I had been asked to talk about purpose to a group of young people working for an HR Team in charge of their company’s employee engagement, mostly in their mid to late 20’s. I imagined myself at 25, and I did not think about purpose for sure! I was just too happy finally earning my own money, discovering the world, meeting new people and proving my mettle.
But I do remember being unhappy and wanting to feel more alive even at that age. Even with all the partying and meeting new people, I was already seeking spiritual guidance from many sources yet it still did not really satisfy that niggling feeling. And that is where I would advise people to start when thinking about purpose: start listening to that niggling feeling rather than distracting yourself with what is commonly defined as success for momentary satisfaction.
It is kind of annoying because we were born with our own unique purpose, but it’s a secret! So we need to uncover it as we go through life, carefully listening in on clues.
If you’re curious and resourceful enough, you may have read a few books on how to find your purpose and may already be working on it. I recently heard John Williams, author of the book F**k Work, Let’s Play, during a summit and he offers these 5 questions that could help direct you towards finding it:
What projects would you take on if you had a year with pay and all the resources you need?
What do you find difficult to stop doing once you get into it?
Who is your career hero?
When were you most happy in your career?
Who do you envy or whose life you wish you had?
He advises to answer these questions quickly, and to write the answers in verse or poem. You shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes answering it. The point is that in many literature, spiritual and academic alike, our purpose has been with us all along. It is kind of annoying because we were born with our own unique purpose, but it’s a secret! So we need to uncover it as we go through life, carefully listening in on clues. It made me think of life as a very slow game, with the fulfillment of your purpose as the ultimate prize. We are given clues along the way, and some bonus points to help us power through if we go the right direction. Jamie Catto, a musician, calls them God’s Deaf Waiters – they’re ready to serve you whatever you want, but asking them by way of speaking is no use because they’re deaf. They can’t hear or read words. They can only interpret what you need through the actions you make. Then and only then will they send you help by way of their interpretation of your action, so you must be crystal clear and deliberate. I find this a really wonderful illustration of intentionality.
I sincerely believe in the concept that the universe conspires to make things happen for us once we are committed to make a project happen. It gives us inspiration, resources and even mentors at the right time. However, commitment only happens when intentions are combined with action. Having intentions is not enough because they are just words or ideas, and they can sit dormant on paper, in your computer or in your head forever if you don’t act on it.
Translating intentions to action is mostly where the problem lies. Our intentions are often met with resistance in the form of self-doubt. Self-doubt presents itself in many forms and is often rooted to childhood experiences. In psychology, we refer to this as Attachment. Secure attachment is when a child has been given the proper attention by primary caregivers such that the child is confident that their needs will be met, resulting to children or adults who are emotionally available, perceptive, responsive and attuned. Children with Insecure Attachment often lack the confidence to ask for what they need, because in the past, it has mostly been neglected or even punished. They do not trust that the universe will give them what they need, and even worse, sometimes they feel that they do not deserve it. The good news is that our bodies are open systems, so even if we have learned to be a certain way in childhood, we can unlearn these behaviours given the proper relationship support, environment and practice.
So how does this all connect to the pursuit of Purpose? We have a singular purpose when we were born, but we don’t know what it is! How we reach our purpose is determined by how many actions we take in order to discover it, but we need to overcome our resistance or self-doubt in order to uncover more clues. If we don’t do anything, the resistance will overtake us casting us in the shadow of our Purpose for as long as we don’t make a move. Limiting behaviors learned during childhood might be blocking our way in fulfilling our purpose. You will need to unlearn these.
Another reason that gets in the way of our action is that we all have daily responsibilities. Much as we would like to indulge in pet projects that would inch us closer to fulfilling our purpose, our time and energy are limited. The work that pays us, housework, childcare – these all take precedence over any pet project. This prioritization rationale is correct, but if you cannot make even a tiny bit of time for yourself, it means something is wrong. Maybe you are not getting enough support, your day can be planned better, or you’re setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. So again, let me repeat, your purpose project does not have to be big. In fact, it should come easily for you in exchange for that feeling of being alive! If you do not indulge yourself in a purpose project, the risk is that you will burn out from all those other priorities anyway. You need to take time off for yourself.
Purpose is not a golden thing that you see immediately. It takes many routes and a long time to fulfill it. One week or one month of writing retreat may help clarify your intentions, but it does not equate to action. You need to take action so that the universe can give you the bonus points you need to get to the next level. Self-doubt will always be there as a distraction, and there are many ways to overcome what seems to be our hard-wired ways to be paralyzed by fear or talk ourselves small.
More on Self-Doubt in future articles. A bientôt!
If you are interested to embody how your purpose or unlearning limiting behaviors, please contact me through firstname.lastname@example.org.