for the past few months my entire sentient life, i have been trying to figure out what i’m supposed to do with my life. what is my purpose? what am i meant to do? what is my damned calling, already? (ya feel me?)

(stolen from an anonymous contributor to the pages project.)

and i’ve read lots of books, followed lots of blogs, went to whole seminars on the thing. and we always start with “what do you like to do.” “what, when you’re in the middle of doing it, do you lose time/find your bliss/insert yoga-y nonsense here.” or, they start with “what, if you could Do anything, would you feel safe to pursue?”

do you notice a trend here?

THEY ALL START WITH DO! (i suppose because we’re trying to answer the question, what do i want to DO with my life.)

this has not worked for me. first, every time i think i find what i want to do with my life, i start doing it and then get distracted by this shiny other winking project, something i also want to do. and then i think That’s what i want to Do. i am a Scanner, i am a Learner, i am a person who likes to go new places and try new things. so this whole “what do i want to do with my life” question is not going to stick for me. no matter how many mind maps and journal-journeys i make.

i was starting to get a bit disgusted.

then-epiphany!-yesterday i realized something. i realized that maybe, Maybe, we’re looking for the wrong answer because we’re asking the wrong question. maybe we should look at how organizations and businesses assess these things.

and, from the Black Days of Office Attire, i did learn a few tricks. one was called an Assessment Track, or some nonsense. basically, it was this whole messy chart to measure whether or not we were being successful. to be able to fill in this chart we had to first know what our vision and mission was. we needed to know the purpose. what were we hoping would be the end result of our organization’s existence?

do you notice something here? there is no DO, and kids, there won’t be for a while.

you see, organizations make these crazy charts, sometimes called logic models, or assessment flowcharts, and if you were reading them, on the left would be these actions/tasks (what do you DO?). but in the process of figuring it out, you start at the other side, you start with the outcome. and even before the outcome, you have an overarching vision/mission/PURPOSE.

i started thinking about this while reading Dan Pink’s fabulous Adventures of Johnny Bunko. in Adventures, Johnny is guided through the six lessons to surviving the work world, by a Japanese manga “genie in a chopstick.” seriously. but stick with me, because the last rule is “leave an imprint.”

my argument, here, folks, is that we’re starting at the wrong end of the chart. we’re Ending with “leave an imprint,” and starting with “what do you want to DO.”

but that’s not how organizations organize themselves, if they want to be effective. they start with the imprint. they start with the purpose. the vision/mission, when done well, is not about the tasks they do or the products they produce. it’s about the change they make in the world.

so let’s go through those nasty little charts.

OUTCOME: the result, the change, the purpose. (at the end of your life, what do you want to have shifted around you?)

OUTPUT: what is produced, the product or object (or career position) obtained. (this would be the “what do you want to Be? question.)

INPUT: the activities, the tasks, the things we DO.

some folks also use “activities” (between input and output, calling the input the resources, the stuff needed) and “impact” (the overall change, beyond the outcome), but for our personal purposes i don’t think we need to break it down as much as an organization or company. three will be plenty for us.

so, we start with the outcome: what do we want to have affected in those around you because you were living on this earth? not just what do you want to do (make stuff!), or what do you want to be (artist! writer! curator! educator! blahblahblah!), but what do you want the outcome of your life to be?

i’m still working on this, still figuring it out. but i know it has something to do with fostering creativity in others. at the end of my life, i want people to say i inspired them to use their creativity. i want other folks to say they actually considered that they might Be creative, after all these adults had made them think they weren’t one of those creative types.

fostering creativity doesn’t (only) mean getting people in touch with their crafty sides, of course. it means opening people up to new ways of problem solving. it means reminding them to find and create beauty in their everyday lives. it means reminding them of their unique contribution to the world. and so much more.

so, i’ll keep working on what my outcome is, how that “fostering creativity” becomes something solid to stand on. and then i’ll be working to see how my outputs (jobs, goals, accomplishments) and inputs (tasks to get there, things i Do) can fit into a logical chart.

it will help me focus, and keep walking in the right direction. it might even help me understand my purpose.

i’ll be working on my chart, over here. i would love it if you tried your own chart, and let me know what you came up with.

remember: don’t start with the DO. or even the BE. start with the SHIFT, the imprint, the change.

start with the effect you want to have on the world around you.


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