Advice on mapping out a purposeful career & life

100 Ways to Change the World

June 16, 2021

Being hungry for a life calling, or sense of purpose, can be downright frustrating. We’re not often taught how to navigate the odd feeling that is desiring to know what we desire.

Having little clue about what to focus on can even feel paralysing. Without direction, the body can sometimes shut us down to conserve energy.

As a perfectionist by nature, I’ve been in that territory a couple times. I still dip into it often, and I’ll probably revisit in future. I think this feeling may even be a natural step during any significant life transition. And life is full of transitions.

In today’s era of distraction, self-knowledge pays dividends.

While not everyone needs a life calling, those who do want to develop one need to question who they are deep down, what they stand for, and what they’re willing to make sacrifices for.

In my experience, the key obstacle to this work is myself.

Specifically? Those well-worn, surface level thoughts and ideas which I can’t trace back to an authentic source. The ones that formed ruts in my brain a long time ago:

Didn’t that idea come from my parents?

“Aren’t I just copying the guy from that YouTube channel?

Does this idea reflect a true insight?

^It can be hard to tell.

The Challenge

In my work as a copywriter, I’ve come to appreciate the value of quantity over quality. It’s counterintuitive, but when it comes to idea generation, quality over quantity isn’t a great mantra.

Forming ideas prolifically means I can move beyond cliches and absorbed ideas, which are often the first lines to spill out. (This isn’t always the case – sometimes true inspiration really does strike out of thin air – but it doesn’t happen reliably.)

To lean into my creativity, it helps to fill my ‘canvas’ with as much stuff as possible.

And I believe that cultivating a meaningful vision/purpose is the ultimate expression of creativity.

So I recently wandered if the same principle might apply to the abstract question of ‘what to do with my life’.

If like me you sometimes wonder how you truly want to should change, don’t struggle to come up with a single idea.

Come up with 100 ideas.

Sit down with a sheet of lined paper, and just write.

Don’t leave your station until you hit 100.

Here’s the key to this exercise: Along the way, don’t self-censor. Throw anything down that pops into your head – no filtering allowed.

That means nothing is too ‘grandiose’, nor too ‘trivial’.

Have a deep desire to help people play banjo effectively? Write it down.

Dream of helping humans get to Mars? Write it down.

Worried because Elon Musk already took that one? Again – write it down anyway.

The point isn’t to figure out your perfect ‘why’ right now. It’s to flex your daydreaming muscle and become more curious about your inner workings.

I recently tried this – it was quite revealing.

I sat down for half an hour, and kept asking myself:

“If I was showing up as my best self in this world – and I could create any impact I wanted – what would I fight for?”

Here are 3 reasons I found the exercise useful…

1. Letting go of perfectionism

Isn’t it paralysing to feel we need to have everything made?

It’s great to have inspiring role models, but sometimes the distance between them and us can feel overwhelming. When this gets to us, doubts can easily take over.

It’s also easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to have our purpose figured out, so we can take decisive steps forward right now.

This exercise helped me slow down and reconnect with my imagination. It loosened my attachment to any one idea, so that I wasn’t getting hung up on how ‘perfect’ each one sounded.

Some ideas were goofy, some were ambitious, and some surprised me. Whatever – that didn’t matter.

What mattered was that I had fun experiencing the joy of playing with ideas again. As someone who gets stuck in my head, it’s important to carve out this time for reconnecting with my emotional core.

2. Exploring hidden depths

The first 20 ideas flowed quite easily.

The next 20 were harder.

By number 55, I’d hit a wall. But I pushed through.

And by number 100, I felt creatively dried-up. I’d spent a full 10 minutes eeking out the last 3 or 4 ideas, for fear of needing to come up with something profound and original.

Then I remembered – originality wasn’t the point. The point was self-discovery, and exploration of my hidden depths.

Maybe that wall at #55 was the line between my conscious and subconscious mind… sort of… snapping.

Because after that, I had a stretch of zen-like flow, where ideas emerged without much active thinking. They also began to take on a more poetic tone, perhaps reflecting my real inner voice.

Here were my last few ideas:

100 ways to change the world; numbers 98 to 100

3. Teasing out powerful themes

Here’s where I got the most value from this exercise.

After about 30-40 ideas, I could sense common themes emerging.

My core values were exposed by the freeform style of the exercise. Some of them confirmed what I already knew about myself, but others surprised me.

For instance, I didn’t realise how much I wanted to help people establish a healthier relationship with their emotions. Yet it was something that kept coming out.

To gain further insight, I made a table and classified the ideas into clusters of themes. I then tallied how often they came up for me. There was plenty of overlap – I often found myself expressing very similar ideas in different ways.

Looking at this with fresh eyes today, it helps me get a sense for who I am and what I care about (as well as where I could be out of alignment right now):

100 ways to change the world table of themes

Why not give the exercise a try yourself?

See if you can come up with 100 different ways to change the world.

It only takes 30 minutes or so, and you’ve got nothing to lose. You might amaze yourself at what comes up.

Who knows, you might hit on something deeply inspiring. Something that one day ends transforming your life – or someone else’s life – for the better.

Thanks for reading,

Oli