Exploring purpose requires you to slow down and reflect. Put away the blackberry and cell phone. Take yourself away from your daily routines, so you can eliminate distractions. I find it very helpful to get out of my office. Periodically, I will take a note pad and one book to a coffee shop. When I relax into those moments, I feel inspired, spacious and alive. I generate all kinds of thoughts and ideas. My creative juices start flowing.
Once you enter a space of quiet and reflection, I encourage you to consider one or all of the following exercises. You do not need to ponder them all at the same time.
1) Think of the times when you have felt most alive or in the flow. What was going on during that time? What did you love about those experiences? What did you learn about yourself and what matters to you? For me, the best times revolve around interactions with people and spending time in nature. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about “flow” experiences in his book, Finding Flow. Conversely, reflect upon the times when you felt out of alignment or in a state of conflict. What was going on? What did those experiences have to teach you about what you want out of your life? One of my most difficult challenges was in a former job. That experience reminded me that I want to be part of a team that values collaborating, developing people, appreciating differences, embracing conflict and focusing on truly serving the customer. The phrase, “that’s just the way it is” is not acceptable to me. I also became aware of my reactive tendencies when I am shocked by other people’s behavior.
2) Another way to explore purpose is to pay attention to the frequent clues, signs and synchronicities that show up in your life. Gregg Levoy discusses synchronicities a great deal in his book, Callings. These signs show up in a variety of ways including book titles, articles that come across your desk, dreams, conversations you overhear, physical symptoms, music, art, and poetry. Notice what resonates with you. During my stressful job situation, I decided to tell a colleague that I was going to resign. She tried to convince me to stay. When I got home that evening, I felt sick. Every bone in my body told me that I could not stay. A month or two before my resignation, I went to my doctor for a physical. While I waited in the exam room, I looked up at the magazine rack. On the cover of the March 29, 2004 issue of Business Week was the headline, “ACT TWO: Ann Fudge’s two-year break changed her life.” I had several other signs that confirmed my decision to pursue a different direction in my career.
3) A third approach is to create a list of things you want to do, have or become in order to be happy. Take a look at each item on your list. Why does it matter to you? What about it inspires you? How would you like it to be part of your future? Some of the things on my list include interacting with people, building community, lifelong learning and development, spending time in nature, laughter and integrity.
Write a purpose statement.
When you have completed these exercises, identify the common patterns and themes. I have gone through all of these exercises during the past eight years. The same patterns show up over and over again. Finally, create a purpose statement that captures the most important themes. It should be simple and inspiring. Post the statement in your office or a place where you will view it frequently. Use this statement to guide your decision making, the priorities in your life, and your professional and leadership development.