What is your purpose in life?
Some 40 people attended a “purpose workshop” this week which explored that heavy topic and offered ways to find the answer.
The crowd at the Mid-Columbia Senior Center Tuesday skewed heavily female, and some there were already loaded with a life passion, be it gardening, recycling or teaching water aerobics.
But one woman, Jodi TePoel, who said she has a passion for recycling, told a reporter, “I feel like there should be something more for me.”
Lee Collinge led the workshop put on by the Blue Zones Project — The Dalles, a three-year effort that seeks to improve community wellbeing. Purpose workshops can also be done for schools, businesses, churches and other groups, she said.
Research has found that those with a purpose live longer and are more resilient, Collinge said. “Purpose is a journey,” she said. “We think of it as that inward motivation that drives outward action.”
Purpose can meander and sometimes be unclear, but it’s always there.
Signs of purpose can be what gets you out of bed in the morning, an activity you lose yourself in and lose track of time because you love doing it, and how you define living the good life.
Passion can be so powerful that “it won’t let you not do something,” she said.
She asked if anyone ever felt lost, overwhelmed, stuck, stagnant, or bored. She said that is a point when a person’s head, heart and hands “are not in alignment. Purpose is the thing that allows you to sync those things up.”
She said, “If you don’t have purpose, it can feel like you’re being smacked around in the sky and desperately looking for a place to land.”
She asked the audience to describe someone who demonstrated purpose in their life. One listed her 94-year-old mother, who raised kids while getting her nursing degree and founding a program for inner city kids, and always has a smile on her face.
Another listed a yoga instructor in Portland who “gives you energy, she uplifts you.”
TePoel listed Megan Hoak, the teen librarian at The Dalles-Wasco County Library. “You know she loves her job. She’s just a very powerful human, very sure of herself and cares deeply about the children,” she said.
Collings said they are people with focus, who are centered by a sense of meaning. “When you are around these folks, you feel like anything’s possible,” Collinge said.
She said purpose can be as simple as tending a garden each day.
It can also be a dedication to a larger goal of helping others, which can help people feel and do better. In fact, the upshot of the evening was when Collinge asked the audience, once they completed a task to help identify a purpose, to pledge to put that purpose to use through volunteer work.
“Once you figure out what you want to give back to this world, go, give it back, because we need you,” she said.
The key exercise at the two-hour event, where people found their purpose, involved a pack of “calling cards.” They are the brainchild of author Richard Leider and they list 52 “gifts” or innate attributes, divided into six categories, such as artistic, realistic, structured and social. Examples of gifts were “resolving disputes,” “analyzing information,” “adding humor,” “making connections,” and “growing things.”
Participants were asked to winnow the deck of 52 cards down to their top five, a task that is usually “a hard exercise for a lot of people,” Collinge said. “There’s a reason for that, you’re not only made up of five things.”
But, to winnow it down is a “clarifying exercise” because it “makes you really think about who you are and what you bring into the world.”
From that five, the one they select as their top attribute is a person’s purpose, and the other four were the gifts the person used to facilitate the purpose.
The final part of the task was to choose how they would share their gifts. The goal is to create a meaningful life that is the combination of using your gifts in service of something you care deeply about in an environment that fits your values.
Collinge, the marketing and engagement lead for Blue Zones Project Oregon, had the audience break into small sessions regularly for discussion. One was about the life spiral, which features plateaus, triggering events, limbo, taking stock and taking charge.
Then the group was asked to share from the discussion, and some frank stories emerged.
One spoke of a 12-year period of paralysis, and said she realized “I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to make a move soon.”
Of her time in paralysis, she said, “Waiting and creating might be two branches of the same tree.”
Collinge said, “It’s easy to mistake being reflective for being paralyzed, and vice versa.”
People can avoid allowing themselves to think through, or feel through, an event or circumstance.
One woman described a long period of loss that cost her her entire support system. “Lemme tell you, you can’t walk around in cement boots without a support system.”
But another said she was at the point of taking charge, since she’s learned that her purpose was driven not by her, but by others. Limbo was long and painful, she said, and she feared she’d never leave it.
She’s in a new position now, “and my life is really quite full.”
Collinge said nobody can achieve their purpose alone, and the crowd was sent home with encouragement to find a support network or a sounding board to fine tune, think things out, and connect you to resources to fulfill your purpose.