Finding Your Purpose
I grew up with very supportive, enabling parents who provide for me in every manner to be expected. However, I am acutely lacking any serious desire to excel in anything. That’s not to say I’m depressed or pathetic, just that I lack a central motivation or ambition. — Aaron
A purpose is that final answer to the question of why? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why does it matter? Why is it important? Finding your purpose, argues William Damon, author of The Path to Purpose, means figuring out what drives you on a daily basis, what motivates you to achieve those immediate goals, and what inspires you to keep going when the going gets tough.
Myriad psychological and behavioral research has found that finding purpose and meaning play significant roles in wellbeing. It turns out that one of the prime predictors of being happy and healthy in old age is whether you had a sense of purpose going through your life.
Purpose can be big or small. Studies show that most people find purpose in their jobs — even if those jobs aren’t exactly glamorous. If you wait tables at a restaurant, perhaps you realize that your purpose is to have people leave happier than when they arrived. If you input data, perhaps you realize that the data you are carefully entering affects decisions on a much broader level. As Damon writes, “noble purpose can be found in the day-to-day fabric of ordinary existence.”
Purpose is intentional. Purpose means doing something like you mean it, not just because you’re going with the flow. And when you do that, studies find, different parts of your brain are activated, and you
start to learn and grow in faster and more efficient ways.
Purpose is the reason for your goals. While goals and motives come and go, your sense of purpose — your answer to the question “why?” — is the end goal that drives them. You might want to do well on a test, or save enough money for a summer in Ghana, but what’s the reason for that? To get good grades to go to medical school to help save lives? To save money to travel to learn more about world culture so you can affect global change?
Purpose can change over time — and can evolve. Purpose doesn’t need to be something huge like curing cancer or feeding the world’s starving. Those are great goals — and do give many people purpose — but anything that you find challenging, absorbing, or compelling, anything that takes you out of your own head and allows you to make a contribution to the greater world around you — that’s purpose.
Again, purpose is the “why” behind what you do — and it’s probably the most fundamental statement about who you want to be. It’s thinking bigger than short-term things like self-promotion, status, and things. But if you’re like most of Generation WTF, you’re getting a bit panicky now. What’s your purpose?
(SEE PDF for EXERCISES TO FIND YOUR PURPOSE.)
Putting It All Together: Your Personal Mission Statement
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey encourages his readers to craft a personal mission statement that will guide their decisions. This statement should be the “basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives. It empowers individuals with the same timeless strength in midst of change.” For Generation WTF, creating that kind of personal mission statement is crucial.
Your personal mission statement is a combination of your core values and your sense of purpose that will guide you through the tough career, personal, and financial decisions that lie ahead. Look back at your values. Look back at your notes on figuring out your short-term and long-term purpose. What does this tell you about who you are — and who you want to be?
Covey compares a personal mission statement to a personal constitution: It doesn’t change much over time and it represents our core beliefs. Your mission statement will guide you in making both daily and major life decisions and will empower you to have strength in the midst of challenges.
Here’s how to get started:
- Think of sentences that begin with “I will . . .” It can be a list or a series of paragraphs.
- Take notes for a few days — and add to the mission statement as you work through this book. Post a draft of your mission statement online at www.generationwtf.com to get feedback — and read the mission statements of other Generation WTFers.
- After you’ve written your personal mission statement, make sure you’ll be reminded of it in the future. Go to www.generationwtf.com to find out how I can remind you of what you wrote months from now.
Creating a mission statement isn’t something that will happen overnight, but it also won’t write itself. So use the space on the next page — or the pages in your journal — to think about what you might like to include. Look back to your core values as an early guide.
If this seems a bit challenging, you’re not alone: Testers found that this exercise required a good deal of thought. You don’t wake up every day with an end-game in mind because “the end” — whether it is the end of the semester, the end of an internship, or the end of your life — seems too far away to easily contemplate. Those who accepted the challenge and drafted a mission statement, though, said it changed the way they approached decisions both big and small. Thinking about your values, finding your purpose, and crafting a personal mission statement gives direction to your life — and it puts you way ahead of your peers.
“A personal mission statement has helped me because it made me realize what I want in life, how I want to do that, and the reason for what I want in life,” said Katherine. “I realized that I want to graduate from college, go to grad school, and get a good job as a counselor. These things can make me a better person. I need to remember that my grades now will affect the future.”
A big part of Katherine’s mission statement was to focus less on material objects and more on character and happiness. “By not being obsessed by material possessions, [I can] keep my character in check [and stop] worrying if I have the latest iPod.”
Crafting a personal mission statement means making a commitment to your values — and beginning to understand your purpose in life. Get started now jotting down ideas and personal pledges, and then, for the next few weeks, as you read and work your way through this book, let it be a work in progress.
Because we’re going to be referring back to your values, your purpose, and your mission statement personal promises often, you might want to use this page to copy down what you’re thinking so far — so you’ll be able to more easily flip back to remind yourself of these values as you work through the rest of the book.
My name is .
Today is . I am years old.
My FIVE CORE VALUES are:
My FIVE CORE TALENTS are:
In the next ten years, my PURPOSE will be to:
The key concepts I want to include in a personal mission statement are: