The most profound piece of guidance I’ve had all week came from my amazing mentor and
friend – Georgia Murch. I was in a group mentoring session and Georgia asked us to share
what was working / not working for us during this time of COVID-19.
I shared my struggles with prioritising and feeling torn in multiple directions. There were so
many things I could be doing that my choices were becoming paralysing. What was also
becoming apparent was how quickly I was starting to spiral. The confinement, the isolation,
the uncertainty – were starting to eat away at the edges of my psyche and creating feelings
of helplessness. Even someone like me who is formally trained in positive psychology,
meditation and mindfulness, was finding it challenging to stay positive.
Georgia snapped me out of it. She said, “Steph…choose your purpose”.
Clang. There it was. Make this time mean something valuable to me.
Experiencing a clear sense of purpose and significance in everyday life is a well-researched
and validated contributor to psychological wellbeing. Dr Paul T. P. Wong, a clinical
psychologist and Founder of the International Network on Personal Meaning, is a
strong contributor to this body of knowledge.
Wong recognises that we have both positive and negative forces at play within our
psyche – and a deep connection to meaning and purpose helps us cope with these
anxieties and survive through what can seem impossible situations. Wong builds on
the work of Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor and author of “Man’ Search for
Meaning”. Frankl is famously quoted for emphasising we do not have a choice in
what life throws our way, but we do have a choice in how we respond and make
meaning of life’s challenges.
Dr Wong’s work has elevated the positive psychology movement beyond the pursuit
of the ‘happy life’ to the pursuit of the ‘meaningful life’. “A meaningful life is a happy
and fulfilling life, even when the process of searching for meaning may be
unpleasant and costly.” (Wong, 2012, p. 11). This is much like finding fulfilment in
difficult work like tending to sick and dying patients; developing a new vaccine under
incredible pressure; or removing the bodies of the thousands of poor souls who’ve
succumbed to this deadly virus.
By choosing your purpose, you stop playing the victim and instead weave your experience
into something that adds value and meaning to your life. Your purpose gives you both
energy and focus. It’s the fire in your belly that doesn’t burn out.
In an online session with a client group this week seeking support, I put the theory to
the test and asked them all to choose their purpose at work, at home and personally.
Very quickly, this resourceful group of women were able to convert what were very
real and significant challenges they were facing into meaningful opportunities that
brought comfort, hope and relief.
If you too have experienced feelings of helplessness, I invite you to ask yourself three
1) What is my work purpose through this time?
2) What is my home purpose through this time?
3) What is my personal purpose through this time?
My work purpose – read more, write more, and connect with my community.
My home purpose – enjoy this family time and teach my kids from the school of life.
My personal purpose – find daily moments of stillness and joy in yoga, meditation and the
occasional glass of wine 😉
Wong, P.T.P. (Eds). (2012). “The Human Quest for Meaning: Theories, Research
& Applications”. Routledge, NY.