There is an overwhelming abundance of tools to discover your purpose, and just as many people advising us that a clearly defined purpose is the key to happiness.
I find it curious and amusing that humans are the only creatures that have rejected their sole biological purpose–gene propagation–in favor of the lifelong, stress-inducing journey to discover their purpose.
I’ve spent years trying to piece together my own unique purpose, and it’s hard to discern whether I’ve truly moved any closer to my destination. I often wonder whether the ladder I’ve been climbing is leaned up against the wrong building; whether everything up to this point has been futile.
In 2012, I saw Cal Newport speak at the World Domination Summit. I found it unnerving when he suggested the audience NOT to follow their passion. A large number of attendees were people who paid their bills by helping people shift from practical to passionate. Newport recommended to instead become exceptionally well at something, and then later leverage that skill to pursue their passion.
Six years later, I’m beginning to understand what he meant.
At age 23, I was blinded by the future and disillusioned as to how the real world works. It seemed obvious that if I created something and poured my heart into it, people would pay me to continue. I do believe that works for some, but it is far from guaranteed.
I eventually wandered onto the conventional path–the nine-to-five, soul-sucking grind. It’s not where I imagined I would be at 29. I’m making 433% more money than when I scoffed at Newport’s unconventional idea. I’ve pick up invaluable skills, experiences, and certifications. I’ve discovered new strengths and weaknesses. I understand how business works.
I’ve only recently realized that exposure is the best way to learn what we truly excel at. It’s thorough practice that we discover our deepest passions.
There are all kinds of tests, and so much noise: read this book, take that course, or work with a sought-after coach and you’ll find success. The older I get, the more I think it’s all a farce. Self-discovery is an inside job; it always has been.
I have been feeling increasing burned out in my not-exactly-chosen career. I’m ready for a change. Thus, I’ve been revisiting personality tests and journal entries, seeking clues to the question: What is my purpose? Aside from biology’s drive to impregnate me, why am I here?
I revisit my Clifton’s Strength Finder results on an annual basis in attempt to uncover my ideal career–a vocation that seamlessly integrates my interests, strengths, and values. According to my 2018 results (which happen to be identical to my 2010 results), my top strengths are: Input, Intellection, Connectedness, Strategic, and Ideation.
To begin, I am fascinated by ideas, and thus committed to acquiring and archiving knowledge, skills, information and discoveries. I enjoy reading, intellectual conversations, and deep introspection because they crop up new ideas. I remain on the cutting edge of my field and areas of interest to satisfy my longing to know more. I tend to scan data to find meaningful and repetitious sequences, and am able to quickly spot relevant patterns.
I am happiest and most productive when working alone and without disruption, but am willing to sacrifice that independence to help others achieve altruistic goals. I’m great at understanding people and collecting insights which inspire others to take advantage of their one-of-a-kind talents, knowledge, and skills. I may sometimes be viewed as standoffish because I have difficulty engaging in small talk, yet I’m often chosen as the group leader due to my organization and delegation skills.
My mind is constantly brimming with ideas, paired with an eagerness to share them with whoever will listen. I believe that everything is connected, and I trust that everything happens for a reason. I hold an optimistic perspective, yet feel restless when my life seems to lack a noble purpose.
I tend to pose questions, evaluate answers, and try to figure out how things work–all kinds of things. I have an innate ability to select the right combination of words to convey ideas or feeling with ease and grace. My vocabulary is an ever-growing linguistic powerhouse. I generally favor objectivity over emotional reactivity, which allows me to approach difficult topics from all sides.
My inventive mind is continually thinking of new, novel, and different ways to do things, generating more ideas than I could possible pursue. I conceive of entirely new ways of seeing and doing things, frequently crating alternative ways of building systems and achieving goals. I often recognize solutions before others even realize that there is a problem. Perhaps my favorite trait of all is my ability to find connection between seemingly disparate phenomena. As John Muir wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
So, what am I to make of these clues? What do the various layers of clothing shrouding my soul say about my nature, my purpose, or my destiny?
Though I can’t say for sure, I recently learned about the topic of Human-Centered Design and Engineering, aka Ergonomics. The most I researched jobs and graduate programs, the more excited I became. Here was an opportunity to collect ideas, conduct extensive research, imagine new products, and innovate new systems; to built, test, break, and release. Here is someplace where I could, theoretically, show up to work each day and paid to imagine solutions to people’s problems, and answers to the questions no one had yet thought of. I sounds–it feels–perfect. So, that’s my current plan: pursue a Master’s Degree in Ergonomics and than follow through on Cal Newport’s advice. I plan to be extraordinary at what I do, and then leverage the knowledge, skills, and connections in the direction of work that that checks every box.
Perhaps it’s true that human being are foolish for concerning themselves self-discovery, rather than tossing out their birth control and submitting to their natural inclinations. Yet, however foolish is may be, I believe that the journey–the seeking–offers hope; perhaps the seeking is our purpose, and the wisdom gained is the lens through which we can recognize this.