Purpose: Is there such a thing?

And so it happened. Yesterday evening, April 1st, 2014, Expanding Circles made the jump from London to the continent, to one of Europes’ most fascinating cities: Berlin.

13 Expanders gathered for the inaugural circle in an inspiring place, the IdeaCamp Berlin to discuss the topic of “Purpose: is there such a thing? And if so, how do we find it?“

Ernesto Moreno, founder of Expanding Circles, was there for the occasion, as were – among others – an architect, an engineer, a student of law, an economist, a former major CEO and an education designer.

Right off the bat, already in the introductory round, we discovered how labels can limit people in their openness or, on the other hand, perk interests. One of the participants introduced herself as a stockbroker, stripper and cleaning lady. Immediately this challenged everyone’s paradigm of what that means.

The central question that permeated the Circle was whether there is such a thing as purpose at all and whether it is bound by a certain definition. Some participants felt that purpose is more like a goal to be achieved, and reaching that goal will result in happiness. Others saw purpose more as a feeling, comparable to Flow, that you only understand once it permeates you. Maybe purpose is something more spiritually experienced than rationally understood?

It soon emerged that the definition of purpose and its differentiation from destiny, passion, mission, meaning or just “doing your thing” is as challenging a process as it is confusing. Also the question of linguistic definition was central, seeing that most of the participants were not native English speakers. The one native we had among us remarked on the peculiarity that doing something „on purpose“ has quite a different ring to it than when “Purpose” is used as a noun and maybe a synonym for destiny, passion, or meaning. And what does that imply about what we do “on purpose”? Is that always aligned with our purpose?

What was just as interesting was the question of whether there is one purpose unique to each one of us, that we spend time on finding and that is given to us from somewhere. Some of us have had epiphany moments or experiences that have connected them with their purpose. Others believe that it is up to us to create our own purpose, hence bringing it forth from within us. And some even question whether we need a purpose at all, whether just being might be enough.

If our purpose is of some kind of external entity, do we need an external point of crystallization for that purpose or can we fulfill our purpose simply within ourselves, in the extreme being a recluse and not being in touch with any other person? After all, many a genius artist was just such a hermit. And yet some of us feel that we are doing something purposeful while working on Excel sheets in the quiet of our office. So do we need other people to live our destiny?

Some of us wondered if purpose can be something separate from us but instead is what defines us, us being our purpose, while others in the circle believed that e.g. our careers don’t necessarily have to have anything to do with our private life, making purpose more of a private track to retreat to instead of something that needs to govern the entirety of our lives.

The Circle also asked whether happiness is a prerequisite for purpose, whether living in alignment with one’s purpose necessarily produces a state of joy, seeing that the dissatisfaction with the state of things can be such a major motivator in taking action, following a certain profession, engaging in politics, ethics, human rights or changing the world. 

It was interesting to observe that in one exercise that we ran, some of us seemed to be quite clear about what (their) purpose was, while others were more doubtful; however, those that seemed to have more clarity found it challenging to give advice on just what purpose is and how to find it.

What emerged over the course of the conversation was that purpose is strongly connected to the notion of giving to others, sharing a central ability or gift that we discover in ourselves at some point. So could purpose or the search for it be the process of discovering our gift and the continuous process of sharing it to serve others, creating value for others?

While many of us may have come looking for answers, most of us left with new questions on our minds. And that is what Expanding Circles wants to be: thought-provoking conversations that give us reason to question further the world around us and how we see it.

And so it was no surprise that what some of us took away from yesterday’s circle were deep questions:

  • “If we are all looking for meaning, why is change so difficult to bring about in this world?”
  • “What would change if I had a purpose? How would that feel?”
  • “Do we really need the giving element in order to have purpose?”

The dates of the next Expanding Circles taking place in Berlin can be seen here

Join us and help us spread the word

Expanding Circles Berlin 1 Ernestoria Ernesto Moreno

Sometimes kids are not too far off, as in this fun little clip…

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret of happiness

Oprah and Ianla Vanzant talk about surrendering to purpose:

And here’s a quick challenge from Adam Leipzig at his TEDx Talk in Malibu: How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes

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