In this second part of the purpose quest, I am sharing my own route. Please note that this does not come with the expectation that you replicate exactly what I did. It’s just meant as one example of how such a journey can look like. If you would like to check again what this purpose thing is all about, you can find a critical reflection in the first article of the series here.
The main message I want to get across in this second part is that there are many techniques and entry ways and it’s about finding what’s helpful for you rather than applying a blueprint or a recipe.
I don’t think that I am any wiser or more gifted than any of the people who read this. I don’t consider myself to be special at all and I firmly believe that everyone can go on a journey like this but (and this is equally important) no-one has to. This is completely optional. I think you can also live a good life without ever uncovering a purpose and everybody is free to choose their path. “Take what you need, leave what you don’t,” as Adriene Mishler, one of my favourite spiritual teachers, uses to say.
To manage expectations, In my case the biggest chunk of the purpose quest so far took some three months. Please don’t beat yourself up if yours takes longer but don’t expect to be done after a day either because you most certainly won’t. (Or if you are done after a day then you maybe have not gone deep enough) I tried many different techniques and this is not a complete account of what’s out there; there are many more experiences available in that direction. Maybe you don’t need quite as many and get to the core quicker or maybe you need more and that’s OK too.
After I had written down the full account of what I have done to peel back the layers and find my purpose, I realized that this is a bit too long for a blog post, so I am cutting it into four bite-sized chunks (2.1 to 2.4) and will finish the topic (for now) with 2.5 – the answer (so far). All will come soon so you don’t have to wait too long.
Ready? So let’s go!
Reading Elle Luna’s “The Crossroads of Should and Must”
This encouraging and inspiring piece of writing has changed the lives of many people in the past 5 years. If you haven’t come across it yet, please have a look. It’s available online for free and you can also buy it as a book. Elle makes the point that there is for most people a difference between a profession and their true calling. Many people build their lives based on what they were told you “should do” because it is sensible (e.g. study, get a safe job, move up the ranks, buy a house,…). They were so busy with this that they have forgotten the little voice inside them that says “you must” (e.g. be a dreamer, a writer, an artist, do what you deeply care about,…). When I read this book – all in one go – I felt touched and intrigued. Still, it took me a couple of years to really act on its message.
Keeping an energy diary
Already at the very beginning of our education program at Les Enfants Terribles in Berlin, we were asked to start an “energy diary” to keep track of how some activities seem to give us energy and sometimes even a “flow” state and others feel like they are taking a lot from us. It needs a bit of discipline to write down at the end of each day for two weeks what your highlights and lowlights were and how certain situations made you feel. The reward is an increased awareness of when you are at your best. In my case, this was not a big surprise and still good to see it with higher clarity. I come alive when I can inspire others through conversations or talks. I get energy from working with like-minded people to find creative, novel solutions to complex problems. I also love to play, sing and do yoga.
You can find the energy diary method explained more in-depth including templates for the diary part and the reflection part in the design your future playbook.
The key finding for many people in doing exercises like this is that it’s mostly very simple things and meaningful connections with others that give us energy and sustainable joy. Not browsing on social media, and not buying expensive clothes.
Getting a Coach
There are different definitions of coaching out there. To me, a coach is somebody who believes you have everything in you that is needed to solve the challenges you’re facing. A person who listens to you intently and asks questions to make sure they fully understand your situation. Then they invite you to take your thoughts down different paths. They help you to come to decisions and actions towards your goals and hold you accountable to them. It’s not uncommon that people confuse coaching with getting advice from someone more senior (that’s mentoring, something different). Your coach may occasionally challenge your thinking or throw in a bit of background information, e.g. on mental models and neuroscience. If they are good at what they do, they will not try to impose a preset solution or direction or their own “truth” on you. Instead, they enable you to uncover the core of the issue and help you to get into a state where you are open for solutions and action in a direction that is right for you.
The length of a coaching relationship depends on the issue. In many cases, 8-12 sessions of an hour each are about what’s needed to make the desired progress. At the beginning it’s all about setting the goals you would like to work on and make them crisp and tangible.
I had been getting quite a bit of coaching from a friend who is a psychologist and systemic coach, especially during times when I was facing challenges in my job (new position, forming a new team). Also when I was struggling and felt I might be on the verge of a burnout, I turned to coaching and was lucky to have access to a person who is both, a coach and a psychotherapist and in particularly stressful situations I think that can be a wise choice, to leave the therapy route open should you need it.
With my current coach, Claudia, I identified three goals when we set out; I selected these from about a dozen other things that would have been interesting to work on. That was one of the key benefits of coaching, to have someone who helps me hone in on what matters most and stick to that. I set out to work on 1) the house project 2) finding and following my purpose and 3) the relationship with my husband. On all three levels, I was able to make significant progress – not least thanks to having had a sparring partner by my side in the form of a coach.
There are many coaching schools and approaches out there. Claudia Thali used mostly the “brain based coaching” approach by the Neuroleadership Institute. Another highly regarded approach is Coactive coaching. A great method to surface the interconnectedness and complexity of the systems we live in and then derive insight from this is systemic coaching. There are thousands of certified coaches out there and probably as many talented individuals without a certificate who, if they apply the eleven core competencies as set by the International Coaching Foundation (ICF), may be able to help you even without a degree.
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