TEDx Toronto: Challenging Notions of “Purpose”

by | Nov 9, 2015 | 0 comments

In October I had the wonderful experience of attending the TEDx Toronto event. It was a day full of inspiration with BIG ideas, fabulous speakers, wonderful delegates. It made you think, feel, laugh and wonder. One of the themes that emerged for me that day was the notion of Purpose. In particular, one speaker, Jordan Axani, got me really thinking. Read on for more.

Jordan Axani knows a thing or two about purpose. Or maybe he knows nothing at all. In fact, it’s that duality that shone on his brilliance at his recent TEDx Toronto talk on October 22.

Jordan Axani

(Jordan Axani)

You may have heard of Jordan when he made global headlines in 2014 after posting a simple message on Reddit, offering anyone who shared the same name as his previous partner a free plane ticket for a trip around the world. This simple ‘pay it forward’ deed garnered more than four billion media impressions. He became an overnight media sensation. And while the trip itself worked out fine — in itself it wasn’t really going to be the ‘thing’ that defined him or secured a bright future for him. In fact, it wasn’t the main story at all in Jordan’s real journey.

Jordan’s real journey began when he returned from the trip and had to face the big questions of what’s next for him. After confronting many truths about his life he found himself asking those big questions that many of us ask ourselves when on the threshold of change and in pursuit of a meaningful life: What’s your life about; what should you really be doing; who are you – and ultimately ‘What’s your purpose?’

Feeling ‘purpose-less’ after his around-the-world trip in a Hollywood cyclone, Jordan went out on a quest to find his true purpose. But he came up more empty than ‘fuelled’. He tells the story of finding other ‘purpose-seekers’ at a conference that promised to help people find true purpose in four days. Many of the delegates were successful people who appeared to have figured it all out. It wasn’t until Jordan fessed up he was faking his declaration of his new-found purpose at the conference that they chimed in that they also faked theirs.

And so it goes – the pressure to find one’s purpose will drive people to do silly things – says, Jordan.

Jordan’s frustration around this matter was expressed with such raw authenticity in his TEDX talk and later in his blog posts that you can’t help but be provoked (I see it as a terrific invitation) into questioning the whole business of purpose.

At the end of his TEDx presentation, Jordan conceded that he thinks his purpose might really be simply to live in the flow and get to know himself and discover who he really is along the way. Personally, I think that is a remarkable strategy and the perfect place to start.

What I loved most about Jordan’s talk was his brutal (delightful) honesty and how he challenged me to think (or rethink) what purpose is all about.

I’m still reflecting….Here are a few of my own thoughts and musings on this challenging notion of purpose.

5 Ideas About Purpose

find purpose

1) Purpose can be slippery: Finding your purpose isn’t a linear job nor a guaranteed outcome after any particular process. I think it is something that can be elusive at times for many. Some people will stumble upon theirs, others go out on deep, intentional searches. But even when one does think they found their purpose – it might not stick for the long haul. Perhaps it wasn’t the BIG “P” kind of purpose afterall?  This notion can sometimes be slippery, shifty…not necessarily a bad thing. Read on for more as to why.

2) Purpose discovery can’t be rushed: For many of us, finding purpose is an unfolding journey. It may not be something that one can seize, declare or discover just because they want and feel ready to have “a purpose”. I think for many people glimmers of purpose might reveal itself at certain points in their life – perhaps in an experience or group of experiences. That’s cool if and when that happens, but to lock yourself in a room with the promise of coming out with a shiny new purpose to define your life and decisions going forward – well, I think one needs to hold that ideal lightly. If you hold on too tightly — and too quickly — to what you conceive as your purpose at that given moment might suffocate the real process of discovering your true self (and potentially purpose) and miss opportunities to continue to grow, discover, evolve.

3) Beware the mask of purpose: It can feel comforting to know you have a purpose. It gives one order and direction and meaning in their life. Who wouldn’t want that? But sometimes life needs to be messy for a while. If we seize onto a declaration of purpose and it isn’t really ‘the one’ we are meant to live in for all of our days, well, that eventually tires and we can find ourselves living IN-authentically. The very anti-thesis of what purpose is supposed to be all about.

That said, it’s wonderful to be open and in discovery of your purpose. If upon ‘meeting it’ (if you are lucky) hold on to it — but lightly at first. Resist the urge to grasp on too tightly, too quickly, and with a declaration of ‘finality’ (i.e. this is ‘it’ forever). Instead, let it breathe for a bit….because well, sometimes things change.

Now sometimes and some people do stumble/find their purpose and just know deep in their bones, soul and psyche that this is indeed ‘it’. That’s beyond awesome and although this contradicts my earlier statement, what I’d say here: trust your instinct. If you know it’s real, then it’s real. What I’m getting at is to not trust a notion that is manufactured just to help you feel better because you really, really, really want to have a purpose and know it now!

4) Finding purpose and living purposefully is different from finding a single life purpose: Let me be clear: I believe in purpose. But I believe it can come in many shapes and sizes. We can find purpose in any activity, job, situation, relationship and life stage. For instance, the lawyer who only takes cases that serve a higher social justice cause may have chosen his career purposefully and be living his/her purpose; the janitor who sees his role in maintenance at the hospital as part of the total healthcare solution works in purpose; the coach who loves to help people take ownership over their personal and professional well-being…and knows ultimately this contributes to more good in the world….is honouring part of her purpose. And so on.

These examples make life richer, more meaningful and give sense to the occasional (or frequent) feeling of disorder that comes with….life these days. Living purposefully, finding purpose…..doesn’t have to be a one-time, forever, ‘brand’ is all I’m saying.

5) Purpose can sometimes be found behind you – not ahead necessary ahead. As I (ahem) ‘mature’ I am finding that those glimmers of purpose that keep showing up are actually coming from my past up to the present. What I mean is that there is merit in looking over your shoulder and identifying themes that have emerged in your life….repeatedly. Times, events that held extraordinary positive resonance should be looked at. They offer meaningful clues to what might be purpose for you.

When people engage in visioning exercises (a good thing, yes) and try to come up with their purpose without looking at their past….they may miss some important clues.

A friend recently reminded me of some conversations we had way back in my early 20’s (a long time ago:). She said, “Eileen, you are doing what you said you wanted to do way back then….you are doing it now.” Huh! I forgot those conversations. Back then I knew I had  ‘ideas’ that energized me and “pulled” but I didn’t label them ‘purpose’. Many years later, I can look back and see how those ‘pulls’ manifested.

I wonder if somehow deep in our souls, there is a “remembering” and if we allow ourselves to be pulled in the directions that beckon….well, we might in fact be pursuing purpose afterall — whether we know it in the moment or not. Looking over your shoulder to name those ‘pulls’ can be illuminating indeed.

In reflecting on this I know deep in my heart much of what I currently do (and/or stuff I still yearn to do) comes from a place of purpose. Some/much is reflected in my writing, love of well-being, teaching, coaching, connecting, communicating, creating, and more. Will I declare my ‘one-single-forever’ purpose to the world. I think for now, I’ll continue to hold it lightly (and boldly at times too), engage with it, discover, and simply be with it…..learn and evolve.

To echo what Jordan Axani expressed: Sometimes I think my purpose is getting to know myself in the flow of life. With that I find comfort and energy. And this somehow does help me contribute authentically. It is indeed a worthy pursuit….whatever you want to call it.

And with that I find myself a fellow traveller with Jordan Axani (just without the around the world freebie trip!).





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