A purposeful life. The phrase rolls easily off our tongues and through the air, pushed by longing and passion.
Yes! This is what we want. We feel it deep in our bones. We want it more than a home security attack panda. And that, my friends, is saying a lot.
We are smart cookies, and this isn’t our first rodeo. We know we must make informed decisions — we must first learn before we act. We spent 3 weeks and four trips to the horror that is a big-box store to feel confident about buying a new cell phone case. We should probably research a bit before transforming our lives.
So, we read blogs, articles, and books by gurus and experts. We find quotes to pin to our boards. We watch free webinars and participate in trademarked group programs or retreats that promise to expedite our total life transformation. We are given numbered steps, 2-page worksheets, and lists of top-10 must do’s. (We notice our top-10 lists are different. We’ll just add them up into a master, top-40 list.)
□ live in the present □ dream big □ meditate □ set goals and intent □ journal □ be of service □ be positive □ self-acknowledge…yadda yadda…got it.
We recognize this high-level stuff isn’t specific to a purposeful life, per se…but we’re sure it will make sense and fall into place once we spring into action. We are ready.
Go! We start doing. We volunteer and up our charitable contributions. We get a new planner convinced its positive phrases and inspirational stickers make it more effective than the one we abandoned. We add self-care “to-do’s” to our lists, brush the dust off our yoga mats, and vow to change our eating habits and drink more green things. We fill our journals with some really wild stuff and occasionally a grocery list. We look for professional paths that are focused on a mission or making the world a better place. We set big goals and get sh** done.
It feels good…for a few hot minutes. Then, time passes, and we realize things don’t feel very different. We’re doing more, but everything seems lost in the noise. Or, we have stopped much of the doing and feel guilty for not staying on top of it all.
What went wrong? We don’t understand. We read. We committed. We acted. WTF?!
Breath. Hug yourself. It’s OK.
(And, for the love of our taste buds, put down your glass of gross green stuff.)
OK, little grasshoppers. I’m going to give you my two cents on where we may have gone wrong. But first, let’s talk about the word “purposeful.”
Purposeful is a particularly powerful word. Sure, it’s not as glittery as petrichor, ineffable, chicanery, or absquatulate. No matter. Because, what it lacks in bedazzle it makes up for in elegance: It conveys puzzle pieces of meaning that fit together into a rich picture. Lovely.
- With determination and resolve
A purposeful life is a life of meaning. It is a life lived with intention. It is a life of service led with determination and resolve.
This leads us to our challenge. We jumped from learning to doing without first thinking. (We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this. I’ve seen organizations spend millions of dollars on the learning and doing while forgetting the thinking; at least we aren’t out millions of dollars facing staff with pitch forks.)
When we made this jump, we didn’t stop to translate the learning so we could understand what doing we should be doing to create a purposeful life. We didn’t integrate ourselves — the “who” — into the word purposeful:
- What is meaningful to me? What brings meaning to my life?
- What is my intent? Do I have what I need to act with intention — clarity regarding my life vision, values, guiding principles, priorities, and goals?
- What does being useful mean to me? How do I want to serve? Who do I want to serve? What strengths and gifts do I want to share?
- How can I make sure I’m acting with determination and resolve? What do I need to support me? What may get in my way? How will I ensure I can keep going?
Without this thinking, we don’t have clarity. And, in many ways, we are more aimless than intentional. We lack a compass to help steer our decision making towards “purposeful.” What do we keep doing, and what must we stop doing? When do we say, “yes,” and when do we say, “no”? What must we hold, change, or let go? Even if we are setting goals and getting sh** done, if the goals and sh** aren’t aligned to our definition of living a purposeful life, we don’t move forward. We spin. We stall out. We go back to the status quo, defeated. To quote Peter Drucker, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Ouch.
The thinking step is a BIG one. It can take months…sometimes many months…to work through. And, you will need to revisit this step often as you experiment, grow, and evolve. This step also takes work. A LOT of work. It requires answering a ton of questions. Many can be challenging to grapple with. Often folks find they need support to work through this step. It’s OK; we weren’t meant to journey this life alone, nor should we.
By now, you may be wondering what I will ask of you as you head into your weekend. Don’t panic. I am not going to ask you to expedite your thinking step and have it all squared away by Monday. Anyone who says this is possible is a liar.
What is possible, though, is for you to bite off a small chunk of thinking. To get your juices flowing. To give you the lightness clarity brings. To help you decide whether this ride is for you.
So, as you head into your weekend, pick one or two of my questions below to start answering. And, think about what you can do to move forward with designing a purposeful life.
- When you look at your current world, what in it is meaningful or brings you meaning? Why is it meaningful?
- What is not meaningful? Why do you allow it in your life?
- What would you add to your life to bring more meaning? What would you take away?
- Picture your vision for your life. What does it look like? What features stick out? What does it feel like? What words could describe it?
- How do you want to serve across the different areas of your life? Who do you want to serve? What gifts and strengths do you want to share?
- What are your most treasured values? How do you align your decisions and actions to your values? How might you enhance how you align your decisions and actions to your values?
- What in your life does not align with your values? Why do you allow it in your life?
- What are your guiding principles? What do you want them to be? How can these make it easier to be confident in your decisions? How can these help you live with intention?
Please feel free to share your thoughts; we’d love to hear from you!