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Finding Purpose

Finding Purpose

Finding Purpose

    At the beginning of the semester, I asked my students a simple question. See, I teach an unusual class, a core requirement that fulfills not just a social science or humanity requirement but also fulfills my university’s diversity requirement. In practical terms, that means that students working on satisfying their general education requirement can take just my class instead of having to take two classes to satisfy the same requirement.

    So I already know why my classes are packed every semester. I know why they’re there. And it’s pretty damn boring. So this semester I handed out cards and asked them to answer a question for me: what do you hope you learn in this class? I explained to them, you’re here for 16 weeks. 16 weeks that can be like a prison sentence, each of you just waiting for the warden to open the doors, give you your two requirement credits, and let you free – or we can find some way to make those 16 weeks worth your while, some way for each of you to leave this classroom with something of value to you.

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    When I went through the cards at the end of the day, there were a few people who’d taken up the challenge, but well over ¾ of them gave the same answer: I’m just here for the requirement. They chose prison over learning, jail over purpose.

    Wow. I mean, just – wow.

    Most people find themselves doing things for no real purpose at all. It’s just “what’s done”.

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    Think about that. How many things do you do that you “need” to do or “simply must” – without having any greater purpose of your own?

    Many things we think of as ends in themselves really aren’t ends at all – they’re means to an end, means to our own ends. Passing a class, keeping a job, cleaning your house – these are things we do (hopefully!) for a greater purpose – not just towards a goal, but tin pursuit of our own personal growth.

    But it’s easy – too easy – to lose track of that purpose and start treadmilling through our days as if getting through yet another day were the whole of life.

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    That path leads to despair!

    The remedy is simple enough – – a few calm minutes with yourself every week or so to reflect on what you do any why you do it. Maybe a chart or mindmap listing your major activities and your purpose in doing them.

    In the end, the key isn’t having the “best” or the “right” purpose (which only you could say, anyway) – the key is to lead a considered life, to find the threads that hold it all together and to be aware when the skein of your life slips out of your grasp.

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    How many things do you do every day that, if asked, you’d be hard pressed to explain why you’re doing them? How many tasks have no meaning at all for you, no real “fit” in the Big Picture of your life? Isn’t it time to start thinking about that — getting rid of the stuff that has no purpose, and learning anew to appreciate the important stuff whose purpose you’d forgotten along the way?

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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