A lot of people talk about purpose as a central life aim. Dr Christine Whelan tends to work with individuals who are just starting out, so she likes to think more about a ‘purpose mindset’, as one central life aim may cut you off to other opportunities.
Christine is an author, speaker and professor from University of Wisconsin -Madison, who is passionate about purpose-focused approaches to health, finances and self-improvement strategies for life’s transitions.
She helps people to think about their purpose using these 4 steps, identify:
- Three things that define you… your core values
- Three strengths that you are good at and enjoy doing
- Three impact groups – folks you want to help both in their immediate lives and the larger global community
Then you need to make a sentence:
4. Because I value X, Y and Z, I will use my strengths of A, B and C to positively impact the lives of groups 1, 2 and 3.
Your why or your purpose… needs to be bigger than your ‘but’! Your ‘why it matters’ needs to be bigger than all of your excuses that may arise or get in the way of you working towards your purpose. The reason behind what you want to do has to be clear and strong to you.
There is a difference between goals and purpose and many people mix them up. Christine thought her purpose was to get her PhD and she couldn’t see much past that, but when she got it she realised that nothing had really changed. She burst into tears because she had dedicated 4/5 years of her life to this thing that she thought was her purpose. She asked her Mum what she had done with her life because she thought she was going to be so happy. Her mum said that she had felt the same because she hadn’t quite figured out what happens next. Christine realised that getting her PhD was a goal, it was a very important goal for living towards her purpose but at that time she did not have any clue what her purpose was.
Your why or your purpose is actually quite urgent because if you don’t think about it and are simply grasping at the next ring, and achieving your goals – you are going to have that same empty feeling because you don’t know why you are doing what you are doing. Understanding the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ to make it happen, that will keep you on track.
Christine doesn’t believe we should have one singular life purpose but that we should have many purposes – different purposes for different chapters of our lives. Looking back Christine could see that she had a clear thread running through so much of what she did but she saw it as set chapters.
Your values and sense of purpose will change throughout your life.
Living purposefully allows you to embrace opportunities when they come because you have that larger frame of what matters to you and why. The how of making it happen may come in a very different way than planned. If you think that your purpose is to be a doctor but you don’t get into medical school, is it really your purpose in life to be a medical doctor or is it that your purpose is to help people and you can work with people one on one in a different way? Taking apart these pieces opens up so many avenues for living your purpose.
Purpose has to be pro-social… it’s not all about you. It is pro-social in the sense that it involves other people and bettering the lives of others in some way. Purpose will not only make your life better but also help the lives of your immediate family, the community, the nation or the world in some way. Once you realise your skillset, it gives you a lot of energy to keep pushing through when times are tough.
Purpose and happiness are interdependent as having a purpose in life, knowing why you want to do what you do, tends to boost your:
- self-efficacy – the sense of feeling that what you are doing is valuable and that you are accomplishing things
- sense of agency – the ability to feel that you have control over your life
People tend not to be happy when they feel that they are not accomplishing what they want to accomplish. They may feel lost at sea or do not have control over their lives.
Christine sees her professional purpose, to translate academic research so that it can positively transform the lives of as many people as possible. She also has a purpose around her friendships/relationships and her family life. A topic for another day could be what do you do when those purposes come into conflict!
“It is not for school but for life we learn” – Seneca. Knowledge can really make a difference to thriving in life.
Christine has never written any book that has not worked for her personally. Life does not always work out the way you think it will, so we can only do the best we can do at the time and learn from it going forward.
Listen to our full podcast where Christine also shares her thoughts around giving good advice.
You can access Christine’s work and books at www.christinewhelan.com feel free to email and ask questions. Christine is passionate about spreading the word so she speaks at events and consults with companies to help them take all of these ideas and put them to work to increase employee happiness, wellbeing and life.