Purpose is not an accident, it is sought.

April 30, 2020

Posted in  Thoughts

I voluntarily left my job 3 months ago to go full-time into seeking my purpose.

Purpose, to me, is a pursuit which aligns with both what matters deeply to me and is one in which I can contribute at my very highest. An alignment of meaning and strengths. A pursuit which sets my heart on fire, no matter the reward or criticism.

The charcoal of my heart is still just glowing embers. I can’t say I know exactly what my purpose is, but I do have a better idea of what purpose is not.

Purpose is not an accident.

It will not land on me by chance like a brick to the face.

I have to seek it out, repeatedly and deliberately.

I’m one of those people who often finds money on the floor. Whenever this happens, I consider it a very lucky day indeed. But is it really ‘luck’? How is it, that a shining, bright red $10 SGD bill sitting in the middle of the pavement, gets passed over by so many other people and I’m the only one who picks it up.

Being at the right time and place helps. But that alone isn’t enough. If I wasn’t looking out for it, if I hadn’t over the years considered myself “one of those people who often finds money on the floor” and built a habit of keeping my eyes on the lookout for treasures when on a casual stroll, I would have passed it by just like everyone else before me.

Purpose is also not about “doing everything and anything”.

I am a big proponent of the growth mindset; that anyone can work at becoming better at something if they so choose.

What that used to mean for me in practice was that I strove to be an “all-rounder”. I would look very closely at my weaknesses and invest extraordinary amounts of effort into improving those areas, since I felt I “could and should”. In turn, I neglected and downplayed my strengths. I blurred the lines between my likes and dislikes since I could “learn to like” anything. I was an “okay with anything” person.

In short, in trying to be everything, I had no idea who I was.

I still very much believe in the growth mindset, but apply it differently.

Instead of seeing myself as a “can be everything”, I think of myself as a house. Every element of my personality is a part of this house. Some parts can be easily arranged, like changing the curtains. These are the habits and preferences that take little effort to change, like deciding to have green tea instead of earl grey in the morning. Other parts, like the foundation, take much more effort. These are my strong preferences, and elements which make up my fundamental self. Like my love for cake. That said, the entire house can still be razed to the ground and re-built, although I’d think twice about that.

In seeking my purpose, I’ve had to learn how to listen to my heart to understand what lays the foundation of my house. What comes naturally to me? What doesn’t? What really lights me up and energizes me, and isn’t just a so-so buzz?

The answers are already here, but my eyesight is still 20/160. Squint.

I’ve been taking steps to enhance my vision.

These are all very small actions towards knowing myself better, and I have no expectation that I will have a purpose crafted in the next month or even year. It’s hard being honest with myself. It’s hard undoing old habits of mind and tendencies that no longer serve me. So I’m starting small to build up to bigger, more difficult things.

Practising self-honesty by rating food

Right after finishing a meal, I rate everything I had eaten as good, so-so or ‘wouldn’t have again’. Food is one of life’s biggest pleasures and should be enjoyed, not merely tolerated. Many times I’ll say I enjoyed something especially if it was made by myself or someone else, out of pride or wanting to be nice. But in asking myself for an honest rating, sometimes I surprise myself with a ‘wouldn’t have again’. I let go of pretending otherwise. I’ve experienced so much more joy from eating with this simple practice.

Journaling delights & discomforts

Every evening, I journal just two things: what delighted me? What caused discomfort? I collect the delights and try to do more of that, even scale up the delight. Having family dinners is delightful, so I planned more get-togethers like weekend movie lunches and mid-day stretching sessions. Discomforts signal that there may be some misalignment to explore further — perhaps it’s something I should stop, or do differently.

Broadening experiences by making time for play

I used to force myself to do only things which were ‘productive’ even if the experience pained me (like trying to take up a data science course…) One day, I asked myself, “What are my hobbies? What do I do for play?” I had no answer. Now I constantly look out for things which pique my interest. What sounds inspiring? What could be fun? What books, videos and activities am I drawn towards? I avoid rationalising and just go with whatever my heart says “let’s do it!!” That little leap of excitement is always a clue that this could lead somewhere interesting.

Any increase in self-knowledge, no matter how small, is a step towards knowing what matters to me and what my strengths are. That’s always going to be a step in the right direction towards knowing my purpose, even if it’s not straight going. There’s no guarantee I’ll come across a $10 bill tomorrow, but I’m going to keep increasing my odds by keeping my eyes wide open.

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