Finding Your Purpose, easier than you thought?

Everyday we wake up and we get really lost in all of our ish. From deciding what we want to wear,  to picking out the best cereal, we start our days by thinking about a lot of external things.  But once we strip away all of that, we are humans. Simple animals. We have feelings. We are in tune with whether we are happy or sad, we are also in tune with our own confusion.

I thought about all of this last week when I picked up the November issue of O magazine. The cover line, “Find Your True Purpose” caught my eye.  The page was bright red and it nearly blinded me, but I was curious about the message. I’ve written about how I am all tipped out. I tend to suffer from advice overload, but the pages were not tip-heavy.  I respond better to stories rather than a list of random tips, so I proceeded to see if this could shed some light on my ever-elusive purpose.

This first article I read by life coach, Martha Beck, caught my attention.  It was all about getting in touch with your primal, or animal instinct.  Sound crazy? It’s really not.

We tend to react to anything in two ways: the primal way and the rational way. Think about this: when you are presented with an idea or an opportunity, your primal reaction is the one based on your own emotions or feelings. Next, you turn to thinking turns rationally.  This happened to me when I interviewed for a job at a nonprofit awhile back. My first instinct was that I would be very bored with what I was doing. But my rational mind told me to suck it up because the money would be good.  I ended up not considering the position because I knew it would have been wrong for me.

Beck recommended creating a list of all of the times you have felt truly happy with something you were doing (professionally or otherwise).  What the heck? I decided to go for it. Here are a few things that are on my list:

– Reading
Going out to dinner and having wine with friends, or just spending time talking to my friends
My journalism fellowship at the Poynter Institute during the summer of 2008.

Just writing this list made me happy. When was the last time I’ve taken a moment to evaluate the things I truly felt happy about? A lot of Gen Y career advice is focused on finding your passion. While I believe that everyone has a passion for something, I do think that can be a loaded word that can lead to you feeling stuck. After all, a passion is supposed to be this great, shiny, sparkly, end-all, be-all thing, right? NOT. I think passion starts at a place of happiness, and that is a lot easier to figure out.

From this point, Ms. Beck suggests really identifying the specific qualities in those things that make you happy.  This exercise is about being in touch with your primal instincts. It’s about evaluating things based on how and why they make you happy. It’s not about whether your ideas are something you can make money from, or turn directly into a career. It’s about what brings you a very simple joy. This is what I came up with based on my mini list above:

Reading is my one true love. I can get totally lost in a really good book. I will cart it around with me everywhere, until I am finished.  I tell everyone about the story. The feeling of joy I get from reading books is what I imagine nirvana to feel like.

Going out to dinner with friends, is less about the food than the companionship. I view the relationships I create with people as very important. I love my spending time with my friends. I like hearing their stories and thinking about the ways in which we connect. I enjoy the laughter, and the feeling of being loved for who I am.

The time I spent at the Poynter Institute combined the best of  my key interests (storytelling, writing, and connecting with people) while allowing me to explore my thoughts and ideas. The pieces I wrote there are some of my best. And I can’t imagine living without the friends I met there.

So from those three things, I can see that having a connecting with people is important to me, and so is great storytelling, and exploring concepts. Hmmm…I started to feel as if I were on to something.

The next step, obviously, would be to think of the ways I can apply these to my career.  That step is in progress, but I do feel a lot lighter. There was a spring in my step when I left Barnes and Noble.  And I do have some ideas about what should come next.  Hey, I’m kinda digging being in touch with my animal instincts!

Go ahead, do it.  You know you want to.

Create a list of the things or times that have truly made you happy. It could be anything from the joy you have when you watch a good movie, to the first time your name was published in print.  Then ask yourself, “What about these activities made me so happy?”

And if you feel inclined, please do share :)

Think someone else needs to learn about their animal instincts?  Help me spread the word. Pass this post to your social networks via the links below.

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  1. #1 by Stephanie on November 8, 2010 - 12:01 pm

    Definitely going to do this later! I believe it will help me further brainstorm some projects I really need to get started on soon. Thanks for another inspiring entry! :)

  2. #2 by ninamehta on November 10, 2010 - 3:09 pm

    Amber, I love your fab life project. Keep tweeting your posts :) Poytner was such a fantastic time. I’m reading the book Flow, by psychologist Mihaly Cskizentmihayl who man an interesting point about a lot of times, we feel happier about something when we reflect on it, rather than when we’re in it.

    I bet you could get a lot of good stuff for your blog if you read about stuff in the field of positive psychology!

    • #3 by amberinnyc on November 11, 2010 - 8:23 am

      Nina,
      That sounds like a really good book-I will have to check it out! I’m all about positive psychology. I knew I was happy at Poynter. Even when we were up working on projects for 24 hours straight. I was sleepy, but happy!

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