Developing A Sense Of Purpose
One of the topics that I’m intending to write about in my Simple Guide To Mental And Physical Health is the need for a sense of purpose in life and the need to make progress towards that purpose. I’ve been doing some research in this area and comparing it to my own experiences. People with a strong religious faith might find enduring purpose in worship, or living according to the teaching of their faith, but I don’t have that to fall back so I need to find that purpose myself.
When I was younger I didn’t think about purpose, it just was obvious, I needed to pass my finals, earn enough to buy a house, raise my family. Now though it’s becoming more and more important. I still need to support my family but even that’s in transition as Debbie starts to earn a good wage of her own, the kids are mostly raised and earning money themselves. I no longer have an external purpose ‘imposed’ upon me I need to nurture one from within.
About 15 years ago my work provided me with a clear purpose, to improve the lives of the users of the services that I architected and designed. That purpose has gradually degraded over time, work has become a much more complex place, with many conflicting drivers and much less continuity. I’m less in control of my working life and contenting myself with trying to serve others to the best of my ability, it’s often satisfying but it’s not a purpose.
I’ve been looking for inspiration from those who have chosen an ‘Intellectual Life’ people who definitely need to find their purpose from within. I’ve been reading Cal Newport avidly. Cal promotes the need to get stuck into deep work, to find purpose through disciplined effort despite often slow progress. I like hard work, but given my health limitations a life defined by hard work would not be a good choice.
People often say that purpose comes from following your passion. Unfortunately I don’t know what my ‘true’ passion is. I’ve come to believe over the years that you need to choose to commit to an activity and develop a passion for it, rather than start with a passion.
I’ve been looking at Buddhism which promotes the idea of finding purpose in living well and Mindfulness, or living consciously. There’s a lot of value in this but it’s not enough for me.
I’ve been reading Blake Robinsons beautiful blog Intellectual Life and it’s providing me with some hints as to a way forward and recommends some books (not available as eBooks unfortunately) but I’m not buying anything for myself right now, so those will have to wait.
I’ve been thinking of volunteering, I used to do this when I was younger and I liked doing it, but I don’t have time in my life for that right now and I don’t think it will ever be my purpose, I like building things too much.
So it’s clear that I’ve been thinking a lot, but what have I concluded? I think purpose for me needs to keep evolving as my life changes, right now it needs to be something totally within my control to balance the lack of control at work and it needs to be something that doesn’t cost money.
This is what I’ve decided:
- For now this blog will be a big part of my purpose in life, but I will also complement it by developing other areas of my life that provide purpose
- I will be creating (building) a body of work that will grow in content and quality over time
- Gradually I will shape the content of this blog to align with some themes that are evolving slowly as I write
- I’m not sure what the themes will yet, but most likely they will be focussed on helping others
This is how I’m thinking about this blog:
- I’m building on the work of an amazing group of people who have come before me and continue to work along side me
- My contribution, at best, will be a very minor addition to an huge body of work that already exists
- My contribution will focus on simplification of what is already known, combined with relevant personal experiences of what does and doesn’t work for me
- Meaningful contribution will be hard and slow, I’m no genius, no full time researcher, no great writer, so my expectations need to be low
- I will improve as I go along, I won’t wait until I have perfected my writing skills, or researched a topic for years before I start. I will start and learn by doing
- I shouldn’t expect readership, comments, or other external signals of success for many years, if ever. In intellectual life progress is almost always slow, there are few breakthroughs. Few people get a successful blog, contribute new breakthrough ideas. So I need to create the blog because I enjoy doing it, as an end in itself
- I will measure progress in years
The blog will fill a gap in my life that work used to fill, but it will only complement other areas of my life that provide purpose including:
- Maintaining a strong family through the many transitions we will go through, the girls are growing up fast now and all become increasingly independent
- Supporting Debbie as she embraces her growing sense of purpose and through her passion for teaching
- Living well and continuing to challenge my declining health
- Looking after my house and garden and growing more of my own food
- Making sure we are financially secure by the time I retire
- Simplifying my life and living mindfully
The picture today is of the Haweswater in the eastern Lake District. When I’m walking here purpose doesn’t seem very important.