Who among us would be comfortable saying our life has no purpose?
You would have to be willing to admit to everyone you care about – and who cares about you – that there is no overarching thing that gives your life direction and meaning.
I guess it’s okay in your teen years or early 20s to say that you are still trying to find yourself, but by the time you reach middle age, the expectation is that you have identified your life’s purpose and are actively pursuing it… whatever “it” may be.
According to a Forbes article from earlier this year, “The First Step Toward Purpose That Most of Us Skip,” the right place to begin a life of purpose is with understanding your unique “profile.” Nell Derick Debevoise, the author of the article, defines that profile as consisting of interests, skills and needs and further outlines three components that contribute to purpose: 1) mindfulness, or awareness of your profile; 2) the topics and issues that motivate or excite you; 3) and getting started.
Debevoise proposes that the best way to determine purpose is through meditation. Meditation seems to me to be one of those skills of which someone is a fan, a believer, a practitioner or not.
I myself have made a few novel attempts but I must admit that I have not currently gotten to the point of receiving the full benefit available.
For the rest of you non-believers, just go with this for a while.
To Debevoise, mindfulness is about making time and space to listen to your thoughts, feelings and physical reactions. Mindfulness is achieved by devoting time and space to listen. How much time you devote is less important than the regularity with which you attempt it.
I always thought meditating was something you could only do while sitting cross-legged in a quiet room with your eyes closed, but Debevoise suggests mindfulness could be also be achieved while running, cooking or connecting with nature. The key is to focus and avoid distractions.
The second piece to the purpose puzzle, what Debevoise calls “The Issues,” involves your unique interests, qualities and skills – the things that strike your purpose chord, so to speak. Quieting your mind and eliminating outside distractions will allow these to become more evident to you.
Debevoise references another author, Lara Galinsky, who has an exercise called Head, Heart and Hustle. The idea is to uncover your unique purpose.
- What headlines do you read first in the paper?
- What things give you goosebumps?
The point Galinsky is making is that what is important to you is out there; you just need to pay attention.
In Debevoise’s third component of purpose (“Start Somewhere”), she suggests picking some action towards something you want to fix or improve. What’s important here is that you pick something you can give time to. Don’t overcommit; if you do, it won’t happen, certainly not in the longer-term.
The idea is that, over time, it becomes a habit, a part of your routine. You can increase your commitment over time but start small and meet your target.
So, what attracted me to this article?
I am beginning work on another book on Learning Agility (the working title is “Learning Agility – It Can be Developed”), and I am attracted to any ideas that may help me help others develop the nine dimensions of Learning Agility, as defined by the Burke Learning Agility Inventory.
The ninth dimension is Reflecting, or “Slowing down to evaluate one’s own performance to be more effective.” That sounds a lot like what Debevoise suggested was part of mindfulness and meditation.
There are four parts to Burke’s Learning Agility dimension of Reflecting:
- Reflecting on how to be more effective
- Considering reasons for, and consequences of, actions or events
- Reflecting on work processes and projects
- Evaluating events with others to understand what happened
Burke’s definition of Reflecting is slowing down and looking at your own performance to figure out how to be more effective, sounds a lot like Debevoise’s advice to make time and space to listen. It is about filtering out distractions so that you can focus.
Burke’s next behavioral indicator is considering reasons for and consequences of actions or events. Debevoise didn’t say you couldn’t go into one of your sessions with an agenda.
Today or for the next three days during my meditation time, I am going to think about this project we are working on and consider reasons for and consequences of actions or events.
That is my individual work.
I will then share that with someone else involved and get his or her perspective.
I will also devote one or more sessions to thinking/meditating about the processes we are using on this project – what is working and what could be improved.
I do my own work and then share and get input from others.
Lastly, Reflecting deals with evaluating events with others to understand what happened. I am going to do that in two parts. First, I will use one or more meditating sessions to answer that question myself. I will then take my output and get others’ input.
The time spent Reflecting here has showed me some concrete steps I can take to improve my reflecting and I now feel more of an incentive to progress on my meditating.
Remember Burke’s research around Learning Agility established the importance of motivation to Learning Agility efforts.
David Hoff is the chief operation officer and executive vice president for leadership development at E.A.S.I-Consult®. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I.’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.