Multiple scientific studies show that having a purpose in our lives benefits our performance, relationships, health, and well-being.
In my first article on purpose, I shared NPR’s summary of a study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network. Studying 6,895 American adults aged 51 to 61, study participants without a strong life purpose - regardless of gender, race, education level, or economic status - were more likely to die sooner than those with strong purpose, especially of cardiovascular disease.
In Japan, research into the impact ikigai - a reason for being or a sense of life worth living - showed such notable effects on longevity that ikigai is now included in Japan’s national health strategy. In a study of more than 43,391 Japanese men and women, not having ikigai was linked to significantly higher rates of mortality including a 60 percent higher risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.
Driven by purpose, we perform to our best ability, connect with ourselves and others in meaningful ways, and receive immense physical and mental health benefits, even living longer and healthier lives.
Let’s say that you have been seeking your purpose.
- You have reflected.
- You have sought the perspective of others.
- You have journaled.
- You have talked with people working in your areas of interest.
- You have test-driven a few options to see if they fit.
And now you have a good idea of what your purpose is at this particular time of your life.
You are trying it on for size.
Maybe you like it. Maybe you don’t. Now you want to explore further and go deeper.
In this article on purpose, I will cover how you can define a stronger purpose and dig deeper to further define and pursue your purpose.
Digging Deeper Toward Your Purpose
As we look at digging deeper toward our purpose, I’d like you to recall templeton.org's definition of purpose, as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once personally meaning and at the same time leads to productive engagement with some aspect of the world beyond the self.”
If you wish to go deeper toward your purpose, you likely already have a good idea of the purpose you are pursuing.But the reasons why and for whom you want to go deeper can be very different.
Reasons to Dig Deeper Into Your Purpose
1. You have found satisfaction in pursuing your purpose and want to explore more, focusing your efforts and increasing your impact. You wish to discover what else may be possible. This may take some extra research.
Note: This does not necessarily mean that you work more. You may instead become more specialized and targeted in the work that you have been doing when digging deeper.
As an example, Holly started a freelance writing company as her second career. She loves to write and had enough clients to keep her working full-time, but she still felt there was more that she needed to be doing with her writing skills.
After taking time to rethink her work and dig deeper into what would bring her greater meaning and satisfaction, she is now pursuing writing engagements on the topics that matter most to her including ocean conservation, coral restoration, seaweed farming, and other blue economy innovations.
She starts by doing volunteer work with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, writing about bay restoration efforts, especially oyster gardening, and she has researched and reached out to three non-profits that are regrowing coral ashore to then replant coral on reefs that have been bleached or killed by sustained high ocean temperatures and ocean acidity.
2. You still aren’t where you wish to be. You have a good idea of what brings you meaning and satisfaction, but you feel you need to explore some options to bring you closer to your purpose.
As an example, you are trained in the medical field as a Registered Nurse. Your work in helping others gives you great satisfaction, but you feel restless. You’ve worked in the same hospital for several years. You decide you want to try something different, and then commit to spending a week on an international medical mission.
You research various medical mission organizations and make contact with three of them. You decide on Nursing Beyond Borders, an organization that provides healthcare and education to orphans and poor children in Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, and Oceania. Their focus is on disease prevention, and you will be able to work with local health providers to offer free medical care to these children. You spend two weeks volunteering in the Philippines.
You return exhausted but energized by the work you did on your trip. You start researching nursing opportunities that will allow you to impact people who do not have access to basic medical care, and you continue to volunteer with Nursing Beyond Borders during some of your vacation time.
3. You believe there is a deeper issue you would like to solve. You want to define it.
As an example, you have heard the heart-wrenching stories of how 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to basic drinking water. You feel compelled to get involved and even consider starting a non-profit organization to help with solutions.
You are disheartened after reading the Water Integrity Network report on how much of them water infrastructure installed by other non-profits has not been maintained due to local corruption and mismanagement. This tells you that creating a new non-profit to provide resources won’t solve the issue. The corruption needs to be handled first.
So instead, you research how you might approach this corruption to achieve your end goal. You determine that providing media tools and articles may be a more impactful avenue to tackle corruption instead of pouring money and resources into water solutions that will be squandered due to mismanagement, theft, and power struggles.
You may still want to start that non-profit, but your research leads you to partner with an educational resource that can tackle the primary issue of corruption while you focus on the cause that most motivates you - access to clean water.
4. You are feeling bored and worried that you are stagnating.
As an example, Linda worked for 35 years as a teacher. She felt her work was important, her calling even, and she found great meaning in her teaching work despite the demands of the administration and a handful of parents. She gave her best every day to her “kids.”
Linda has retired with a modest income that provides her with the freedom to do much of what she wanted. After several months of retirement, she realized that, while the freedom and spending time with her children and grandchildren was wonderful, she felt less fulfilled than she did when she was teaching full-time. She felt bored, and a bit down.
To get out of her rut, Linda decided to volunteer a few hours each week to help adults with rudimentary language skills learn English. At first, she was hesitant to commit out of worry that she might miss out on other activities - but the deep satisfaction she felt in helping her adult students quieted that concern almost immediately. Linda knew that the time she invested in their learning would help them find decent work and better futures. And she still had more than enough time for the other things she wanted in retirement.
5. You want to gain additional clarity on your purpose.
As an example, Maureen, an attorney, was on track to retire at age 50. She asked her aunt, a Catholic nun, what she should do for her second act. Her aunt told her to “care for the poor.” A wonderful purpose, yes, but also quite broad.
While she wanted to use her skills to help others, Maureen needed to dig deeper - to undertake a journey of discovery - to uncover why she should do this and for whom. She volunteered with a few different non-profits for a period of months, then when discovering an organization she identified with most, committed to working with an organization with the mission to support and help protect women (and men) who had suffered domestic abuse.
Looking closer at her decision, she realized her choice stemmed from previous abuse she had experienced. Her mission to help others in this area became a very personal and burning passion.
How to Dig Deeper Into Your Purpose
1. Complete the statement: “I live to ….”
Explore what fits in this statement for you. Being able to articulate what exactly gets you out of bed every morning is at the heart of defining and knowing your purpose.
You can also substitute, “I love to…”
If you have difficulty completing either of these sentences with an answer that resonates fully with you, then try this statement as a starting point:
“I feel the greatest personal satisfaction when I am …”
From there you can go deeper in clarifying who and what is most meaningful to you.
2. Create a Purpose Discovery Plan. To go deeper into your purpose, this plan outlines three facets - Learn, Think, and Act - to guide your discovery.
The Purpose Discovery Plan (get download) helps you outline components of each of these three facets:
Learn: What you need to learn more about your purpose and how you will get this information
- Subjects: What topics you want to learn more about
- Experts: Who possesses the knowledge you seek
- Sources: Where you can find quality content to expand your knowledge
Think: How you will explore and think through your options to go deeper into your purpose
- Reflecting: What questions you will use to guide your reflection
- Journaling: How frequently and when you will journal
- Discussing: Those with whom you share your thoughts to get useful feedback and guidance (trusted friend, counselor, coach)
Act: How you will experiment and test-drive options to go deeper into your purpose
- Informational interviews: Talking with those who are already doing what you’d like to do
- Volunteering: Offering your services to organizations and causes that interest you most
- Trial-Run Work: Spending limited time durations (e.g. part-time, internships) to determine if a type of work is meaningful and satisfying to you.
You can do as many of these as you need to go deeper into your purpose.
A Meaningful Life
We all want meaning in our lives. To feel that what we do matters. That we matter.
In defining a meaningful life, renowned psychological scientist Martin Seligman states it is one in which we employ our highest strengths and talents to belong to and serve something larger than ourselves.
His definition sure sounds a lot like purpose to me. And I want you to live a meaningful life. This is my purpose.
Digging deeper into your purpose does not necessarily mean that you work more. You may instead become more specialized and targeted in the work that you have been doing.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
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