Paying attention to what we feel strongly about, and being curious and experimenting with our experiences of life and work can help us identify what gives us meaning and help us point this towards a purpose of our life and work
What is the point?
Do you ever find yourself wondering this? Often. Frequently. Never?
It is normal to ask ourselves what is the point of our existence.
When life throws its challenges at us and work just seems an uphill battle, it can feel thankless. Often it is the loss of someone we loved that has us standing there, at the funeral service, maybe crying, maybe singing, definitely remembering our love for them, but also experiencing a sense of own mortality. Feeling this mortality so keenly can lead us to question if we have our priorities straight in our life. If we are spending our time where we really want to, or are we just reacting and responding to what is happening around us?
This can be a tough thought and you may be tempted to just push it out of your mind and get on with what you are doing. However, I invite you to see what the value of this thought. It is your subconscious calling to you.
Our subconscious is the background processor of our thoughts because we need so much of our conscious capacity to interact with the world. Our subconscious is like our digestion system. Taking what you put into your head and then churning it through, its magical thought digestion process, to then allocate it to a memory and often to an action too.
Those moments when you suddenly remember, “Oh I must phone about that first-aid course I was thinking about possibly doing.” It’s your subconscious pushing forward an action related to a thought. In the case of the first aid course, it was witnessing a man have a heart attack in the queue for flight check-in at Manchester airport and no-one around knowing any first aid to be able to help.
Anyway – for some, they describe these thoughts pushed forward as their “wake-up call”.
When it comes to the really big stuff like why do we exist, why are we on this planet, why do I exist and what have I done with my life, why do I do this job and does anyone in this company notice – then this is when spending some time working on what you want your purpose to be in life can really help.
Plus, if you manage people, then you can help tap into this by also helping people connect their purpose to their role on the team and in the organisation. It’s a powerful way to help people engage.
What do I mean by purpose?
By purpose, I am referring to the extensive research around the value of finding meaning in life which states that people who feel they have a meaningful life are happier and more satisfied.
Focusing on finding what gives us meaning, helps us discover a purpose for ourselves.
Many people quote their family as their purpose, i.e. to provide and care for their children, parents, or partner. Indeed, a lot of parents tell me that having children has helped them find meaning and a purpose in their life, one that is much richer than their work.
However, asides from the incredible life choice that is parent-hood, there are other ways to find a meaningful life.
BUT I need to highlight here that it is something you must find for yourself.
I’ll say that again – if you spend all your time asking other people what your purpose should be, you will indeed get lots of answers, but all of them will be from others’ life perspectives and their view of you. So whilst it might be food for thought, only you can really be the one to identify what your purpose is.
However – as a leader and manager of people – you can help people understand how their own purpose connects to the organisation’s purpose.
Where do I start?
You might be thinking – but I’ve thought about it and I still don’t know exactly what my purpose is.
That’s okay. Part of discovering your life’s purpose is travelling through the land of ‘don’t know’.
And that’s when you’ve managed to let go of doing what other people tell you your purpose is.
Let me share with you why the land of ‘don’t know’ is part of the journey.
Firstly, when you accept that not knowing is okay, it invites you to have an open-mind, to have curiosity about the world around you and to experiment.
Secondly, spend some time getting involved in different things such as trying different jobs, in different industries, talking to people who do different work to you, and seeking experiences that you have never done before.
Thirdly, now this isn’t about thrill-seeking or having lots of fun. This is about paying acute attention to what you notice you feel in body and mind when engaging in these different experiences.
When something gives you a sense of meaning, it is both mentally engaging and stimulating to you and gives you a feeling of one-ness and connection.
What you need to look for are the patterns in this. When you engage in different actions and experiences, what are the (often small) things that give you that mental and physical feeling?
Most importantly, make a note of this consciously!
Over time, and the more you explore, the more likely you will build up a list of things that start forming a pattern.
For example, does helping another person give you that feeling? Does realising that what you designed made a difference to a project at work? Does finding out that your persistence in introducing more sustainable practices at work has made a difference to the world?
It can also be helpful to talk to other people to find out how they find meaning and purpose in life.
What new thing could you try this month that you have never done before?
How do I identify my purpose?
From finding things that give you that sense of meaning, you then start to build a vision of your purpose.
Purpose is similar to defining a life or work goal, but it is deeper and has more than external rewards. It has internal rewards in that sense of a powerful feeling.
Purpose is a feeling as well as a thought.
It needs you to imagine standing back and looking at your life from the outside. Almost like you’re in space and looking down on yourself on earth.
One helpful exercise can be the often used obituary exercise where you reflect on what you want people to say about you once you are dead.
However, I often find this morbid viewpoint can be a bit overwhelming.
Imagining yourself floating around in space looking back at yourself is much more fun. It also helps you stay in a positive mindset (link to pol).
By paying close attention to what you like, enjoy and connect with, you can start to link this back into the practicalities of life and work.
Ask yourself, what could you do in life or work that will help you bring in those elements that give you that sense of meaning?
Warning – effort is now required! This will take: some research, talking to other people, exploring it with a career coach, completing a careers or motivations or strengths questionnaire, doing online research around industries and jobs. Remember that new types jobs are invented all the time!
With that research it’s then again looking at how you can gain exposure to and experiences in these things. Whether that’s volunteering, work experience, interim work, temp work, holiday work, job shadowing, having a mentor, doing a course, travelling, living somewhere different etc.
You are looking to make a deliberate connection between – what gives you a sense of meaning and what type of life and work can provide you with purpose; and also meet your practical needs, such as income.
It is a feedback loop, a learning cycle where you are constantly feeding in new experiences and feelings, tweaking and amending, and then trying something different.
Be open to what doesn’t work as well, how does that feed into your sense of meaning. If it reduces it or gives you the wrong sort of feeling, pay attention to that as a road not to travel down.
As a leader, how do I help people find their purpose?
As a manager or leader of people, there is a real opportunity here to give people a chance to broaden out their experiences and activities in an organisation. What one-off or special projects could they get involved in? Who could they be mentored by or job shadow? What training might give them a new perspective?
Helping people continue to explore, experiment and be curious about the organisation – enables them to find what they connect with most and brings them meaning.
Helping people make that conscious connection between their own purpose and the organisation’s overall vision can help increase that sense of engagement.
Finding your purpose can also help you build the type of life you want to live and work in a role and organisation aligned with your purpose.
At Co-Creation, we help people find their purpose. We help organisations and leaders make the business’s purpose clear and help people connect their own purpose to the organisations; creating happier, more engaged employees.