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why direction is more important than purpose

These days, everyone is talking about purpose. Companies, influencers, and coaches have dedicated entire businesses to helping people find their purpose in life. Why? People are looking for meaning; we are all desperate for connection and higher purpose because it's so easy these days to feel small, ineffective, and disconnected. We are sick of running on the same ole' hamster wheel day after day, never getting ahead, and stuck in survival mode.

I've never really been big on finding my life's purpose because it's pretty unrealistic to assume I only get one. What if I want to help save abused animals, but also help clean the ocean? This isn't the candy bowl at the bank.

A good place to start is exploring what people mean when they talk about finding their purpose.

Finding your purpose - as in, you were put on this earth to do this one single thing - isn't the healthiest way to approach it. It's unrealistic, puts too much pressure on you, and wastes a lot of time if you're wrong.

Finding purpose in everyday life, small moments, big moments, decisions you make, people you surround yourself with, career you have; these are effective ways to life with purpose.

purpose: the reason for which something is done, created, or exists

the thing about purpose

Purpose is vital to understanding why we want to accomplish something or live a certain lifestyle, but the thing about purpose is that it's not always present, obvious, consistent, or singular. It's hard to follow a path determined by something we don't have clarity on because one day it could be there, the next, it's gone, or changed to something else.

In addition, I don't know about you, but the underlying reasons I do the things I do, live the lifestyle that I live, and make the choices that I make has changed so many times in life - sometimes daily - that I can't keep track. It depends on my mood, my health, connection to the people and things around me, and so much more.

If purpose is "the reason for which something is done," than what happens when that reason changes? What happens if we lose site of it? What happens if it disappears altogether? I don't know how many stories I've heard of real people, including my own, where somebody thinks they know their purpose in life, lets the tunnel-vision set in, and works their ass off to get there - only to realize it wasn't where they were meant to end up in the first place.

Of course, it's important to have purpose, to know your values. But it's also important to lift that foot up and take a step forward because without action, there is only "intentional," no "living." And when you take that step forward, how do you know what direction to head in? That is where direction comes in.

direction: the line along which anything lies, faces, moves, etc. with reference to the point or region toward which it is directed

the thing about direction

In order to truly live with purpose, you need direction. You need to know what the next step is, not the next two-hundred steps. You need to make purposeful choices one intentional decision at a time, not one lifetime at a time.

Direction gives us agility; the ability to make quick pivots along the path to goals we're trying to reach without always knowing the future destination, our 5 year plan, or our purpose in life. Basically, it helps to stay quick on our feet rather than put all of our eggs into one basket.

staying agile - lessons from how the tech industry stays quick on it's feet

I don't know any other industry that changes as fast and often as the tech industry does. And if you know anything about project planning in tech, you've heard of Scrum, or agile project planning. If you're thinking, "Scrum? in rugby?" allow me to introduce you to an extremely effective way to plan pretty much anything while being able to respond to things you couldn't have planned for.

Agile planning methodologies are just that; agile. You complete work in blocks called "sprints" which are usually one to two weeks long. First, you start with a backlog, which is all the tasks you think you need to do to complete the project. Before each sprint starts, you select the tasks that will be included and in order to be added to the sprint, they need to meet the following criteria.

  • how long it will take to complete it
  • the requirements it must meet
  • what needs to happen for the task to be considered complete

Once this is settled for each task in the sprint, you get to work, meeting up at the end of the sprint to reflect, re-evaluate, and plan the next sprint. What does this accomplish, as opposed to traditional waterfall planning (plan it all then do it all)? Just as it's named, it keeps you agile - able to change direction quickly and with minimal wasted effort.

Imagine you're planning a kitchen remodel. You spend weeks laying out the plans, scheduling contractors, building a timeline, etc.. Then you get to work. A week into the remodel you find (in true HGTV fashion) a water leak above your old cabinets, termites in the wall, aaand let's throw in an electrical problem as well. Now your timeline is up in flames, time spent planning was wasted, contract work you had lined up needs to get pushed out because now you have to do damage control first. And even if you could give them a new date, they might not be available now. And don't even mention the hemorrhaging budget.

If that last paragraph triggered anyone's anxiety - I get it, and I'm typing really hard and fast now. Time for a tea break...

OK back.

In technical agile planning, the reason you only commit to a) a realistic amount of work and b) tasks you have the clarity to complete, is that customers want changes once they start seeing the product get built, issues arise that you weren't able to predict or plan for, personal lives, industry changes, building maintenance, ...pandemics... happen, and without being able to quickly adjust your approach to reaching your goals, you waste time, effort, and energy.

By using agile planning, that kitchen remodel could have looked like this:

Of all the remodel features, you want new cabinets the most, so you focus on that. You know what you want and schedule a contractor and timeline - ONLY for the cupboards. Right away, the contractor finds the water leak. You need to fix it, but it only pushes out the one contractor job, not all of them. You can adjust the overall project budget before you're committed to countertops, lighting, etc., and make a more educated decision about how to move forward.

Intentional living - why direction is more important than purpose

If you apply this way of thinking to reaching your goals, it's easy to see the parallels. By keeping things agile and using your values as guideposts, if your values change, your direction changes, and therefore your next step or two towards your goal; not your whole life's work.

You may be a shoot-for-the-stars person or a take-it-a-step-at-a-time person, but one thing is for certain; there will be obstacles and changes of course; it's just part of life. So let's accept that and realize that the best way to move forward is with a graceful and agile approach, all the while staying true to our core values.

read the definitive guide to Intentional Living

I've created articles, courses, guides, and more to take you from overwhelmed to clear, confident, and impactful. You can download free intentional living workbooks, worksheets, and guides resources like my "What do you stand for?" workbook or the "What motivates you?" worksheet on my freebies page. Are you ready to take the first step towards a modern, intentional life? If so, subscribe below.