The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Positive Approach To Developing A Purpose

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People love to pursue a positive purpose. They love to do meaningful things in their lives and work.

Many people’s primary purpose, of course, is simply to get access to the basics of life. They spend their days focusing on how to get food and be healthy.

Many other people have access to these basics. Some then simply want to accumulate money, but some want to go further. They want to give to others and pursue a satisfying purpose.

Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, said:

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment.”

Here is a video of him in 1972 describing people’s desire to have a sense of meaning.

There are many ways that people can develop a sense of purpose. People can choose to follow The Positive, Pause or Procrastination Approaches. Let’s explore each of these routes.

The Positive Approach

People who follow this route focus on the positive things they can do each day. They do things that give them positive energy, including things that help other people.

Some people wait for a purpose to appear, but this seldom happens. People are more likely to develop a purpose by doing things they find stimulating.

Sometimes it can be useful to invite people to talk about the things that give them positive energy. Here are some answers people give to this question.

The things that give me positive energy are:

Encouraging people … Spending time with our children … Cooking for friends … Caring for animals … Showing kindness … Nurturing gardens … Building boats … Teaching wellbeing.

Helping people to find satisfying work … Fixing certain kinds of problems … Making things better … Showing people new ways to treat cancer … Mediating disputes … Leading pioneering companies.

People who follow this route often believe that: “A purpose is something that you develop. It is not something that you find.”

Such people do not always start by being absolutely clear on the career they want to pursue. They are passionate, however, about something they want to explore or do. So they throw themselves into gathering experience on their chosen theme.

A person who wants to help other people, for example, may try many different things. These may include working with troubled children, counselling, teaching, sports coaching, empowerment programmes, helping young entrepreneurs, music therapy or whatever.

There are many approaches to encouraging people to take this route. Peter Benson, for example, enabled parents and teachers to help children to follow their Sparks. Here is a video in which Peter explains this approach.

People who follow the positive route may get to a point where they see an opportunity – or an unmet need – they find exciting. They can then choose either:

To pursue an existing approach to do satisfying work.

To fuse together several approaches to do satisfying work.

To create a pioneering approach to do satisfying work.

“That sounds fine in terms of people developing a career that has a sense of purpose,” somebody may say.

“But what about the days when somebody just feels out of sorts? A person may just feel down and not able to summon up a sense of purpose. What happens then?”

People sometimes need to spend time in a sanctuary to heal their body and soul. At some point, however, they need to emerge from the sanctuary.

The person can then focus on the positive things they want to do in their life. These can include the positive things they want to give to other people.

They can translate these aims into action by doing small things, such as showing kindness to another person.

Such small acts may not produce a life changing purpose. But they can produce stimulation and satisfaction that lead to greater things in the future.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on the theme of The Positive Approach. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the positive things you want to do – including the positive things you want to give to people – during your time on the planet.

Describe the positive benefits – both for yourself and other people – of doing these things.

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The Pause Approach

People who take this route build in time to pause and reflect on their experiences. There are many ways to make this happen.

A person may choose to spend time on the equivalent of a spiritual retreat. They may focus on how they can live in harmony with a spiritual belief and serve something greater than themselves.

Another person may choose to take a step back from what they are doing and gain some perspective. Looking at their life and work, they may ask some of the following questions regarding purpose.

What has gone well? What have been the positive experiences? What have been the most deeply satisfying activities?

When have I lost myself in activities? When have I felt that I was serving something greater than myself? When have I felt in my element – at ease and yet able to excel?

When have I encouraged other people? When have I done things that helped them to succeed? When have I passed on knowledge they could use to shape their futures?

When have I done superb work? What was I doing right then? What were the principles I was following? How can I follow some of these principles – plus add other skills – to do superb work in the future?

What is my life philosophy – my guiding compass? What are the principles I believe it is important to follow in life? How can I translate these principles into pursuing a specific purpose?

What is my vocation? How can I express this vocation through different vehicles? How can I follow my vocation and do valuable work?

What do I want to give to people? What are the kinds of knowledge, models and practical tools I want to pass on to them? How can I give my best to people and the planet?

What are the positive things I want to do in the future? How will doing these things help other people? How can I take practical steps towards making these happen? What is the purpose I want to achieve by doing these things?

Different people use different methods to follow the pause approach. Some set aside a block of time to do some slow thinking. Others build in such times during the day.

Carl Honoré hit a chord with his book In Praise of Slow. More recently he has produced The Slow Fix. He believes that human beings can enrich their lives by some things more slowly.

Many people have become addicted to cramming in as many activities as possible within a finite time. Sometimes this is necessary, sometimes it is counter-productive.

Carl believes it is vital to get the right balance between fast thinking and slow thinking. Fast thinking generates the pieces of the jigsaw, but slow thinking is needed to make sense of the whole picture. Many of our epiphanies come as a result of slow thinking.

Below is a video of Carl explaining these ideas. You can discover more at his website.

Kevin Cashman highlights a similar approach in his book The Pause Principle. Below is an excerpt from his website. You can discover more via the following link.

We live and lead in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. But paradoxically, Kevin Cashman contends that leaders today must not merely act more quickly but pause more deeply.

Rather than merely doing more, we must learn to pause and to do things differently in order to grow, achieve and innovate. All of these practices lead to purposeful change, and contribution, an essential part of a leader’s everyday life.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on the theme of The Pause Approach. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to build in times to pause and reflect on your experiences.

Describe the potential consequences – both the pluses and minuses – of doing these things.

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The Procrastination Approach

Some people procrastinate. Sometimes this can take the form of continuing to do unrewarding work and hoping that things will change.

Sometimes it can take the form of waiting and hoping that a purpose will appear. Sometimes it can mean slipping into a state of paralysis.

“After losing my job, I decided to take some time out to find out what I really wanted to do,” said one person.

“My batteries were dead, so I needed to re-energise myself. This was great at first, but after two months I began to drift.

“Maybe I was a bit institutionalised, but it took six months to get back into any kind of rhythm.

“Looking back, I should probably have taken a couple of weeks off and then followed the standard advice: ‘Make getting a job a full time job.’

“After getting a job I could have relaxed and looked ahead to shaping my future career.

“On reflection, I was never going to make the jump from losing my job to getting my dream job.

“The company I moved to proved to be just a stepping stone towards eventually finding more satisfying work.”

Developing A
Sense Of Purpose

There are many ways that people can develop a sense of purpose. Viktor Frankl described three ways to create meaning in life. These were:

By doing a deed or creating a work.

By appreciating the experience of someone or something.

By choosing our attitude towards suffering.

You can read more about his life and work via the following link.

How can you describe your purpose? Some people go through the following steps to explain their purpose in a one liner.

They start by doing positive things that are satisfying and worthwhile. They move on to doing deeply satisfying projects.

They look at each of these projects in turn and try to find the recurring themes.

They try to sum up these themes in a provisional one liner that describes their purpose.

They recognise that it may take a lifetime to get the wording right, but this one liner gives a pointer to their purpose.

They often begin this one liner with the words ‘I want to …’

Here are some examples of such phrases that people have written to try to sum up their purpose.

I want to encourage people … I want to promote justice … I want to help everybody to have access to food … I want to help people to be architects of their futures … I want to help to find a cure for HIV.

I want to educate people to respect animals … I want to create enriching environments that enable people to grow … I want to encourage people to be kind … I want to contribute to increasing the amount of happiness in the world.

These phrases say what each person wants to do – the purpose they want to follow. They will then express their purpose in different ways at different times of their lives.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme called My Purpose. This is a challenging exercise, but it can also be worthwhile. The summary you produce regarding your purpose may not be definitive, but it can provide some pointers.

Some people have a first go at the exercise. They then keep returning to the one liner and refining it until it feels right. In the meantime, of course, they keep doing things that express their purpose.

Here is the exercise. It invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific thing you really want to do in your life – the specific theme you want to follow.

Describe this by beginning with the words: “I want to …”

Describe the specific ways you want to express this purpose in your daily life and work – such as in your actions and the things you want to produce.

Describe the specific benefits of expressing your purpose by doing these things.

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    D is for Developing by Pursuing A Direction rather than by just aiming to Reach A Destination

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    People often develop by aiming to achieve certain goals. They love to make a plan, work hard and enjoy the thrill of reaching their targets.

    Society reinforces this message. People are urged to pass the next exam, get the next badge, climb the corporate ladder or reach some other aim. Such an approach can prove rewarding, but there is also another view.

    A person can develop by aiming to pursue a particular direction, rather than simply focusing on reaching a particular destination. They may choose to follow their interest in voluntary work, teaching, science, music, design or whatever.

    Somebody who takes this route can find it exposes them to many more experiences and opens their eyes. Exploring new fields, they grow as a person. Sometimes they discover fascinating topics and what they really want to do in life.

    Looking back on your own life, have you ever chosen to take this approach? You may have been following a passion, exploring a field of study, doing voluntary work in another culture or whatever.

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific situation when you developed by pursuing a chosen direction rather than simply aiming to reach a destination.  

    Describe the specific things you did to pursue your chosen direction.

    Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

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    Mitch Joel describes elements of this approach when talking about Squiggly Careers. Below is an extract from his blog. You can discover more via the following link and his book Ctrl Alt Delete.


    Embrace The Squiggly

    If there’s one thing that has become abundantly clear to me, it’s that the most successful people I know have had very squiggly careers.

    No linear paths and no constant and consistent ascents. It’s been bumpy, weird, strange, funky and all-around fascinating.

    During my mentoring work I hear many similar stories. One leader explained their career path in the following way.

    I have always been fascinated by how people work well together.

    At university I studied chemistry, but I actually learned more from captaining the sports teams. I also became interested in the mental side of the game and attended several of the earliest courses in sports psychology.

    After university I took some time off travelling and doing voluntary work. I visited lots of places where people were experimenting with different ways of working and living. Some were really odd, but I learned a lot. 

    Returning home, I worked for a medical charity. Getting frustrated with the internal divisions, I threw myself into leading new projects across the world.

    This led to working alongside some technology companies, one of which asked me to lead one of their start ups. The venture proved successful and led to other projects.

    The company liked my work and asked me to run an established division, but that did not work out. I work best with motivated people who want to build something special.

    Since then I have worked for several other companies. My skills lie in helping talented people to do pioneering work and build successful prototypes. These frequently produce new revenue streams for the business.  

    Looking back, it would have been hard to predict what I would do in my career. At various times I have wanted to go into sports management, voluntary work, medicine and other fields. At the moment I am working in digital. 

    Looking to the future, I do not know where this will lead. Sometimes recruiters ask me: ‘What are your career ambitions? Where do you want to be in five years?’ My answer is:

    ‘The world is changing quickly, so I can’t tell you for certain. What I can say is that I want to be leading groups of talented people who are doing pioneering work in a particular field.’

    You may have your own version of pursuing a particular direction and developing a Squiggly Career. Sometimes, however, you may simply want to explore a particular route for its own pleasure.

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Looking to the future, this invites you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific situation when you may want to pursue a particular direction rather than aim to reach a particular destination.

    Describe the specific things you can do to pursue your chosen route.

    Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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