Guest post: Make it a summer of purpose

IMG_2699(Laura’s note: Today’s guest post is from Christine Whelan, whose new book, The Big Picture, helps guide young adults to finding their purpose in life. Christine is on the faculty of the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I’ll be back later this week.)

by Christine Whelan

What would you ask God or a supreme being if you could get a direct and immediate answer?

Perhaps “Will I have life after death?” “Why do bad things happen?”

No, probably not.

According to repeated national survey data over the last decade, the number one question adults would ask is “What’s my purpose here?”

I hereby decree that 2016 is my Summer of Purpose. Will you join me?

My new book, The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life, is the first research-based, widely tested workbook to help you figure out what matters most to you—and how to make it happen.

For all of you who follow Laura’s excellent, research-based advice on time-management, you know that busy does not equal productive. Goals—all the things we might set as to-dos—are very different than purpose.

852AD223-102E-430A-A661-8057D8D58A07Purpose is the WHY behind your actions. It’s what makes your successes meaningful. Goals are the stepping-stones to that success—the HOW to make it happen. If we mix up goals and purpose, we can find ourselves busy … but not thriving.

Indeed, according to the new research I conducted for The Big Picture, more than half of adults say that they’d choose a job that provides a lot of meaning but paid little rather than a job that paid a lot but provided little personal meaning.

Pondering your purpose and taking time to reflect on those “big picture” questions may seem daunting—and something that’s best saved for … later. Here are three reasons to make this summer your Summer of Purpose:

  1. Your WHY needs to be bigger than your BUT. (It’s funnier if you say it out loud.) When you know what matters most, you can devote time to it, and stay on track when the BUTs of life – the excuses, the busywork – get in the way. As Friedrich Nietzche said, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” And while he wasn’t talking about surviving summer vacation, it’s applicable in many situations.
  2. The archer hits the target in part by pulling back, and in part by letting go. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pulling the bow taut for a long time. Going full-on. Part of purposeful living is in the release, too – the letting go. The savoring of what matters most to you. While it may seem too luxurious to allow yourself time for reflection, as all athletes know, recovery time is as important as exertion. The Big Picture offers exercises to help you reflect and prioritize how to send the arrow to your next target.
  3. You can eat the elephant one bite at a time. Research finds that breaking down large tasks into small, bite-sized pieces makes it more likely that you will achieve the task, and boosts your sense of self-efficacy along the way. The Big Picture offers dozens of small-step exercises to make reflecting on your purpose applicable and fun. And it’s been tested with more than 600 college students nationwide to make sure that the advice is actually actionable.


Want to get started on your Summer of Purpose now? Ask yourself these three questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my values?
  • How can I use my strengths to live my values in a way that’s meaningful to me and others?

Then consider sharing your story for a chance to win $500 toward paying for your purpose.

2 thoughts on “Guest post: Make it a summer of purpose

  1. This is timely for me because this summer I’m embarking on a temporary, radical frugality (I’m also working my tail off writing my next ebook) to save for a down payment for our first home.

    My Why: I want to pay off our home in 15 years (we’re only considering a 15-year fixed) so my husband can make his dream come true: being a writer, something we can only pull off if we reduce our living expenses dramatically.

    Home means a lot to me, being an introvert with 7 kids. Buying the house also represents a “home base” that will change the legacy – having something to pass along to kids, a place that we’ll hopefully never move from. Since we’re a stepfamily, this feels especially significant.

    I clicked on the link and will be sharing my story. Thanks Laura!

  2. You are right on target again Christine. Finding the purpose behind my work and choices for my family is the key to my happiness. Thank you for your and Laura’s excellent work. You keep ME on target!

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