5 steps to help find purpose in turbulent times

5 steps to help find purpose in turbulent times

Feeling lost? Try these 5 steps to finding greater purpose

Turbulent times can play havoc with our sense of purpose, and in times of massive change, it’s natural to feel lost sometimes. It can be difficult to navigate our way through each day.

In these times of  lockdown and isolation, it can help to look for a new sense of purpose in all the chaos.

I’ve been through a process of ‘reinvention’ several times in my life. Those times can come either through the pressure of external circumstances or from a desire to find greater meaning in life and work.

Right now is a good opportunity to pause and think about what we really want and what’s most important to us. If you’re feeling lost right now, take a look at the following five steps. They can help you find a greater – and clearer – sense of purpose and direction.

I’m not an expert in this field, but I do know that these five steps have helped me a lot in my life – and I hope they’ll help you too.

I’d recommend using a giant piece of paper and a pencil for this, rather than a screen.

5 steps to help find purpose in turbulent times

1) Draw an Ikigai map

Ikigai is a Japanese concept and it’s a graphical way of looking at your ‘reason for being’. Literally, ‘iki’ = ‘life’ and ‘gai’ = ‘worth’.

It helps you think about what you really love and what you’re good at, and how you can match that to what the world needs right now and how that could sustain you, including financially.

In this 12-minute TEDx talk, Canadian musician and broadcaster Tim Tamashiro describes Ikigai as a treasure map. Essentially you pull together all the threads of your life and your work to date to find a ‘sweet spot’ that brings you alive with meaningful purpose – and also enables you to make your best contribution to the world.

It’s worth taking time away from all the current ‘noise’ to really think about where you are in your life and what you want. Check out the image at the top of this article, draw the four large overlapping circles on your paper and start to jot down ideas in these four categories:

  1. what you love doing
  2. what you’re good at
  3. what the world needs
  4. what you can be paid for

Don’t worry too much about #4 at the moment.

Do your best to avoid letting the current situation crowd in on your thoughts while you do this. Being able to find purpose in turbulent times is not always easy, so just let your ideas flow regardless. The following steps will help you:

2) Think back to your childhood

The world has changed so much in just a few short months, and it’s easy to be preoccupied right now. One way to tap into all those things you love doing is is to think back to your childhood and to what you used to dream about and what you used to most enjoy.

What did you want to do? (It was probably something big like being an astronaut or a mega-star.) How did that make you feel? How does it makes you feel now? Are there elements of what you loved as a child that you still love now?

If you have old diaries or journals, dig them out and look at some of the things you used to write about. If you still have family members you grew up with, perhaps you could also find out what they remember most about the younger you.

In the chaos of life it’s easy to forget what we love, and thinking back over the years can be a good way to remember. Add the things you love to your Ikigai map.

3) Brainstorm the new problems people have now

I’m going to use Outwardist as an example for a moment: Outwardist started as a way to encourage people to explore more of the world. The ‘problems’ I was able to solve for people were things like helping them break free of the daily grind so they could work from anywhere in the world; how to find ways to travel for less cost; how to find more freedom to travel, regardless of the limitations of annual leave/fixed vacations.

Those problems have now changed dramatically. The problems people face now are much more basic, e.g. being able to put food on the table, staying well physically and emotionally, being able to stay in touch with loved ones, friends and contacts, etc.

Think about your usual work environment – your colleagues, customers and contacts. What are the new problems they face now? And think about your circle of personal friends and contacts. What are the problems they’re dealing with right now?

Go into detail and just brainstorm. Write a list of all the problems you can think of that people have at the moment. This will help with the “what the world needs” section of your Ikigai map.

4) Draw on your life experience

We all go through difficult times, and those tough times can help us become more resilient and equip us with the knowledge, experience and wisdom we need to get through future challenges.

Take your mind back to some of the pivotal moments in your life. Perhaps a close bereavement or a divorce. Maybe it was bankruptcy or serious illness. Alternatively, it could be some of the joyful times like the birth of your child, your wedding, moving to your dream location, securing a job you love, etc.

For each of those things, write down how they challenged you, how they changed you and what you learned. These are things that many other people will be able to relate to, and what you learn through your own experiences can help others too.

Now make a list of all the skills and talents you’ve developed over the years, whether they’re formally recognised or not. It could be learning languages, singing, blogging, making chocolate chip cookies, listening, public speaking, oil painting, playing the trumpet, organising things, sailing, editing videos, using Twitter, keeping kids entertained, seeing the big picture when others get stuck in the detail… anything at all! Just brainstorm – and add these to the “what you’re good at” section of your Ikigai map, along with the aspects of your life experience that can help others.

5) Pull together all the threads

Ikigai diagram - how to find purpose when feeling lostBy now you’ve probably got a lot of ideas on your Ikigai map. It’s time to pull together all those threads and find that ‘sweet spot’ that allows you to do meaningful and enjoyable work (even if unpaid), find a greater sense of purpose – and make a difference.

On your Ikigai map you’ll see a small space in the middle where all four large circles overlap. This is where the magic lies. What falls into that space? This is where you can start to find purpose in these turbulent times.

How can you pull together the threads of all your ideas to shape that new sense of purpose for yourself?

Don’t stress. This process can take a little while at the best of times, and so go easy on yourself. Maybe do it over several days and just let ideas come to you when they’re ready.

Remember also that any new purpose and direction you set for yourself right now doesn’t have to be forever. Our lives evolve. We grow and change. And our circumstances alter continually. We can adapt. The path you find right now could be temporary, but going through this exercise can help you find your feet when everything around you feels precarious.

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  1. Bob Howard-Spink 2 years ago

    Love this article Angela. You could replace “Feeling lost” with “becalmed,, with occasional bursts of unexpected ideas” so the iIkigai approach you recommend is ideal for me. You’re right. There’ll be no better time than right now for us to think about what we would like to do with the rest pf our lives..

    • Author
      Angela Sherman 2 years ago

      “Becalmed with occasional bursts of unexpected ideas” – I love that, Bob. 🙂 Thanks. Yes, in many ways this is an ideal time to take stock and find the thing that truly makes our heart sing.

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