Life at Allens
What is my purpose and how do I find it?
By Shannon Lyndon-Lugg, Acting Chief People Officer
There is a lot of talk (or Instagram posts!) about 'finding your purpose' and it sometimes seems that if you don't have a clear purpose, you're missing out on an important part of your life plan.
However, for most people, finding their purpose in life is not obvious and many people find it hard to define one, particularly at younger ages.
If this is you, these four tips will help.
Purpose isn’t discovered, it’s developed
Angela Duckworth, a world-renowned psychologist, has spent her life studying world-class achievers who are deeply passionate and purposeful. She says that people imagine discovering their purpose happens the way it does in a movie - with a flash of insight and a musical overtone. BAM! The next thing you know, you are exactly who you're meant to be and doing what you are meant to be doing.
Duckworth, the author of 'Grit' (a highly recommended read, by the way), says the reality of cultivating your purpose is not nearly as romantic, or as easy. It takes hard work and deep intention to develop the direction often referred to as purpose. It's not immediate, it's generally slow and it happens over a long period of time.
Cultivate your interests
The best way to find your purpose is to cultivate your interests. Find something you think is interesting or that you enjoy and nurture this. Immerse yourself in it - read, research, play - grow the seeds of this interest into a passion. Over time, if you put energy and focus into it you may feel a slow-burning passion building, or you may find it isn't going to be a driving force in the long term – this is just as important to know.
One practical way to bring this to life is to find interesting things in what you are already doing today and mindfully focus on these. Maybe it’s not the technical subject matter of the law that you love; perhaps it’s the client interactions, working with a team, or the role that a lawyer can play in the community. Pay deep attention to these aspects. Cultivate them, study them, play with their different elements, and follow the path that allows you to spend even more time doing them.
Purpose takes perseverance
Perseverance, setting your own stretch goals for your personal performance, and interpreting failure as a necessary step in learning are key elements to fostering a personal purpose. The best advice here is whatever you do, don’t give up. Instead of giving up, take a step right or left, pick the things about the current situation you do like and follow that forward. Keep moving toward what interests you and cultivate the elements you enjoy.
Luckily, Ange Duckworth has advice for us here too, saying that a 'good-enough fit' is more reasonable to aim for than a perfect one. Too often, people (particularly lawyers and aspiring lawyers!) are looking for perfection. Ange suggests we should consider each step along the way as an opportunity to learn and grow, and a required stepping-stone in our journey. Think about a river with a pathway of stepping-stones used to cross from one side to the other - you can't step from the first stone to the last, you have to take each step as it comes.
Find a way your passion can improve the world
Having passion for what you do (even a small part of what you do) is an important part of purpose. The next step is turning that passion into something that can benefit society at large. Expanding your passion from personal interest to something that benefits those around you, your community, and society brings transcendence to your purpose, something studies have shown to be a powerful motivator.
Achieving this could be as simple as reframing the way you view yourself and the work that you do. What is the highest and best way to describe what you do? How does it help those around you? A lawyer shifting their focus from simply providing contract advice, to considering the role they play in ensuring a fair and equitable justice system is transcendence at play.
Remember, don't look for the blinding flash of revelation - it's not coming. Instead take the next step, and the next, and the next. Wherever it leads, you will be ahead of where you are today, always growing and always learning.