I was speaking to an old and dear friend recently about meeting new people, and the questions we tend to ask of others as we get to know them. The classic, "So, what do you do?" can rankle some. She commented that we're not necessarily defined by our work, and that question has the potential to reduce a person to their paid (or unpaid) role in society. It can minimize who we are at a deeper level, and put inappropriate value on action and productivity.
It gave me pause.
But I'm not sure I am referring to someone's societal role when I ask what they "do". A person could ultimately interpret that query any way they wish; for one person, what they "do" is their paid work, their career. Others might not be paid for what they spend most of their time doing - stay-at-home parents and committed volunteers come to mind. For someone else, what they "do" is their hobby - their dogged pursuit of athletic performance, their love of back-country adventures, their painting/knitting/gardening.
When I'm asked that question, my go-to response involves what I happen to get paid to do. I'm a naturopathic doctor. For me, this is not simply my job. It is a large part of my identity, and plays into most of the facets of my life. Whether I were paid for it or not, I'm sure I would identify that way. But that doesn't negate my other roles as a mom, as an athlete, as a volunteer ... and I would likely (if given the opportunity) expand on these roles as well.
The discussion made me wonder what the common denominator would be in how a group of individuals answered that question. The best thing I could come up with is purpose.
The word can be defined as "the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists." So perhaps the better, more deeply stirring question should be, "For what do you exist?" I think that's what I mean when I ask others what they "do". What is their direction? What is of meaning to them? What about their life is significant?
This is certainly not a novel concept. Various TED talks have explored this idea that a sense of purpose promotes a more meaningful life and reduces stress. An identified purpose in life has been correlated to improved health outcomes, both physical and mental. Although much of the literature exploring this connection reflects individuals later in life, emerging literature also explores the impact of a reflection on purpose to life satisfaction in younger people as well.
So, I've been pondering. What's my purpose? For what do I exist? I have some thoughts ... and I'm curious about yours. Here are some questions that were used in one study in an attempt to "induce reflection and deep thought about one's purpose in life, core values, and most important life goals":
1. What are your goals in life?
2. What are some of the reasons behind your goals?
3. How are you currently pursuing these goals? Do you have future plans to pursue them?
4. How are these goals related to other aspects of your life?
In this study, the responses to these questions were only discussed over a 45 minute period, but had significant effects on measures of "goal directedness" and life satisfaction nine months after the conversation.
I wonder. If we all, at some point in the next couple of days - over this weekend of thanks - sat down with someone who is listening deeply, and reflect for just 45 minutes on our goals. What if we all did that. And then - here's just a suggestion - what if we all did something about it ... imagine what good would come!
Here's a goal I have at the moment: I guess it aligns with a direction in my life to express gratitude for my blessings by sharing in whatever way I can - my body, my time, my knowledge, my finances. I have formed a team with a neighbour to raise funds and put in the time, love and effort to support a family of refugees from Syria. We are not ground-breaking in this endeavour - there is a ground swell of folks doing the same thing. We are working out the final details and logistics of this, and will communicate when we're ready to roll.
In the meantime. I encourage you to reflect on your goals. If you discover that they align with ours in any way, I invite you to complete the following survey - are you in a position to pledge your support to our efforts?