Thriving Together Series: Living on Purpose to Live Your Purpose

Thriving Together Purpose GPS

By: Laura Dallman, a doctoral student in Mason’s School of Education

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

Life purpose is inherently intentional, because intention is an essential dimension of purpose. Well-being researchers and scholars often point to intention as a central aspect of purpose. Living intentionally is the nexus of vision and action, and the basis for a meaningful life.

Think back to when you were a child. On the playground, you probably heard statements like these: “You did that on purpose!”, “Did not!”, “Did too!”. Whether you intended any perceived offense made all the difference. Your intention determined your culpability. It defined your action’s purpose. It was constitutive to the act itself. Captured within this playground exchange is the understanding that intention is an essential dimension of purpose.

Intentions guide our behavior. They provide structure and direction. Living on purpose “supports healthy development, achievement, and overall physical and emotional health”, research shows. Living on purpose enables us to thrive.

Yet despite intention’s determinative function, we can spend much of our lives not living “on purpose”. We can content ourselves with satisfying basic needs – just surviving, rather than thriving. “My job, romantic partner, and home setting are all good enough,” we may tell ourselves. We rely on habits and routines to provide structure to our lives – which can be beneficial – but habits and routines may not provide direction or impetus toward living a purpose-filled life.

Without intentions, we may find ourselves like Alice in the famous children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (which is commonly known as Alice in Wonderland). A conversation from that book shows a lack of intentionality in action: Alice asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

As graduation approaches, many of us are transitioning to a new stage of life. The structures, schedules, expectations, and routines of being a student will fall away as possible life paths stretch ahead. Although anytime is an opportunity for reflection and intention setting, this is a pivotal period to consider your life purpose, establish your intentions, and then use them to set your life course.

How to Set Intentional Goals to Pursue Your Purpose

Consider all aspects of your life: professional, creative, relational, spiritual, physical. What do you value in each life arena? What interests you? What are your beliefs? What do you want? There are no tested “right” answers. This is your own unique inquiry. Be generous with yourself. Shed the “should” given to you by others and allow your responses to come from your aspirational image of who you are and want to be.

Then use your intentions. Do not confuse intention setting with dreaming. Setting an intention is setting yourself up for action. Navigating the integration of your intentions with the world outside yourself will not be automatic. It requires effort and forethought. It can help to network with other people and learn about the spheres of your interests.

Don’t leave your life to chance. Living your life on purpose puts you in charge. Use your intention as a GPS to inspire your goals and inform your plans. Acting on your goals and plans will make your intentions real only if they reflect your intended purpose. Consult your intended purpose before making big commitments. Use your intention to recalculate your route when you make a wrong life turn. Specific goals may change or develop as you test them and learn more. Plans may reach dead-ends, but monitor your progress in consultation with your intention and use setbacks to inform you as to how to try again. Finally, do not allow life’s fads and fancies to derail you. Use your intention to shield you from distractions and save yourself from inertia. Are you settling for something other than you intended? Less than you intended?

Setting intentions for your life does not shield you from the challenges of living, but it can make your life more meaningful and fulfilling. Live your life intentionally so that when someone says, “You did that on purpose.” You can answer with confidence, “Yes, I did!”

Additional Resources

Learn more about the connection between purpose and intentionality from these resources:

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