to person and situation to situation.
Let’s take a look at some examples of some real people and how they’ve moved through this process. You’ll notice that several things are happening at once and these people move from stage to stage in an organic progression that doesn’t follow a totally predictable pattern. Additionally, keep in mind that there isn’t a definitive ‘end point.’ As long as they live they will be moving through the cultivation process and exploring various stages and categories of action.
The dots beside each step represent the categories of action present (and, these are estimations, they might map these out slightly differently for themselves).
If you were to draw your own version of this that resulted in where you’re at today, how would it look? What parts of your journey would you include? What stage would you currently be in?
Next, we’ll cover each of the categories of activity in depth.
In order to know where to go and why it makes sense to go there, we need to do some excavation of ourselves. 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 better 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, 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 in-depth 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.
Visit the full page by clicking the button below or choose any heading in the table to go directly to that section of the full page.
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?
When exploring our interests we also look for sparks. “Sparks” are the things that spark an interest in us but may not be something we’re currently invested in. 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?
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?
Experimentation is a central part of cultivating purpose. We must test new things to learn what works best for us while being willing to fail and learn along the way.
In many ways experimentation bridges the gap between Clarifying and Aligning. Experimentation is distinguished here as an experimental phase before ‘planning’ (which is in Alignment). Just note that the Alignment phase absolutely includes experimentation as well- you can design experimentation into your alignment process!
Follow your Sparks! Plan to try a new, un-explored interest each week
Take a class in something you’ve never tried before
Say yes to invitations to things you’ve not done or opportunities to be around people you’ve never met
Alignment is where the rubber truly meets the road in the process of cultivating purpose. It’s the part of the process where we take concrete actions towards and through our ambitions, however small. It is a three-part process; not consecutive but rather all intermingled and continuous. It includes design, action, and commitment/perseverance.
A common misconception would be to confuse aligning with the pursuit of purpose. Alignment is different from pursuit in that alignment is the present application of a purpose, while pursuit puts purpose off into the future as a box to be checked off when the time comes.
Keep in mind as well that experimentation is also a part of alignment. They are consistently dancing together. Like a ship set out to discover a new land on uncharted waters, you will have to try different routes and strategies to get there. Take what nourishes you and learn from things that didn’t work. You might go slightly off course to try something and then re-align (with your new information) to regain momentum. However – you can’t really go off course. All the detours, re-starts, and dead-ends are a part of the process!
When contemplating what we’re going to do with our lives, we don’t want to miss out on options simply because we didn’t think of them. Using design principles enables you to think creatively and connect to more possibilities by iterating without self-imposed restrictions. Using insight gleaned from the clarification process, we can create combinations we’ve never considered before. This is the part where we allow ourselves to really dream!
Once we have some ideas we’re excited to explore further, we can make concrete plans with real actionable steps. Well-made plans account for life coherence and sustainability, ensuring that taking action is as easy as possible.
Taking action can be hard! There are often a multitude of beliefs and real barriers blocking us from moving forward (which you can figure out in the Clarify: Narratives section). Taking action can be learning to work with these resistances.
To act, we often must start before we think we’re “ready” or the circumstances are perfect. Focusing on small, simple steps can make a big difference while learning how to habituate our actions will create even more ease for us! Thinking about action as experimenting can help us overcome some of our resistance.
Commitment & Perseverance
Consciously commiting to our purpose(s) can create resilience and propel us forward. The alternative increases the risk of doing nothing.
Knowing when and how to persevere can help us get through the toughest parts of our journeys. We can learn to pace ourselves, remind ourselves of why what we’re doing matters, and create accountability through relationships.
**Click each windy picture to go more in-depth on each support**
Having passion is sometimes touted as a cure-all for motivation struggles but it’s more complicated than that. In fact, it’s not always an enabler for purpose- it depends on the type of passion we have. When we cultivate “harmonious” passion for our purpose(s)- passion that we enjoy regardless of external rewards- our purpose reaps the benefits. It can improve our psychological well-being, increase self-esteem, creativity, focus, and satisfaction with our work. Harmonious passion can act as an amplifier and energizer for purpose.
Mentors and a supportive community are keys to supporting purpose development and alignment. People can support us emotionally, inspire us, guide us, model for us, help us process our experiences and even provide accountability.
Our beliefs and attitudes impact what is possible. When we believe something is possible, it is more likely we will engage with it, thus increasing the chances of it occurring. In particular, growth and develop mindsets are massive supports on the purpose journey. A “growth mindset” is the belief that we can learn and improve over time, rather than our aptitudes and abilities being fixed from birth. Similarly, a “develop mindset” is a mindset related to our interests specifically. It is the belief that we can develop interests, rather than thinking that interests and passions are set within us.
Beyond the above core enablers of purpose, there are many other facets of our lives that can bolster, benefit, and fuel our cultivation of purpose. Three significant ones are our depth of self-knowledge, our ability to be resilient, and whether or not we are spiritually leaning.
A depth of self-knowledge provides us clarity on our values, interests, strengths, beliefs, and challenges. It helps us more accurately align with what matters to us.
Resilience can be developed through having experienced challenges in our lives. It allows us to employ competency, confidence, and a sense of agency. It empowers us to tolerate adversity, fear, discomfort, the unknown, and setbacks we encounter along our purpose journeys.
While certainly not a prerequisite for cultivating purpose, being spiritually leaning (not necessarily religious) can be helpful in a number of ways. It can connect us to the benefits of community, guide our value systems, and provide us outlets for service.
And so many other sections of the site overlap and support purpose as well…
Stories: What Does Purpose Look Like?
Curious what purpose looks like? You can probably call it when you see it, but with all the extra definitions and qualifications introduced on this page, perhaps you’re not so sure any more. The following page offers great stories as examples of purposeful people.
Not quite sure where to go next? Here are some options:
- The recommended path through the Purpose section begins with the Parts of Purpose page. Start there and follow the page progression at the end of each page (or deviate as your interest dictates!)
- Visit some of the purpose topics that are not featured on the gist page:
- Begin cultivating more purpose in your life today with these great resources:
- The Purpose Workbook
- Purpose Practice & Exercises