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The Purpose of Purpose

What is purpose? Merriam-Webster defines it as “the reason why something is done, the aim or goal of a person” or “what a person is trying to do or become.” Finding this reason for yourself, however, can be challenging. Where do you begin? Purpose is multifaceted and can be found through a combination of the following: 
  • Attitude - how we interpret our experiences
  • Creation- what we create, achieve and accomplish
  • Experience - what is gained from our experiences
Exploring these common values to derive purpose will strengthen your emotional resilience. Purpose is also biologically protective.  It is directly linked to life expectancy, as well as brain health and the immune system.  Lower levels of inflammation and an increased antiviral response were found in individuals who felt they had a sense of direction and were making a contribution to the world.

Choose Your Attitude

Purpose lies within our attitude. Life throws events at us that are often out of our control. One thing we can always control is our attitude. We’ve all heard the old saying, “Is the glass half empty, or half full?” Research shows that there really is a science to positive thinking. Negative emotions alter our brain processes. They force us to narrow in on a perceived threat and focus our attention on it. From an evolutionary perspective, this is a helpful survival instinct. But in modern day situations, this actually limits the options we are able to recognize for ourselves. We may also fall victim to the fundamental attributional error. This is the tendency to view the outcome of a situation as being entirely related to ourselves, rather than considering external factors. Awareness over who or what we attribute an outcome to can greatly affect our attitude towards that outcome. Maintaining a healthy attitude and a sense of perspective is key when handling challenging situations. Simply put, positive thinking broadens the possibility spectrum. When this happens, our skill set, resources and sense of value also broaden. How about increased cardiovascular health and higher immunity?  These are some worthwhile benefits! So how do we increase these positive thought patterns? 
The Three A's of Awesome: Neil Pasricha, owner of the blog, 1000 Awesome Things, reveals what he believes are the 3 secrets to an awesome life.

Create An Impact

Purpose motivates us to share our ideas and talents, as well as set continuous goals for ourselves. Our careers allow us to do just that. They are the outlet that allows us to channel this energy and desire for impact into productivity. For this reason, a fulfilling career (and college major!) will be one that best utilizes your unique talents. Ask yourself:
  • When activities are you most devoted, passionate and excited about?
  • When are you producing your best work?
  • When are you most confident in your decisions?
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of?
  • What activities do you gravitate to?
  • If money were no object, what would you be doing?
Brainstorm answers to these questions. You may even want to take advantage of some self-assessment tools, such as the Myers-Briggs personality test.  Don’t be afraid to do your homework on prospective careers, either. Websites like Acinet or Big Future contain general information on careers such as day to day responsibilities, required skills, field growth and salary. Consider exploring personal profiles or Q&A sessions with people working in your desired field, as well. The best way to determine whether or not a career is the right fit is by gaining on the job experience. Shadowing an employee, completing an internship or volunteering at the job site are all great ways to get a feel for the work environment and determine if it’s where you really want to be. Oakland University’s Career Services has many resources for students in every degree program, including:
If you have questions or concerns regarding your future degree, reach out to your academic department’s Advising Center. First year students should schedule an appointment with the First Year Advising Center (FYAC). 

Another way to create a positive impact is through practicing kindness. Outside of the numerous health benefits,  kindnesses allow us to connect with others in simple, meaningful ways. They boost our mood and self-perception, all while doing the same for others. Our everyday kindnesses make us more well-rounded as individuals, teaching us empathy and bringing us happiness. This positive feedback loop can be the difference between a bad day and a good day for another person, making kindness an impactful talent within all of us. For simple ideas, inspiring stories and substantial research behind the benefits of living kindly, visit the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. Check out Wake Up OU, Mission:Kindness at OU and other on-campus organizations at Grizz Orgs.

“Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice: Cal Newport, creator of the blog StudyHacks, discusses why “Follow your passion” may be a bad piece of advice and how some self exploration on your part can turn it into a great one.

Experience G

Purpose is built on self-awareness. This means having a clear perception of your personality, including your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation and emotions. It allows you to understand other people, their perception of you, and your responses towards them. This solid foundation will guide your development. Knowing what your comfort zone is and learning to step outside its boundary is crucial to growth as an individual. Your comfort zone is a behavioral space that best minimizes your stress and level of risk. The behaviors that fall here give you a feeling of mental security. This idea goes back to the research of psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, who identified a relationship between a state of comfort and a steady level of performance CURVE (JPG PDF). However, they found that a state of optimal stimulation, which lies just outside the comfort zone, maximizes your performance by slightly raising your levels of stress. Not too much, not too little, just right!

Finding your “Goldilocks Zone” can result in:
So how do you break out? Be proactive in seeking new challenges. Gain a sense of discovery and keep yourself open to new approaches. 
  • Change up your everyday routine
  • Take time to process your obstacles
  • Face your fears in small steps
  • Learn a new skill or meet a new face
Though we can’t live outside the boundary of our comfort zone 24/7, the ability to acccess the area beyond can make great things happen.

Why Bother Leaving the House?: Ben Saunders has skied solo through the North pole and walked the South pole on foot.  Give him a few minutes to tell you why everywhere in between matters.

ACE Your Purpose

The key to acing your purpose is through setting measurable, timely goals in each of the areas discussed above. One goal, for example, may be to improve your attitude toward test-taking. Others might involve applying for an internship (Creation) or investing in a study-abroad trip (Experience). Set your goals based on what you hope to achieve and experience. Strong goals have some level of difficulty, while still being attainable. They are both specific and realistic. While this is all relative, goals that are too easy won’t challenge us. The 1-3-5 method suggest creating, 1 large goal, 3 medium goals and 5 small ones. Your deadline can be one day, one week, or even a semester! The key is to remain consistent in taking steps toward your goals. Recent college graduate, Chris Bailey, spent an entire year testing various methods of productivity, from working 90-hour weeks to taking a daily siesta. He identified what he believes are the Top Ten lessons learned through his experiments. He compiled a list of 100 Time, Energy and Attention Hacks that kept him on track. Use his research, as well as the resources below to better outline your goals, both short and long term:
  • Create a vision board to visualize your future goals--on paper or online
  • Learn how to write goals 
  • Put your purpose on paper
  • Create a personal mission statement
The Takeaway

Be aware of your attitude. Create opportunities to better understand and prepare for your future career. Live kindly. Step outside your boundaries and experience change. Set goals for yourself and be persistent in reaching them.