How do you figure out what gives you a sense of purpose? (draft under construction)

In the APGCCM formula, P stands for purpose. There are various ways to think about purpose, but within this formula what I refer to as purpose is the pursuit of a potential outcome that seems likely to be significant, valuable or worthwhile.

Some people are turned off by high-minded terms like purpose, while others may use the term in a way that separates it so far from day-to-day experience that it isn’t very useful. For my part, I’ve found that the difference between having and not having purpose can be the difference between success and failure, passion and depression, momentum and inertia. When you have a clear sense of purpose, you can almost always find a means to get closer to realizing that purpose, but when you don’t have a clear sense of purpose, even the most comfortable tasks can feel like a burden.

Let’s take a look at what I mean by purpose in the context of APGCCM.

Purpose is prospective. We experience purpose in relation to something we have not yet done. A clear sense of purpose motivates us, which is to say it raises in us the motivation or intention to take actions we believe will increase the realization of something in relation to that purpose.

In contrast, meaning is reflective. We experience meaning when we look back and try to create a story to help us interpret the situations, people, experiences and actions in our past.

When defined this way, purposes can be small and simple or great and complex. The only requirement is that they trigger the emergence of intention to do something in relation to them. Most purposes involve the replacement of one experience with another. The experience of purpose is a critical link connecting current realities to future potentialities through action.

The experience of thirst raises in us the motivation or intention to do something to quench the thirst. This is a small but important purpose that we satisfy by having a drink. In hindsight we then confirm that having a drink does indeed replace the experience of thirst with the experience of being hydrated, yeilding a meaningful narrative that drinking replaces thirst with hydration.

Many of our purposes involve much more complex scenarios. For example, we could feel a sense of purpose when we notice that a family member, friend, customer or even society needs something they aren’t currently getting, such as income, support, a satisfying ownership experience or clean air.

The experience of purpose entails the experience of agency.

Agency in combination with purpose yields action leading to growth.

The more compelling your sense of purpose the greater your resources of grit (passion and perseverance), i.e. a resilient commitment to continue the actions you believe will produce the growth (or other change) necessary for fulfillment of the purpose.

So where should we look for our sense of purpose?

Start with people.

Some people derive a sense of purpose from achievement.

Some even derive a sense of purpose from the pursuit of abstract values like freedom, love, etc.

Knowing what gives you of a sense of purpose is like having a set of keys you can use to get yourself ready for all kinds of pursuits in work and life.

You simply need to find a way to anchor what you think you need to do to what you really care about.

For example, for many years I have been traveling for business because my customers have usually been located somewhere else. In the early stages I usually enjoyed this travel, but over the years I began to tire of all the time in airplanes and airplane lounges. Since traveling was a necessary part of my formula for creating value to my employers and customers, though, I could not just stop traveling. To do so would deprive me of the income I required to serve one of my most important purposes: taking care of my family. So during during many of my flights I learned to take a few moments to remember the purpose of the trip and doing so made it much easier for me to move past my weariness so I could focus more energy on doing my work well when I arrived at my destination.

Interestingly, taking care of my family also did eventually lead me to cut back on travel. There came a time when I had been away so much that I felt I was losing touch with the lives of my two sons at important junctures in their childhoods. Although I took a hit in terms of income, I decided that I would be serving the purpose of caring for my family better by being at home more.

The key point here is that the purpose of taking care of my family created a context for both of these decisions in a way that focusing exclusively on my clients or professional ambitions could not. I realized that what I cared about most was my family so the wellbeing of my family became the anchor for most of my important decisions relating to work. This enhanced my growth as a professional because I often had to take on challenging projects to maintain my income. It enhanced my grit because without the purpose of taking care of my family I would have been much less likely to generate the passion and perseverance necessary to successfully complete those projects.

(more to come on this post)

© Dana Cogan, 2024, all rights reserved.

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