Whenever I begin my initial research for Seed Waikato events, I always begin with myself and then expand my scope into the greater ecosystem that we, as human beings, are apart of. I hope that in my quest to shape these big ideas, I lose the whole notion of self, and instead paint a picture of what purpose might look like in the 21st century. This is usually my goal, but sometimes I fall short. When it comes to the idea of finding purpose, it was hard not go get lost in the playground.
Naturally, I began with google. I was hoping for an easy answer; five simple steps, a quick tedtalk, something that would make writing this simple. Instead, I found myself, five hours later, being lead down a rabbit hole that had no foreseeable end. One that was filled with contradiction, questions, and no answers. Google was speaking to me in riddles, ones that sounded good, but offered little clarity;
“The two most important days in your life, are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.”
“The purpose of life, is a life of purpose.”
“What is your why?”
A single google search left me uninspired and agitated. I felt stuck, and in my effort to shape this big idea of finding purpose, I instead found myself questioning whether or not I knew my own. The many experts available on Dr. Google were telling me that finding your purpose is meant to be a liberating experience, one that opens doors and gives you meaning. I found the opposite to be true. I found a social imperative, one that told me having a purpose, or having a why, or having a 30-year-plan is the mark of successful human. This felt limiting, not liberating. It felt like failing. I had somehow failed, and I hadn’t even started yet.
We live in a world where a dangerously limiting idea remains at the heart of everything we believe to be true about success - that you have a singular passion, that your job is to find this passion, to pursue this passion, to make a living out of this passion, excluding anything else. If you do this, everything will fall into place. And if you don’t, you have failed. This pressure starts young, it lurks in the backdrop of our lives, reminding us constantly that we are failing. We hear it when we finish high school, or when we graduate University - the “wow, the whole world's at your feet! What are you going to do now?” It’s intimidating. Something inside shrivels, when our minds come up blank, when we don’t have something interesting to respond with. Or what we do respond with isn’t as sexy as Susan, who is going to clerk on the Supreme Court of whatever. And should you dare respond with “I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out” - the accidental judgment and deer-in-headlights-look you get back, stops any conversation in its tracks. That is a social imperative at work. We are judged for not having purpose, and for not knowing our playground. There is an expectation to choose your passion, and to pursue nothing else.
Now, this word passion kept popping up during my journey down the rabbit hole. I think, that we, as human beings are quick to mistaken passion with purpose. We think that following our passions will result in the purpose that we have all been told we need to find. Be weary of this passion-trap. Passion is not a plan, it’s a feeling. And feelings change. That is a human trait we all share. We can be passionate about a person, or a job, or a city, and wake up the next day completely indifferent. We know this to be true, and yet we continue to use passion as our measure for success.
We need to start seeing passion for what it really is: strong and barely controllable emotion.
It is an emotion that shakes and crumbles, builds and rebuilds our purpose. I have been passionate about squash and have made that my purpose. Then it faded. I have been passionate about teaching, and have found purpose in my work with young people. I was passionate about becoming a homeowner, and found purpose in making that happen. I am passionate about the work I do with Seed and have found purpose here. Passion doesn’t have a timeframe, sometimes it fizzles fast, and sometimes it lasts a lifetime. Passion is the stepping stone, it is not the foundation of our purpose. And our purpose can change and shift just as our passions do. We must remain kind to ourselves, if are we are to navigate the playgrounds of our purpose and come out the other end unscathed. Passion fades and purpose changes, the playground however, is entirely up to you.
Finding your purpose should not come from a social complex that has blossomed from a world that is hell bent on knowing your why. It should not shake you to the core of who you are, even though it often does anyway. It should be leaning into the parts of yourself that you most enjoy. The bits that allow you to feel happy. If I discovered anything after my five long hours on google, it was that finding purpose had a single common theme, one that allows you to have success in the playground you choose. It was the simple answer I had been looking for all along. It wasn’t five simple steps, or a quick TED talk, and it finally made writing this simple. It all comes down to a single a word. Five letters, that will help you on the road to finding your purpose and your playground. All you have to do is;
So, passion or no passion, purpose or no purpose. I challenge you, when opportunity comes knocking, when something catches your attention, even for just a moment, lean in to it. Feel the discomfort of something new and start anyway. In our passion we must find the courage to start something. This something might give us purpose, or it might not. When our passion burns out, at least we can be strong in our conviction that we tried. That we started when no one else did. That we took a leap into the unknown, knowing that it might not end well, knowing that it might not lead to a why, or a purpose, or a 30-year-plan. I think we get so caught up on trying to figure out our purpose, that we simply forget to: start.
Kendyl is Seed Waikato's Head of Learning and Development.