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Changing Your Trajectory to Live a Life of Purpose

Live on Purpose

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~E.E. Cummings

For a long time, I felt disconnected from my life. I'd spent most of it on autopilot, either regretting the past or dreaming about the future.

I regretted being too afraid to read an essay at the monthly open mic near me for all those years. I thought a lot about writing without actually writing.

I dreamed about a future me, totally transformed with much better hair, eagerly writing at a sunny cafe, the words flowing through my fingers easily, flawlessly.

My approach to finding purpose in my career has been to pause, pay attention, and appreciate the journey. It's subtle, like changing the trajectory of a rocket—a small adjustment or a few shifts make an enormous difference in the end result.

Pause.

My dad used to urge me to find my “calling” and offer my gifts to the world. This always intimidated me. What was my calling?

To answer such a question, you have to relax and give yourself space, even if it's just a breath. Before you decide to drop everything and make a drastic career move, pause.

Take time to explore what makes you tick. What activities motivate you and give you moments of flow? What tasks drain you? Cut through the layers of caked on assumptions like: “I can't consider taking a pay cut” or “A lateral move means I have failed.” Start your journey by stopping and letting go.

For me, I’ve always both known I loved writing and that I would obviously never be qualified enough to do it professionally.

I have been journaling since kindergarten, writing for as long as I’ve been able to. I have simultaneously been telling myself that under no circumstances should I dare to think of being an actual writer. I’m not smart enough or well-read enough or disciplined enough to make such a claim. A nice side trick, sure, but not something I could ever pursue professionally.

Pay attention.

Once the dust settles, you can start building self-awareness. It's hard to find our purpose because we don't really know ourselves. We don't know what we genuinely like to do or why we do what we do. We never question what influences us.

We end up in a career because our parents approved of it, because we thought it would be safe or because it was easy enough.

There are many ways to develop self-awareness. Along with meditation, I recommend checking out a variety of online tools, including Imperative's Purpose Pattern. Also, consider taking a look at StrengthsFinder, The Artist's Way, The Enneagram Institute or Myers Briggs.

If you are immediately turned off at the thought of self-reflection exercises, just notice that and be curious about it. Resistance is a powerful teacher when we pay attention.

For me, I just started to notice that little naysayer voice. At first, I just heard it louder and louder. You are so not a writer. Nope, not a writer. Don’t even think that you ever could be.

Eventually, I noticed how repetitive and boring it was. You are so not a writer. Nope, not a writer. Ugh—you again?! Don’t believe everything that you think.

My friend sent me a job description for a “Communications Specialist.” I immediately laughed at her email. “I’m not qualified for that!” You are so not a writer. Nope, not a writer.

A few hours later, after recognizing this stale voice as the same one that had been annoying me for years, I applied anyway

Appreciate the journey.

Humans are much bigger than cubicle walls and far more expansive than the margins of resumes.

School, unfortunately, tends to instill a “ladder climbing” mentality—get good grades to get a good GPA to get a good job.

What were you taught a “successful” career looks like? High pay? Stability? Title? If we are constantly focused on getting enough points to get to the next level, we will miss out on everything.

I knew early on I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector as, what I assumed would be, a clear path to “make a difference” and “do good.” Of course, I immediately realized how fraught all those rosy intentions were, and how messy this business of “making things better” is.

Like me, you may still get trapped worrying about if you’re “making a difference” in an appropriately prestigious enough way. You may still get trapped longing for stability and a sense that you are important in some way.

Some research shows people are happier when they are present with their current experience, no matter what it is.

Appreciate the mental grappling you're doing, appreciate the uncertainty you feel, appreciate the questions you have. It all means you are alive and growing! Try to have compassion for those grappling with these questions too. He or she may be sitting in the cubicle next door.

For my dad, it was always critical that I figure out what gifts I had to offer the world and offer them. Your gifts do not belong to you; you have to share them with the world.

What he didn’t tell me is how much vulnerability and courage you need to actually do this. First, to acknowledge that yes, you have something unique to offer! (Terribly inconvenient.) Second, to actually offer it for people to accept or reject. (Terrifying.)

While this idea of sharing my gifts was terrifying, it has also become the central theme of my career. I’ve now worked at several nonprofits helping people do just this by volunteering their talents to give back. And what an incredible way to give back!

To me, volunteerism is one of the most underestimated resources we have. It seems quaint and suspiciously simple when, in fact, it’s revolutionary. Generosity sets things in motion. It creates a path where one wasn’t possible before. Unlike money, it doesn’t get used up—it renews itself. Magic. I guess this was what my dad was trying to tell me all along.

Finding your purpose is most likely not going to be a “lightning strikes” moment. My experience has been much more nuanced, not linear and more red-ruby-slipper-like.

Deep down, you already know what drives you; you just need to let it surface. (Hint: it might be the thing you are avoiding or too afraid to consider.) Nevertheless, the answer is waiting for you. Are you ready to find it?

Live on purpose image via Shutterstock

About Miriam Young

Miriam Young has found purpose in her career by supporting the pro bono movement, bringing business and social sector experts together to change the world.  Previously working at Taproot Foundation and NPower, Miriam is now the Communications Specialist at DataKind. For more guidance on building a meaningful career, Miriam recommends checking out The Purpose Economy!

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  • Great points! For me personally, the problem in finding my true calling was that I used to think that there is this one big thing which I need to discover in order to start living fully. After college I had several so called high profile jobs, but I had this feeling that I kind of don’t fit in. I changed to natural and organic skin care industry and was happy for a while learning new skills but got this same nagging feeling again. Something’s missing and I haven’t found my calling. However I have come to realize in my case that “my calling” or “my purpose” is not one thing somewhere out there, I have many interests that I enjoy doing a lot. Plus that it is rather my mental attitude which I must bring into the present moment and that will make each moment purposeful. So I totally agree with you that being present equals more happiness in life.

  • Susan Chekouras

    While I think you make some great points and have some wonderful ideas, I wonder how this all relates to the name of the site “Tiny Buddha”. I don’t see much correlation between what is written and Buddha. From what I have learned about Buddha, there would be no concern about finding one’s calling or appreciating the journey or sharing one’s gifts – rather it would be about simply being – breathing in and out – with little concern for the outside world or anyone’s aspirations, moments or abundance or lack thereof. Maybe I’m way off here. Again, this is a nice article but I’m not getting what the connection is to Buddha.

  • Hi Susan,

    My name is Lori and I’m the site founder. It’s a pleasure to e-meet you!

    Tiny Buddha is a site about wisdom, on a wide variety of topics, and many of the posts aren’t about Buddhism. But they’re all focused on helping us overcome our challenges and not just survive but thrive.

    You can learn more here:

    http://tinybuddha.com/about

    Happy Wednesday 🙂

    Lori

  • Susan Chekouras

    Thanks for the response, Lori. This doesn’t really answer my question but thank you for taking the time to read my opinion. Best regards.

  • Hi Susan,

    You’re most welcome. Perhaps this will make it clearer: This isn’t a site about Buddhism; it’s a site where people from all walks of life share their experiences, lessons, and insights to help us all find peace, happiness, and fulfillment.

    While many of the posts explore Buddhism themes, such as mindfulness, compassion, and non-attachment, there are also many posts that pertain to meaning, passion, and purpose, since these things are all crucial to our happiness. And when we’re happier as individuals, we’re better able to help make the world a happier place.

    Does that answer your question?

    Lori

  • Susan Chekouras

    I get all that, Lori. It’s no biggie – just never saw the reasoning behind using Buddha in the title since Buddha is very specific to “nothingness” & the majority of the articles do not touch on that. I’m clearly reading too much into the name. These are some very nice articles. Thank you for your responses.

  • Hi Susan,

    You’re most welcome. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site. =)

    Lori

  • Hi Miriam
    Great post with some great tips. Cultivating self-awareness is key. On the face of it, it seems so simple, but is actually quite challenging. It is easy to get swept away in life, what we ‘should’ want gets pounded into our head and we never stop to think if we actually want these things,etc…

    One thing I would suggest to people who are thinking of making a change is not to worry too much about figuring out your whole life and ultimate purpose right in this second. Focus on just the next step..what is summoning up good feelings right now? Explore that and see where it takes you.

    As long as we are doing things feel good and right, we will feel a lot better, and our path will reveal itself. I think our primary purpose is to just experience life from our perspective, and just do what makes us feel joyful, whatever that may be.

  • May Wongpaisarn

    Thank you so much, Young for cheering me up. I am following my inner calling now…