When people want something more from work or life, I advocate purposeful discovery instead of the more traditional advice like listing your strengths or following your dream. Purposeful discovery is a kind of goal-oriented exploration, and it's one of the 5 elements of working out loud. This week - in Stuttgart, Germany of all places - I found out just where that kind of exploration can lead you.
What is purposeful discovery?
In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport wrote that “‘Follow your passion’ might just be terrible advice.” He’s right, and I used his quote in a chapter of Working Out Loud. Here’s an excerpt from that chapter:
“One of the major problems with identifying your true calling is that you’re aware of only a tiny fraction of the possibilities, and picking solely from what you already know is grossly limiting...
Fortunately, I found a much better way to guide your decision making that will lead you to more rewarding possibilities. That better way is purposeful discovery, a form of goal-oriented exploration. You start by choosing a goal you care about and then using the different elements of working out loud to build a network of relationships, get feedback, and learn about ways to improve and about other possibilities. The goal orients your activities, and as you get feedback and learn, you adapt your goal accordingly”
Pebbles in a pond
Each contribution you make to your network is like a pebble in a pond, spreading ripples that put you in contact with people and possibilities you may not have known about before.
This post is my 282nd. (229 at johnstepper.com and 53 at workingoutloud.com) All that writing and thinking every week enabled me to write a book, which might seem like a logical next step. Getting invited to speak about the book at a conference in Stuttgart this week might also seem like a reasonable consequence.
But each post was also a pebble in a pond. More than three years ago, a woman who works at the largest private company in the world read one of my early posts on working out loud. It was interesting enough that, unbeknownst to me, she kept following my work.
Late last year, when I was on a video call with a group of people in Germany who were interested in learn more about Working Out Loud, she was on that call. We started exchanging emails and ideas, and she started spreading WOL circles - small peer support groups in which you build a network toward an individual goal you care about in 12 weeks.
When I mentioned I would be in Stuttgart in early November, she told me she was based there. An interesting coincidence! We planned a visit to her company where I could learn more about their work in the morning, speak to hundreds of people around the world after lunch about Working Out Loud, and talk about leadership with over a hundred managers in the late afternoon. “That woman in Stuttgart” has become a trusted friend and collaborator, and I'm excited about working with her smart, capable, generous colleagues.
Possibilities + wonders
More pebbles and more ripples. Those sessions led to more possibilities the very next day, as my new friend told other companies at the conference about the events and about my work. Companies as different as a manufacturer in Germany, a dairy in Norway, and a satellite company in Luxembourg asked if I could help them.
Sometimes the ripples lead to more connections and more opportunities. Sometimes they lead to beautiful human moments.
For example, at one of the events a woman presented me with custom art they had made based on my work. People in different parts of the world collaborated on it and she framed it for me as a gift. I was speechless.
At a separate event, a person who sat in the front row for two of my talks came up to me afterwards. He had read some of my personal blogs and said, “I know you’re starting to practice meditation and wanted to give you my favorite book on the topic.” He inscribed it “Thank you for coming to my company.”
Even a short bus ride to the conference could be a special moment. During the trip, I happened to sit next to someone from London whose work I’ve long admired. We talked openly about what was working well in our careers and what was missing. Within an hour, we met with my friend from Stuttgart and hatched a plan to work together on something I had long wanted to do but didn’t know how to make progress on.
All from a blog post three years earlier.
When you smile at the universe, the universe smiles back. It doesn't require a grand plan, and it’s more than hoping for serendipity. It’s purposeful discovery. You offer contributions - your work, your attention, your vulnerability - to deepen relationships and they bring you into contact with possibilities, joy, and fulfillment you may never have anticipated or imagined.