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Find your purpose!

That's common advice to people starting out in their careers. And often it's frustrating advice, because they aren't sure – or their purpose seems incompatible with making a decent living.

John Coleman, co-author of Passion & Purpose, says the notion that purpose will just arrive wrapped in a neat package is a Hollywood myth. You don't find your purpose. You build it. "For the average 20-year-old in college or 40-year-old in an unfulfilling job, searching for the silver bullet to give life meaning is more likely to end in frustration than fulfilment," he writes on HBR.org.

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Most of us have to focus as much on making our work meaningful as in taking meaning from it. You need to consider what is meaningful and purposeful about the job and then carry out your work so that meaning is enhanced or, better yet, takes centre stage.

He warns that purpose is not a single thing. And it's not stable over time.

Most of us will have multiple sources of purpose in our lives. "For me, I find purpose in my children, my marriage, my faith, my writing, my work, and my community. For almost everyone, there's no one thing we can find. It's not purpose but purposes we are looking for – the multiple sources of meaning that help us find value in our work and lives," he writes. "Acknowledging these multiple sources of purpose takes the pressure off of finding a single thing to give our lives meaning."

He knows one individual who recently left a successful private equity career to found a startup and two folks who recently left business careers to run for elective office. You probably also know people who have switched careers – switched purpose – at different stages of their lives. And it doesn't have to just be changing professional commitments. Life waxes and wanes, so for part of our life children may be front-and-centre and then as empty nesters we turn elsewhere.

"This evolution in our sources of purpose isn't flaky or demonstrative of a lack of commitment, but natural and good. Just as we all find meaning in multiple places, the sources of that meaning can and do change over time. My focus and sense of purpose at 20 was dramatically different in many ways than it is now, and the same could be said of almost anyone you meet," he writes.

So how do you find your purpose? He asks you to throw away that question – it's the wrong way to look at the issue. Instead, endow everything you do with purpose; allow for the multiple sources of meaning that will naturally develop in your life and be comfortable with those changing over time.

In The New Zealand Herald, life coach Louise Thompson offers seven principles for finding your passion, which is related to purpose:

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  • Don’t give up prematurely: If you stop looking for your passion, you will never find it. Keep being curious. Dig deeper.
     
  • Be lateral, not literal: Follow the feel – what seems, emotionally, to be right. “It’s as much about feeling it out by what lights you up as figuring it out from what logically makes sense. You are seeking a passion-focused career ultimately not for a logical payoff but an emotional-based one: how will it make you feel when you have it?” she writes.
     
  • Be a round peg in a round hole: Know yourself. Make sure everything fits properly. Don’t stay in an unsuitable career. Perhaps you need some personality testing to understand yourself better and a new environment that matches what you find.
     
  • Focus on the journey, not the destination: She admits that’s an extremely annoying life-coaching cliché but feels it’s applicable here. “Release the grip on the end result, trust that you will find it, and just head out – take the next step, the next small step that feels interesting, that piques your curiosity or lights you up,” she says.
     
  • Don’t expect it to be risk-free: Indeed, many people searching to find their passion actually know what it is but are afraid because it’s a scary leap, emotional, financially or logistically inconvenient. “You will probably need to be brave. You will, at some point, need to leap right out of your comfort zone. Often it’s not a passion identification problem, it’s one of mustering sufficient courage to make it yours,” she stresses.
     
  • It may not be an off-the shelf solution: You may need to create something new, your unique career or portfolio of careers.
     
  • Ask yourself better questions: If you are stuck, ask yourself new and better questions. Indeed, she has a list of twenty-one, such as what would you do if you knew for an absolute fact you would make great money doing it, and what do you pretend to like but honestly can’t stand? “The answer is there, you do have it and it is inside of you. Sometimes we just need to be really honest about where our fear is bigger than our passion, where we are not taking action, and why,” she concludes.

Here are some tips to improve your productivity:

  • Try Trent Dyrsmid’s paper clip strategy. On his blog, James Clear tells how the Abbotsford rookie stock broker built his book by placing two jars on his desk at the start of each day, one filled with 120 paper clips and the other empty. After he called a prospect, he transferred a paper clip to the empty jar. He would keep phoning until the 120 paper clips had been shifted to the second jar. Mr. Clear notes you don’t have to be a broker and start with 120 paper clips but you can build discipline and good habits through a cheap visual clue, such as the paper clips. Perhaps it’s 25 paper clips for the 25 sales messages you want to send or eight paper clips as a reminder to fight dehydration with eight glasses of water daily.
     
  • The key to pushing back deadlines and dealing with an overwhelming to-do list, says writer Kat Boogaard, is to start early. Don’t wait until the deadline but signal early that you are swamped and need to renegotiate the time line.
     
  • Ask your company to reduce the e-mail deluge by developing a system that tells each sender of a missive what the cost is to recipients (and the company). Information specialist Nathan Zeldes says some companies have done it, with the calculation in units of total time to read the message, based on its length, or in money, based on time and average hourly wage rates. Among other things, it shows the cost of “reply to all” since the calculation covers all recipients.
     
  • If you use Gmail and Chrome, journalist JR Raphael recommends Sortd, which transforms your inbox into a card-based task-management centre.

Quick hits

  • The early bird gets the job as well as the worm. A study shows that the best time to apply for a job is between 6 and 10 a.m., when 13 per cent of applicants score an interview. After that morning window, your interview odds start falling by 10 per cent every 30 minutes.
     
  • Don’t consume negative news before work, a University of Pennsylvania study suggests. By viewing negative news for only three minutes you are more likely to experience an unhappy day – and productivity is related to happiness.
     
  • If you are involved in designing websites, keep in mind a recent finding by the Nielsen Norman Group that horizontal attention leans dramatically left. Web users spend 80 per cent of their time viewing the left-hand side of the page and 20 per cent viewing the right half.
     
  • Don’t ask after a presentation to your team about a new initiative whether there are any questions. Usually people will demur. Instead, executive coach Scott Eblin advises, ask “what are we missing” or “what is going on that we need to pay more attention to?”
     
  • If you need a double-spaced print-out of a single-spaced document, Microsoft Word expert Allen Wyatt says save the document and then press Ctrl+A to select the document, Ctrl+2 to quickly double space, Ctrl+P to print, and then close your document without saving.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter.

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