"For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at any given moment".
Viktor Frankl - Man's search for meaning
In my last post, I wrote about the importance of taking action to find your passions. Through action, we can better identify and understand our true interests and values. Passion comes from combining the things we enjoy doing with the things that are important to us. Purpose comes from using our natural talents in the pursuit of our passions. In other words:
Interests + Values = Passion
Passion + Talent = Purpose
Purpose, in this sense, is synonymous with a Calling in life – the endeavour that has the potential to bring us the greatest personal fulfillment, and that improves the lives of others around us. It maximizes our Unique Potential, and completely transforms the meaning of "hard work". It's the thing that, once we have found it, we couldn't imagine living our life any other way.
For most people, this level of self-discovery takes time. It takes effort. It takes trial and error.
Micro-Purpose, then, is achieved by combining current passions and talents in the pursuit of meaningful short-term objectives. A young person engaged in a purposeful activity may or may not have an interest in that field in ten – or even two – years. The lifespan of the purpose is not the critical element here. Rather, it is the motivation, skill development and positive relationship with hard work that this kind of connection inspires in young adults that is important.
My first two summer jobs as a teenager provide a great demonstration of how Micro-Purpose can positively affect a young person's development.
The first job was at a car wash.
I was seventeen. We washed. We dried. We waxed. It all had to be done efficiently and in a very methodical manner.
Meaningful social interaction? Very little. Creative liberties? None. Leadership development? Nada.
I lasted a grand total of two days.
I was emotionally exhausted after mere minutes on the job, and counted down the seconds from the moment I arrived that second day.
At the time, I was perplexed (and quite impressed, to be honest) at the other staff members' energy and apparent contentment in carrying out their responsibilities. They seemed to enjoy the work and the environment.
I did not.
What I have since learned is that, rather than various jobs being universally stimulating or exhausting, each one calls for a certain set of preferences in its employees – a "fit", as we tend to call it. Suffice it to say, the car wash was not a good fit for me.
Almost nothing about the job spoke to my natural abilities, interests or values. In other words, it was completely out of tune with my vocational personality.
The day after I quit the car wash, I met with the owner of a white water rafting company on the St. Lawrence river near Montreal, where we lived. That day marked the start of my education in the importance of micro-purpose.
My second job was as a rafting guide.
This time it lasted two summers, and I loved every minute of it.
I know what you're thinking – pretty cool, right? DEFINITELY cooler than a car wash. OF COURSE you liked that more. Obv.
Here's the thing: I had to be at work by 7am most days (including weekends). We worked long hours. It rained. My wage came to about $4/hr when all was said and done. Guests were not always nice. My boss was a hard-ass. Sometimes I would bike all the way in, only to learn that a group had cancelled and I therefore had two options: 1 - wait around (without pay) for any drop-ins or 2 - head home without making any money (awesome).
Oh - by the way - that bike ride amounted to 23 KMs each way. On an old mountain bike.
46 KMs a day - 23 on either end of a 10-hour shift of white water rafting.
My point here is that it was very hard work.
But I loved it.
Every second of it - the exercise, the physical, intellectual and interpersonal challenges. The leadership. The teamwork and sense of community. The creativity. The intensity.
And - equally as important - I did it well.
It engaged my natural talents, which gave me the drive to build new skills - skills that I never would have been motivated to develop at the car wash. Things like bilingualism, determination, resourcefulness and leadership.
I loved meeting and entertaining all kinds of new people. I valued the physical exertion. I was passionate about making sure that my groups had a blast. I wanted them to laugh, to learn, and to fully engage in the adventure.
I had purpose.
Let me be clear: my life's Calling is not to become the world's best rafting guide (although that would be pretty cool).
Working as a rafting guide, however, engaged my passions and talents in a meaningful way, and helped me to fundamentally shift my mindset towards the meaning of hard work.
This early Micro-Purpose provided me with a sense of the positive emotion that comes from working hard at something you love. While I had already experienced this through competitive sports, making money was the differentiating factor with rafting. This job provided me with a fundamental understanding that I could make money doing something I loved – even though I would never play in the NHL.
Young adults today often set their minds to long-term objectives (more than 5 years away), and prioritize their immediate actions to support those objectives. In principle, setting goals and taking action to achieve them should be encouraged. However, statistics show that most young adults cannot properly identify their long-term passions. It is therefore critical to start building transferable skills now, through current passions.
We each have Unique Potential. Be confident enough to identify yours. Moreover, be proud of it, and put it to good use.
I think you will find that, in return, it will put YOU to good use.