I've spent the last six months thinking strongly about purpose - that was clearly part of the reason I started this blog. What does it mean to "Live On Purpose"? What does any of it mean? This thinking has been thrown into high gear since I began consulting Tomorrow's Education and thinking about the role of education in the Purpose Economy.
Purpose is trending, and extending far past esoteric associations - images of yogis sitting around on the couch thinking about the meaning of life came up in early conversations with colleagues - into the world of new work, learning and career development. It is a thin line, but an important one nonetheless - it is not about the meaning of life, but rather the meaning in your life. Increasingly, people are searching for meaning in their lives and this search is gaining urgency.
At it's most simple - purpose is simply about creating meaning; it's being explicitly aware of what you care about, and pursuing this for your life. Far from lacking in substance, purpose is hugely substantial, correlates to wellbeing and comes from thinking that what you do matters. You know why. This knowing gives incredible power and strength.
For some people, this comes easily - they may feel connected to a place where they grew up, to a community they have been part of for a long time. For me, this was not easy. I've been searching for this sense of meaning in my life, basically forever. From Osho in Pune to Bikram in Los Angeles - I wanted to know what it was all for; what I was here for. Things often seemed random where I was looking for them to make sense. I found ways to push these thoughts away. I even found moments where everything aligned and connected and I felt the knowing that comes with this. This was bliss. But most of the time, I was searching and not clearly connected to my purpose.
What gives purpose to something - what makes it make sense? There are two experiences I went through in the last two years that in retrospect, make sense. One is about time and one is about people. Both are about active choices - choosing something over nothing. Stepping into your power of choice and agency is a definite way towards purpose.
🫂 Purpose and People
Purpose is about people. It's about who you choose to spend your time with, when you're all alone. Remember - purpose is an active choice. Like all alone in the middle of the desert and you have everywhere and nowhere to be and everyone and no one to meet. To move through time, you will have to choose.
What do you do, when you're all alone, wandering the desert, all lit up?
This was an interesting part of my journey to Burning Man in 2019. I had the strong knowing that I had to go, and that it had to be now. There was something I had to experience that had to happen at this time. I practiced staying up late, I extended my collection of raver clothes, I convinced my brother in law to take me and got into a great camp. I did not prepare or participate that much in advance- true - I sewed most of my clothes, in the Makerist fashion of self expression - but just hung on to other people, followed their ideas, schedules and followed them around. It was a great experience, but it was not my experience. It was fun, but not purposeful.
A few days in, my brother in law decided he'd rather spend the weekend with his wife and kids at home, and left. And in the spirit of radical self reliance - I was on my own. It was terrifying. I knew that I needed to be at this place at this time - but obviously, I did not want to go through the discomfort that precedes growth, and if I could have avoided it, I would have. Until this point, it was mostly a party. The moment I landed on my own - I needed to be radically responsible for my experience and organize
There were strangers I had met earlier in the week, who turned into friends and I sought these people out. I did still spend a lot of time by myself - both by design and by default. But I was forced to decide for myself how to spend this time - and for me - this was mind opening. Being with strangers and being alone amongst strangers - I could be anything I wanted.
Purpose is about who you are and how you are in the world, when you stop trying to please other people, to be something you're not - and just be your full self. Your best self. It's about loving all the parts of you, so you can show up fully, participate. Share yourself, honor your competencies instead of hiding.
⏱️ Purpose and Time
This last year on sabbatical in Canada was the first time I really felt strongly the weight of time. Purpose is about what you choose to do with your time, when you have endless amounts of time - when all the business & busyness stops. At one point, you just have to choose what to do, the choice becomes conscious and you go your path.
This should be easy and natural, but for me it was heavy - I love to work, and felt my identity so tied up in what I was doing, that it was hard when this stopped. Without my work to give direction to my energy, I struggled to imagine where else to direct it. I had spent years and years being as efficient as possible with my time and resources and making sure they were all outcome oriented - that I was producing content, reports, work product. With efficiency no longer a defining factor, I needed to strongly reassess where to give my time. Even without deadlines and work product hanging over me - I did not want to waste my time. This feeling of wasted of unintentional time, is the worst.
I began with values - and oriented my choices around family, nature, health, adventure and learning. These were the north star values where I knew, no effort would feel wasted. By being intentional about what I wanted to get out of my year, I could relax into the knowing that each decision I made that was in line with those values, was supporting me on my path. That they were building something and not random. This idea of looking for defining values and goals, helped me to see that purpose does not have to be some grand goal - it can be different than work, it can be whatever you make it. This was how I defined my purpose when I spoke on this topic last winter with Caro Harth and Eva Kaczor on finding your purpose: My purpose was to get in top health and support my family to have an incredible experience in Corona. It was to turn it all around. This is where I invested my time.
Nonetheless, I was still quite addicted to the idea of purpose and work. This feeling that I am here on this planet to do something greater than be fit and support my family, did not leave me. But the feeling changed over time - it was not about work itself, achievement, accomplishment, even money - those things that had previously driven me more strongly - it was about contributing to something greater than myself.
I started to look more deeply into the topic of purpose which led me to the Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst. This too, was mind-blowing. For the first time, it gave me a real framework for my thoughts and feelings and showed me, I was not alone - many many people are also yearning for the chance to connect to something greater.
When we start with purpose, we have already done the work of identifying what what we believe and what we want to achieve. This is the reference that we can always come back to, to check in with. This keeps us 'on course' and our journey meaningful. This is what drew me to the new way of thinking about learning, working, and to the team at Tomorrow's Education: with their formula for positive change, purpose is the starting point. Students are asked to identify their purpose as part of their application process, this is a necessary first step to efficient learning outcomes - knowing what you want to get out of the experience, and knowing what you want to achieve. Purpose is the predecessor to impact. Purpose connects people who are working towards positive change. It is both personal and societal. This just makes sense.
What is purpose to you? How will you define your time, relationships and work? Let me know!