Gratitude gives us the solid ground, and purpose gives us the strength to jump high and far. Like the bright beam of a lighthouse, purpose gives us a direction and tells us where we need to put our next step, even in the darkest night and the roughest sea.
Written on April 7, 2020 by Xeinadin Group
A lot has already been said and written about purpose. In this article I'd like to talk about a specific side to it, that of connectedness.
- Who am I? Individuality vs. connectedness
- Purpose and connectedness
- My purpose in a connected world
Before I even examine my purpose, it helps to investigate how I see myself.
- Who am I? Individuality vs connectedness
When we think of who we are, the first thing we generally think of is our body/mind complex, that is, the entity made up of our body and our mind. Now, while it's very clear that we all have a body and a brain, when it comes to who we actually are, things can be more flexible. Who we identify ourselves with depends on who we consider me/us vs. who we consider others, which in turn has mammoth implications on how we take the most important decisions and, in general, how we live life.
For example, many people identify themselves with their families. When they need to decide whether to accept a new job offer or whether to move to a different town, they'll assess the impact on their families. For these people, us is their family and others is everyone else. Often, the founders of a company identify themselves with its fortunes and that of its employees and stakeholders. Politicians or soldiers may identify themselves with their country and their fellow citizens. Activists identify themselves with their cause and all the people within it (think of Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Mandela, for example, or the people who fought for LGBTQ+ rights); some of them sacrifice their families, all their belongings and even their own lives to the cause they identify themselves with. Ultimately, it all boils down to how we define us vs. others and how we take decisions accordingly.
Also, such identifications are far from being permanent or strict. Many times, we go through life switching from one identification to another. In a certain situation (for example when we decide which flat to rent), we may decide to identify ourselves with our family and, in another situation few minutes later (when we decide where to invest our savings), we may decide to identify ourselves with the animal rights community and look for investments with a certain sustainability profile.
Try this quick exercise: pick three recent important decisions you took. Who were you identifying yourself with in that moment?
So, who we are is way more flexible than just being a body and a brain. It actually ranges anywhere from one's individual body/mind complex to embracing the whole of humanity or even the entire world.
I'm sure many people reading this article have actually experienced a level of connectedness that went further than they might have realised. For example, have you ever felt profound empathy or even pain upon hearing of someone’s suffering on the news, even if they live far away and without any obvious connection with you? When we hear of someone having been the victim of a violent assault or a natural disaster, for example, we feel empathy, sorrow and even pain for them. How is that possible? They are suffering but we, too, feel the pain! That's possible because we are connected with them. Here's another example: have you ever done an act of selfless kindness for someone without expecting anything in return, and have you felt really good about it? Again, how was that possible? Because you were connected with that person beyond your body/mind complex.
It's actually up to us to decide where we sit on the connectedness continuum.
I can sit on the me-centred side of the spectrum where I identify myself with my body/mind complex and I see the whole world as them vs. me, or I can sit anywhere else and include many more people in my notion of me. It's literally up to me and, of course, it also has consequences on how I feel, how I take decisions and how I act in this world.
Here's a straightforward, powerful metaphor. Imagine being in traffic. When we’re stuck in traffic we complain about the traffic like we're the good car and all the others are the bad ones. But, hang on, we’re not in traffic, we all are traffic. We're all in this together.
Try this simple exercise. The next time you’re in a long queue - at passport control (once we can start flying again) or at the supermarket checkout, for example - and you’re feeling restless and annoyed by the long wait, try shifting your attitude. Remind yourself that you’re not in the queue but you are the queue with and like everyone else. And see how your emotional domain changes to a much calmer, more accepting and connected one.
- Purpose and connectedness
There's a considerable benefit in identifying ourselves with something that goes beyond our body/mind complex. The more we define ourselves in terms of a larger community of people, the more energised we become. All of a sudden, we have access to a much larger pool of resources as well as emotional and mental energy just because we see ourselves and our actions integrated in a larger community of connected people, rather than separate in a me-centred world of me vs. them. We’re tapping into a larger pool of people, rather than just our individual selves.
One way to visualise purpose in this context is to define everything we do (personal and professional) in terms of the beneficial impact others receive from it.
Purpose is about impact. So, try defining everything you do (personal and professional) in terms of the beneficial impact others are going to receive from it.
Be as extensive and encompassing as you can. Include the people you have direct impact on and those you have indirect impact on. Write it all down in your journal, and you have your first visual map of the larger pool of people whose emotional and mental energy you can start tapping into today.
So, what are the practical implications of this approach in your life?
Here's an exercise to experience it yourself: pick three actions that you need to perform, whether for work or your personal life, in the next 24 hours and, while you perform each one, focus on the greater group of people that will benefit from it. Put both your intellectual and emotional focuses on those people and see what happens in you, what changes in your energy level and your emotional undertone, as well as in your motivation and your efficacy in the action itself. Pick an enjoyable action, a neutral one and an unpleasant one; and experience the broad positive impact of connectedness in each case.
Define everything in terms of connectedness: the people impacted and the benefits they receive.
This is a powerful framework you can use for anything you do in life, any decision you're about to take, any plans you're making, any fear you're facing.
What you actually have in your hands is a tool you can immediately start using in your everyday life to give more intrinsic meaning to all that you already do right now: your job, the role you have in your family, your role in your broader community, the relationships with your friends, etc.
This will immediately boost your energy, motivation, drive and inspiration; you'll be tapping into a much larger pool of emotional, intellectual and practical resources; and you'll be better equipped to face all sorts of challenges and fears.
- My purpose in a connected world
So, if I now want to look at a bigger picture, what does purpose mean in a world of connectedness? I'm going to use a very simple yet powerful analogy to answer this question.
Whenever we look around, we immediately see that every animal, bird and fish, every insect, and even insentient things like a river, a rock, a mountain, the clouds, everything has a role. The moment we think about it, we immediately understand that everything in nature plays a role. And we don't even question whether it's big or small; it just is.
Everything in nature serves a purpose.
So, the obvious implication is that each one of us also plays a role in this connected world.
Remember the traffic analogy above. Similarly to our car being part of the whole traffic, instead of thinking of ourselves as individuals that are separate from everyone and everything else on this planet, we can acknowledge that we, like everyone and everything else, play a role for the whole community.
So, when you're thinking of your life purpose, try defining it in terms of the people it'll impact and the benefits they will experience. And anchor yourself in that place. Other important questions (how to monetise it, for example) will find an answer later. First of all, anchor yourself in a life purpose that people will benefit from and that will energise and motivate you. Moor yourself in this place of connectedness, rich with inspiration and resources. And all the answers will flow from there.
This old tale of the masons says it very nicely.
Some 800 years ago, architects discovered how to build very tall buildings, which gave birth to a new era of cathedrals. On a foggy autumn day nearly 800 years ago, the architect of Salisbury Cathedral was visiting the work site adjacent to the River Avon when he saw three masons. He asked the first one what he was doing and the man continued his work and grumbled, “I am cutting stones.” Realising that the worker did not wish to engage in a conversation the architect moved toward the second of the three and repeated the question. The second mason stopped his work, ever so briefly, and stated that he was a stonecutter. He then added “I came to Salisbury from the north to work but as soon as I earn ten quid I will return home and pay for my daughter's education.” The architect then headed to the third of the trio and once again asked the original question. This time the worker paused, glanced at the architect until they made eye contact and then looked skyward drawing the traveller’s eyes upward. The third mason replied, “I am a mason and I am building a cathedral that will last for centuries and will inspire thousands of people.”
Ten years later, the construction was still going on; the first mason was still breaking rocks at the River Avon site; the second one had gone back home and had given her daughter the best education; and the third mason had become an architect himself and had moved on to a new work site where he was building his first cathedral.
Every day, when you wake up in the morning, you have this choice:
You can break rocks or you can build a cathedral.
Why a cathedral? There's no religious significance here, just the poetic metaphor of a project that takes many decades to complete, through the cooperation of thousands of people, that will stand for centuries and will inspire many many others.
Nobody can define your cathedral, only you can. But the moment you look at your life and your actions as pieces of a bigger puzzle that involves all those around you (near and far), everything makes a completely different sense and you’re motivated by a more powerful vision. All of a sudden, by tapping into a larger pool of people rather than just yourself, you have access to a much larger pool of resources as well as emotional and mental energy.
And you can achieve things you couldn't even have dreamt of.