Charlotte Cramer is a strategy consultant, social entrepreneur, MSc. Applied Neuroscience candidate, and author of The Purpose Myth. She dismantles the idea that our work should bring us purpose and talks us through how to identify our purpose and – more importantly – how to act on it. And she identifies quotes and ideas to keep us inspired and help us understand our motivation.
Purpose – the action-oriented alignment of personal goals with outward contribution – is a natural, human need; we need it to survive – both as a species and as individuals.
Research shows that a high sense of purpose can produce positive health outcomes from reduced cholesterol,1 lower cognitive impairments,2 reduced risk of alzheimer’s,3 and even lower levels of inflammatory response.4 Most impressively, a high sense of purpose is even shown to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.5
Frustratingly, many of us have been led to believe that to find our purpose we must do so within the confines of a 9-5. HR leaders in even the most nefarious of organisations advertise jobs as opportunities for purpose-fulfilment and Medium bloggers, self-help books and motivational speakers tell us: “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
With unemployment rates at a four-year high and a snail-pace job market, 2021 is likely to be another year of hunkering down, keeping your job (if you have one), and taking the necessary paid work to pay the bills (if you don’t).
Keeping a job because it pays your bills needn’t leave you deficient of purpose. You can find purpose outside of your 9-5 in the form of a purpose project. Here’s how; in five key questions.
1. What breaks your heart?
“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Your passion is your superpower.
Passion is magnetic, and magnetism is essential: you need people to be drawn to your project for it to be a success. To find the thing that ignites your passion, follow Glennon Doyle’s words of wisdom by asking: ‘what breaks your heart?’
The catalyst for creating a powerful purpose project comes from within. Open your eyes to the world and then listen to what comes up, reflect, and identify what is it in the world that feels grossly unfair to you – more than anything else?
💡 Practical tip: Walk around your neighbourhood with a pen and paper and jot down the things you see that irk you. Litter on the pavement? Doctors smoking outside the hospital? Children being given sugary snacks to stop them crying?
2. Why is it happening…really?
‘What?’ is an observation, ‘why?’ is an insight’
— Alfred Malmros, co-founder, Anyone
This is the most important part of the process. To change what is happening we need to know why it is happening. This is harder than it sounds. You must become the detective, the spy, and the psychologist – and do so with a healthy dose of cynicism and critical eye.
The things that are broken in our world are often broken by design. You will be surprised at how many false answers you receive to your gentle inquiry. These false answers may even come from within: they are programmed by the same society that has created the problems. Notice them and write them down, they will remind you why the problem is insidious.
If your ‘why?’ is not uncomfortable, it’s probably not true.
💡 Practical tip: Ask yourself ‘why?’ and then list 20 reasons that feel like the wrong answer, or the answer you’d be ashamed of sharing with a friend. For example, imagine you were to ask yourself ‘why do people choose IVF over adoption?’ or ‘why is my whole team at work white?’ – the uncomfortable answer is far more likely the real one.
3. How might you change that?
‘In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.’
— Bertrand Russell
If you have found a real, true, juicy ‘why?’, adding a question mark to it will feel thrilling. The answer may even fall out onto the page. It may feel too simple, too obvious, too ‘this must have been done before!’ If you hear these things in your mind – you’re onto a winner.
💡 Practical tip: Translate your ‘why?’ into a question that asks how it could be solved. For example, ‘People don’t give money to the homeless because they think it will be spent on drugs and alcohol’ —> ‘How might we inspire people to give to the homeless, safe in the knowledge that it won’t be spent on drugs or alcohol?’
4. What are the nuts and bolts?
“Don’t agonise, organise.”
— Florynce Kennedy
For the visionary world-changer, this stage can feel deflating. ‘I have these great dreams and now you’re asking me about logistical minutiae?’ you may think… This is where the real work begins: the plotting, planning, and tactical assembly of all the components of your idea to turn it from just that into an experience that real people interact with.
💡 Practical tip: Write your idea out as a timeline. For example, if your idea was a lemonade stand: find a lemonade recipe, buy the ingredients, taste-test lemonade, find a stand, make flyers, distribute flyers, decorate the table, buy cups, buy ice… you get the idea. As you do this, questions will naturally arise, you’ll realise some elements aren’t correctly ordered, and you’ll get an idea of where you need to do some extra research. Then, you can start creating a project plan with deadlines for each task.
5. Where are people going to find you?
“You are your best thing.”
— Toni Morrison
It’s one thing to come up with a world-changing idea, it’s another to turn that into reality, and it’s an entirely separate yet crucial step to ensure that your project reaches as many people as possible to have the biggest impact possible. At this stage many people will hide behind their ideas – you will not. You are your idea’s biggest asset. You’ve been around longer than your idea has. Right now, people love you, not your idea. Channel your inner Patsy and shout from the rooftops about your passion, your perspiration, and your project.
💡 Practical tip: Find three similar projects to yours and search them in Google News. Click on the top ten articles and see which journalists wrote about those projects. Read some more of their work and if you think that their readers would be interested in your project, email them your press release.