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Shelley Paxton walked away in 2016 from her job as chief marketing officer at Harley-Davidson to ponder life during what she calls a “soulbbatical.” Even before that, she had been trying for many years to nail down her purpose in life – the elusive “why.”

“I always believed that it would be some epic statement that would rock the world and instantly change my life,” she writes in her book Soulbbatical.

In that longing, she was falling prey to some powerful myths surrounding passion and purpose.

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Myth 1: We create our own purpose. We set out on an intellectual exercise that ignores that purpose emanates from the soul and is revealed or discovered, not created. “The key to understanding it is connecting with ourselves and paying attention to what we love to do, what we are most passionate about, what change we want to see (and be) in the world. This is rarely a lightning-bolt epiphany,” Ms. Paxton, now a career coach, says. Give the quest – and yourself – time. Get to know yourself. She says she was aimless for quite a period of time but learned to trust the process; the scarier it feels, the closer you are to a breakthrough.

Myth 2: Purpose has to be an earth-shattering idea. Of the fictions she shares in her book, this trips people up the most. In reality, you are looking for little-p purpose – what you feel called to do day-to-day or week-to-week – rather than the big-P Purpose of a grand mission guiding all your actions. However, little-p passions can lead you to big-P Purpose in time.

Myth 3: Purpose is not for profit. Innately, we feel that we won’t be able to make a living from our purpose. That’s an excuse, indicating you’re simply not ready or willing to prioritize your purpose. “Many wildly successful businesses have been founded on purpose, from a passion to do better/be better/look better/feel better,” Ms. Paxton says, citing Tom’s, Spanx, Beautycounter and Mindvalley University. “These companies were started in someone’s soul – some as side hustles, others as going-for-broke ventures, but all with the courageous conviction of ‘I can.’” At the same time, she stresses you don’t have to make a living following your purpose – just that it may be possible.

Myth 4: You have only one purpose. Once you find it, that’s not the end. Your purpose will develop, deepening and evolving. Give it time and space to grow. There may be other purposes that emerge over your lifetime, as well.

“Ultimately, purpose is personal, and one of the best ways to discover yours is to spend quiet time alone, tuning in to that inner voice. Even if you can only set aside a couple of hours a week right now, I challenge you to do it,” Ms. Paxton says.

But a research study suggests there is another myth about purpose and passion that we need to be alert to – that purpose is open equally to all. In fact, amongst graduating college students, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds view the pursuit of passion as a privilege that excludes them. Specifically, Harvard Business School professor Jon Jachimowicz and research associate Josephine Tan found in two studies that students with lower socioeconomic status (SES) feel they are a worse fit for and lack the skills to thrive in jobs that call for passion. But when the researchers examined recruiters, they didn’t find any evidence of discrimination against students from lower SES backgrounds in jobs that emphasize the pursuit of passion.

“These results suggest that the pursuit of passion may serve as an – unintentionally – exclusionary signal to graduating students from lower SES backgrounds, making them less likely to apply, and ultimately less likely to be hired,” the researchers conclude.

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Quick hits

  • Blogger Seth Godin suggests you book a Zoom room for four hours, but only to meet with yourself. Use that half-day in isolation to figure out what’s scaring you and what you have been avoiding. He says it’s not a retreat but a chance to advance.
  • A survey of 1,001 people in the U.S. by the ResumeLab found 54 per cent had updated their resume in the past three months. Of various techniques for improving resumes, the most successful was hiring a professional resume writer, which led to an average of 3.3 offers on the most recent search. Close behind, at 3.2 offers, was including charts, graphs or diagrams.
  • If a job interview is going badly, executive recruiter Gerald Walsh advises asking frankly: “It seems like you have some concerns about my suitability for this job. Can I address those concerns?” Your bluntness may pull out issues you can then deal with.
  • As an actress, Jade Tailor auditions a lot – and loses out on jobs. But she has learned not to treat it as rejection: “Someone else’s opinion of you almost always has nothing to do with you, it has to do with someone else’s perspective and vision.”
  • The Windows SendTo menu is customizable. You can add other options by going to File Explorer’s address bar and typing “shell:SendTo” (without quotes) and pressing Enter. Drag a shortcut of any app you want to add to the SendTo menu into the file you have just opened.

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