Pursue What Matters
Episode 228: Understanding Purpose Clarifies Life
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
.atDr. Melissa Smith 0:00
I’ve got a question for you. Where are you headed in life? Okay, now I have a couple more questions. Do you know where you’re headed? Do you even care? So purpose can be a big, gauzy topic. But today, I want to help you get practical about this topic and see how understanding purpose clarifies life. It can make all the difference in whether you’re thriving, or just surviving.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:27
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So we’re in the middle of a series, all focused on curiosity and how it indeed can be your secret weapon when it comes to leadership. And I’ve introduced you to the acronym SECURE FOUNDATION which are all the activities and skills that really help you to thrive in life and leadership. So these are skills and activities that are essential for your well being. So when we think about the SECURE component of SECURE FOUNDATION, we’re thinking about those non-negotiable activities that help you to cope effectively, self regulate, and really be in a position of service and leadership, and of course wellbeing. And then with FOUNDATION, that acronym, we’re really focusing on those activities that make you unstoppable. So these are growth behaviors, designed to really help you thrive to really move to that next level in terms of personal effectiveness, professional leadership, whatever it is you set out to do. And so today, we really want to focus on, you know, how understanding purpose really clarifies your path in life. And so when it comes to understanding purpose, that curiosity is so important, this is where we want to ask some of the big questions about life.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:30
So first, just I just want you to reflect on some of these questions. What is important to you? Do you know what’s important to you? Second, what do you care deeply about? It might be an individual, it might be a cause. It might be something based on your past experience, but what do you care deeply about? And then third, what are you willing to sacrifice for? So these are three questions that really help to get you focused in on purpose, because to say, what is your purpose can just, it feels too big, it’s too vague. But asking these three questions can be really helpful for narrowing that down. And so, you know, this is a time that I would invite you to, to take some time and reflect on your core values, maybe you want to identify those if you haven’t, and it doesn’t, it doesn’t have to be big or extensive. But if you just think about two values that can really guide your behavior, what might they be, and you’re also welcome to change these at different points in your life. But these are kind of foundational principles that help to guide your behavior.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:59
Of course, whenever we’re talking about purpose, it’s important to remember that, you know, you don’t feel like you need to adopt anyone else’s values, make it personal to you. And, of course, we’ve you know, for many of us, we have had values passed down to us. But we all come to a point hopefully, as you know, as adults, sometimes in the teenage years, where we really need to decide if those values fit for us. And so, life has a way of helping us to clarify those values. And so I just want you to pay attention to, you know, what maybe rings true for you, and what is the language that you would use to describe your sense of purpose and meaning. And so, I have, I have a foundation or structure for helping you to understand purpose and to get really practical about it. It’s known as the pursue what matters process and I spoke about this way, way, way back on the first podcast episode.
Dr. Melissa Smith 5:05
So it’s been quite a while I wanted to do just a brief review of it now. But when it comes to pursuing what matters, we always want to start out with purpose. Because purpose becomes our guiding star, it becomes TrueNorth. If we think about navigating on a mountain trail, that’s often the metaphor that I, that I use. And we want purpose, to primarily help us to bring a sense of meaning in life, and to guide our actions. And so if you feel like you have a sense of purpose, but there’s no way it shows up in your life, that’s not very effective, okay. So there needs to be alignment between your purpose and your daily activities. Otherwise, you’re being led by your days and your calendar and your schedule schedule in your inbox, rather than ensuring that your purpose and your vision for yourself are guiding your days. And so that’s really what the pursuit matters process is designed to do is to help you to create alignment between big picture purpose and daily activities. So I just want to go over these the components of the pursue what matters process, and then I want to just share some questions for you, again, so you can kind of start to reflect on some of these things. And of course, you’re welcome to head back to my first podcast where I introduced this in a bit more detail. So I will link to that in the show notes. So first of all, there are five components to that pursue what matters. process and they all start with P. So I try to keep it simple. First, we have purpose, second, potential third path, fourth pursuits, and fifth priorities.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:12
Okay, so purpose is all about gaining clarity about who you are, what activities you choose to do and why. And so it’s really that big picture, what matters to you in life. And so a couple of questions that I want you to maybe pay attention to, as we help you to develop some clarity about purpose is first asking the really big questions. First, who am I? Second? Why am I here? Okay. So these are, these are the biggest questions that we ask as humans. And it’s really important to start with these big questions. Because if you understand who you are, that helps you to clarify purpose, it helps you to choose pretty quickly, what you’ll say yes to and what you’ll say no to based on your beliefs about who you are, and why you’re here. So these are the big questions, that big existential questions about life and purpose. So a couple of let’s for other questions around purpose that I think help to kind of narrow it down, what excites you. So purpose isn’t all about passion. But it it certainly includes passion and excitement, purpose is much more compelling than passion. But what excites you? What challenges you? What is uniquely compelling to you? Is there something that you find just, it’s a thought or an idea that won’t leave you alone, or admission or something that just feels personally compelling to you? These can be small sparks that we want to learn to pay attention to, because they can be the breadcrumbs of purpose that help us to really create a life of meaning. And then the question of what calls to you. Now for many of us, you might feel like you don’t have a good answer to that question. And you don’t, you don’t need to have something that really is personally compelling to you. But we just want to start to pay attention to what sparks interest, what sparks curiosity.
Dr. Melissa Smith 9:38
So this, again, is where Curiosity is so important. Sometimes it’s noticing, gosh, I have a real knack for this or, you know, I did an activity that other people just found so challenging, and I maybe found it challenging, but I also really enjoyed it. And so we just want to pay attention to those small sparks and follow Have that trail, because that can really help us to connect with purpose. And then the second component of the pursue what matters process is potential. Potential is all about choice, it’s making the choice to fulfill your potential. There are plenty of us in life that don’t choose to fulfill our potential. And it’s not because we don’t have great potential, it’s often because we didn’t stop to get really intentional about it. We just kind of became passive s in our own lives, we didn’t get clear about purpose. And it’s so amazing when you see someone catch a vision for their potential, it really does shift choices. And so some of the questions here to look at and reflect upon include, what am I here to do? What can I become? So if you were to just put all your m and judgments and what will other people think on the shelf long enough to ask, What can I become? It really gives you some space to explore and to dream. And when it comes to exploring potential, dreaming is important. Creating options for yourself is really important. Another great question is asking, How can I uniquely contribute? So are there gifts and talents, talents and skills that you have? Do you have a unique way of thinking about things, writing about things talking about things? So you know, it is true that there’s nothing unique under the sun, right? But what’s unique is our individual take on it our, you know, no one has your unique experience history. And that’s the unique contribution, right. And so being able to value that, and see how you can develop potential in service to a cause greater than yourself. And that’s really important when it comes to purpose. A fulfilling potential is not a selfish endeavor. Although it can be personally very gratifying. And that’s great. There’s, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:20
But at its foundation, fulfilling potential really should be in service to a purpose greater than yourself. So maybe it’s a compelling mission, maybe it’s other people, family members, maybe it’s in service to society as a whole. And so that’s a really important thing to keep in mind, because it helps us to make sure we’re keeping in between our guard rails of values, and that our purpose isn’t corrupted by ego and by selfishness. So now let’s talk about the third component of the pursue what matters which is path. So right, if we think about purpose, being the mountain peak, right, it’s where you’re headed. The path is really the process of growth. It is the path by which we take these dreams and these thoughts around purpose and potential, and we start to build a reality, right, we start to take action. And so when we think about the path, first of all, you need to be flexible, right? So you have a sense of purpose, you have this desire to fulfill your potential. But in case you didn’t get the memo, right, life will not go to your plans. And understanding that the sooner you understand that, the better off you are, because it helps you to be flexible, and it helps you to make adjustments. And so we need to embrace uncertainty while still holding on to our sense of purpose, our goals and our potential. But you’ve really got to be flexible on your path because things won’t go exactly as you plan. So some of the helpful questions for the path include, how can I reach my potential? Right, so last time we met with potential we asked what is my potential, right? Like, what can I contribute? But now we’re getting specific. We’re looking at how can I reach my potential? Okay, so do I need to go to school? Do I need to do an internship? Do I need to learn and do an apprenticeship? So it’s really looking at taking action? How can I reach my potential? How can I fulfill my purpose? So it’s really looking at practical actions that move us forward on our path? And so again, flexibility is really important.
Dr. Melissa Smith 14:45
So one of my favorite quotes on this topic comes to us from Joseph Campbell, of course, he was a great philosopher and teacher. He said, If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know, it’s not your path. your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path. So when I first came across this quote, it was such a relief to me, because, you know, as a recovering perfectionist, and people pleaser, I’ve spent a lot of my life just wanting to get it, right. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone I wanted, to be on the right side of the road, not the wrong side of the road. And, you know, the danger of that, of course, is that you work on other people’s dreams, and you don’t develop your own sense of purpose and deep-rooted potential. And so, you know, the path is always winding. And so I love this quote, by Campbell, because he reminds us of the fact that we need flexibility. And that, you know, we create that path step by step. And I certainly can see that I can look back at my, path, whether that’s with schooling, career, or family, there was no straight path. There were a lot of things that were surprises, and there was a ton of uncertainty, and there is plenty of fear, and worry. And yet, you know, I look at my path. And it’s so beautiful to me. Mostly, it’s beautiful, not because it’s been perfect or a straight line or followed what I thought would happen. But it’s beautiful, because of the lessons that I’ve learned, who I’ve become as a result of needing to trust and rely on hope, and grit and perseverance. And also, you know, the beautiful people that have helped me along my path, because no one, no one gets anywhere meaningfully on their own. And so it is your own path. But we all need a lot of help on that path.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:00
So then, let’s move to the fourth component of the pursue what matters process which is pursuits. So pursuits are all about progress. So the questions here include, what must you do to be successful in your pursuit? So I want you to think about pursuits as goals. So along your path, you have goals, you have objectives, that targets that you’re aiming for. This is really important when it comes to purpose because purpose helps us to know what to aim for. And if we don’t have a sense of purpose. We’re aimless, literally, we’re aimless. And so you know, as you move along your path, it’s important to develop these pursuits, or goals, objectives. And so asking the question, right, with each level, we’re getting more specific with our questions, we’re getting more practical, we’re getting more action-based, what must you do to be successful in the pursuit? So maybe you’ve determined that you need a graduate degree to be successful because you know, you, you have to have this degree in order to work in a specific profession. So you’ve pinned that down, maybe you’ve applied, you’ve, you know, taken your GRE or GMAT, or LSAT. And, right even to get to that point of getting into graduate school, you’ve had to identify what you need to do to be successful in that you need to study for those graduate exams, you need to develop strong relationships. So you can get strong letters of recommendation, you need to be discerning in the programs that you apply to. And so it’s really looking at what must be done in order to be successful. So it’s really the how of goal pursuit. And then even more specifically, what are the specific steps to break down the process? And so especially when we think about big goals like that with graduate school, the sheer amount of work required will overwhelm you if you’re not careful. And so we want to, you know, eat that elephant in small chunks, right, like small bites.
Dr. Melissa Smith 19:14
So looking at, okay, the first goal is getting into grad school. So what are the specific steps to be successful with that, okay, we’re gonna prioritize and study. Now, we’re not going to worry about how you know what we’re going to write for our dissertation, three years down the road. Let’s take care of First things first, and that can really help us to manage overwhelmed, we don’t want anyone getting overwhelmed. And so another quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, of course, she’s an award-winning or a best-selling author. She says if you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter old resentment. resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey either externally or internally. And if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens on that journey, as a clue, if you accept everyone you meet along the way, as a teacher, and if you are prepared most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:27
So there’s a lot in there, right? But basically, it’s this willingness. And that’s one of the things that I love, you need to be brave, you need to be willing. And if you are, you know, you will find success, it doesn’t mean that everything’s gonna work out perfectly. But you will, you’ll learn what you need to, for your path. And so now let’s talk about the fifth component of the pursue what matters process, which is priorities. And so this is all about daily and weekly accountability and alignment. So right you have that mountain that you’re aiming for. What are the daily practices that help you to progress on that path? So this is where we’re breaking down the pursuits or the goals into daily activities, and daily behaviors. And so some of the questions include, what gets me to task completion? Right? So what do I need to do this week? What do I need to do today, in order to get to task completion? Another question, what moves me closer to accomplishing my pursuit? So if we think about the example with grad school, right, once you’ve gone through the steps for grading, getting into graduate school, well, congratulations, that’s a really big part of that goal that’s just been checked off the list, there are a lot of people that never, never make it that far, where they apply and get accepted to graduate school. And then you can turn your attention to, okay, what’s going to help me to be successful with this next step, and breaking it down step by step to manage the overwhelm can be so helpful. And so when it comes to priorities, we really are focusing on daily accountability. And so one of the tools that I recommend, includes identifying, you know, your three top daily and weekly priorities that really encourage accountability and alignment. And so literally, at the beginning of a week, I asked myself the question, right, what are the three things that I have to get done this week in order to move me forward on my goals and projects, and then from there, and usually, that’s pretty easy to identify those because I kind of know the big projects I’m working on, I’m paying attention to timelines, whether it’s, you know, a big speaking, presentation coming up, or, you know, starting new services and needing to get everything aligned for that. And then breaking that down on each day of the week to say, what are the three things that I have to get done today, and this is where you have the flexibility to look at your week. And really pay attention to Okay, I have a big block of time on Tuesday afternoon, that’s, that’s going to be what I’m going to focus on, you know, this one priority, because I need that uninterrupted time, and you have the flexibility to make it work with your schedule but to prioritize the big things.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:34
First, don’t wait, don’t do don’t let all the little things get in the way because you’ll never get to those top three tasks. And I think most of us have enough experience with life to know that that is true. And so today, we talked about the importance of understanding purpose and how this understanding can really clarify your life. And so, you know, I introduced you or reminded you of the pursuit matters process, which is hopefully a practical tool that really drives alignment and accountability. And so, you know, included on this process includes purpose, potential path, pursuits and priorities. And then we also reviewed some key questions to help you really reflect on each of those areas so that you can pursue what matters.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:31
So please head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/228-understandpurpose. So one more time that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/228-understandpurpose of course, I will link to the first podcast episode, Pursue What Matters. For a little more of a deeper dive into this topic if you would like to review that. In the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
Transcribed by https://otter.ai