Finding purpose - and the traces of purpose - in our actions
I’ve been thinking recently about the idea of how we might describe purpose through actions.
One of my mentors got me wondering about this. When he asked me what my purpose was, I felt slightly dizzied by the enormity of the question. There were so many possibilities, all of which at first glance didn’t feel right. ‘What is yours?’ I shot back, hoping to deflect attention from the sudden hole that had opened up in my self-awareness. He didn’t need to stop and think, and nor did he frame or qualify his reply.
His purpose was ’to resolve conflict’
It wasn’t to be someone or get somewhere or achieve something. It wasn’t even to become the best conflict resolver he could be. Just to resolve conflict. In his role as an HR leader, its effects were to facilitate the flow of information and meaning around the senior management team. As a coach he had a knack for identifying the sand in the gears that was restricting growth. For him purpose was not a particular path but something with a range of applications. He was an explorer rather than a mountaineer. As someone for whom the idea of identifying a life path feels almost impossibly restrictive, I found this liberating. It felt more like a way of navigating than a destination. It prompted me to turn to the things I had already done to search for traces of what my own purpose might be.
I like the thought of purpose being something that leaves traces, in the same way that an animal might. [The daemons from Philip Pulman’s Northern Lights trilogy leap to mind here.] Was it not that I hadn't 'found my purpose’, but instead that I hadn't recognised it? What kind of trail might it have left?
My suspicion was that these footprints might be found within experiences which were personally meaningful. My mentor had challenged me to look for my own purpose before the next session we had together. Many scribbled diagrams and sucked pencil-ends later I discovered something in an unexpected place. But that’s a story for another post…