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Deconstructing Purpose

Published 8/30/2021

There is something almost pseudo-religious about talking about purpose that is easy to get hung up on, especially if you don’t consider yourself a particularly spiritual person. Purpose is often equated with some kind of externally designated path. We often think of purpose as something that is destined or otherwise set out before us. If you have been hesitant or afraid to explore your own purpose, I want you to take some time to explore why.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
You're listening to Developer Tea. My goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, purpose in their careers. And this may sound lofty in some ways it is. But I want to focus in on the one that probably sounds the most lofty. And that is purpose. I want to spend some time talking about purpose today and explore the subject from a few angles that I think will be helpful to people who struggle with the concept of purpose. There's something almost pseudo-religious about talking about purpose that is easy to get hung up on, especially if you don't consider yourself a particularly spiritual person. And that's because purpose is often equated with some kind of externally designated path, something predetermined. We often think about purpose as something that is destined or otherwise set out before us. And if you've been hesitant or afraid to explore your own purpose, I want you to take some time to explore why. This large picture that we have of purpose could be one of the reasons, or at least kind of the driving core of a reason why you haven't explored your purpose. But there are a lot of possible reasons. Maybe you're a cynical or jaded to the idea that purpose is important or even meaningful. And maybe you think that this whole idea of pursuing your purpose is childish or that it's reserved for people who have their whole careers in front of them. Not for people like you in the middle of their careers or at the end of their careers, or maybe not for people like you who can see through that thin veil of optimism. Maybe you're afraid that picking a purpose is too much of a commitment. So you'd rather sit back and let things figure themselves out rather than trying to chase after some kind of dream. Or maybe you've pursued a purpose in the past that didn't quite pan out for some reason. And you're still avoiding it because of the pain that you feel when you're recalling that experience. If you are struggling with your purpose, I want to talk about a different perspective on purpose that hopefully can help you reframe what it means in your life and your career. But first, I want to talk about today's sponsor. We've all probably had the painful experience, or at least will have the painful experience of trying to build internal tools ourselves. If you've never done this before, well, let me let you in on the unfortunate secret. It's not really much of a secret. Most engineers don't. Really love building internal tools. Simple apps like Abin panels for crowd operations, customer support, inventory management tools, nothing that anybody is really going to give you a lot of appreciation for really. They just want it to work. It's nothing that's customer facing. It's not like an exciting product released. It's all internal stuff. Every business needs this stuff. Every business runs off of internal tools. But no one really wants to deal with the headache of building and maintaining these kinds of applications. When you think about it, they're pretty much all the same kind of building blocks, tables, drop downs, buttons, and text inputs, that kind of stuff. They're all pretty much needing to connect to some kind of data source and then have some kind of special logic to deal with that data. So if you're nodding your head, yes, this is exactly what retool can help you with. It gives you a drag and drop interface so engineers can build internal app UIs in hours instead of days. It's been more time building features. Customers will see and actually enjoying their jobs. It connects to any database and API. For example, to pull in data from Postgres, just write the SQL query and drag a table onto the canvas. You can also write JavaScript pretty much anywhere inside of retool to manipulate your data in any way that you like. Head over to retold.com slash devt to get started today. Retool is the fastest way to build internal tools. We're talking about purpose in today's episode. The fact that purpose is such a lofty and seemingly spiritual topic. We haven't really dove into this idea too deeply on the show. Partially because of this misconception of what purpose is really about. Because it feels like this big overarching kind of idea. And I want to kind of break that down with you. One of the most important skills we can learn in our lives and in our careers is dissection. Specifically, breaking things down into smaller pieces so that we can understand them, so that we can get our hands around them. When you dissect, you necessarily reduce something to its most essential forms and elements. And if something isn't at that essential level, it can be dissected further. Next Professor Richard Feynman is kind of famous for saying that if you don't yet understand how to explain something in simple terms, then you don't yet understand that thing in so many words he said this. So breaking things down into their essential forms and their elements, this is a critical skill for us because that's the only way that we actually fully can understand something. Now another term you might hear for this process is deconstruction and that is another useful concept. Deconstructing and pulling out the parts of something, the different elements of something. So sometimes when something doesn't seem like it can be dissected or deconstructed, we need to look on a different axis. Instead of deconstructing the thing, maybe we deconstruct around the thing. In this case, deconstructing purpose, we're going to play with the time scale, the time scale that we think about purpose on. When we play with the time scale, we can start to answer the same question with different answers. For example, what was your purpose before you were born? Well, obviously the answer to this is that the question is invalid. But if we were to change that time scale, it becomes valid. So you can think about this as kind of a sliding door. Most often when we think about purpose, the average person probably thinks on a time scale of now, the present, until some point in our late life around retirement. This is an assumption that limits the very meaningful and useful concept of purpose to a single lens. We can look backward to think about our purpose as it relates to our past, for example. So instead of trying to look at this big time scale in the spirit of dissection and deconstruction, we're going to look at a smaller time scale. If you had to determine your purpose in, let's say, listening to this episode, what would you say? Are you doing this for entertainment to improve yourself, to learn something? Maybe you don't even know. Maybe it's just habitual. This podcast has become a part of your daily habit. And then you can even break that down and say, well, if it's a part of my daily habit, why do I have these daily habits? What's the purpose of those habits? Maybe it's to get you into a particular working mode, for example, right? By reflecting on your intentions in these small chunks of time, you can start to piece together the larger picture. You don't need to know what the larger picture is. You start to piece it together with the small chunks of time because they happen to be one in the same thing. Of course, there are anomalies to this. For example, if I went on vacation last week, which I actually did, and my purpose during that week was to relax and spend as much time with my family as possible, this isn't a picture, a summary picture of what my purpose is more generally in my life. But if you were to pull yourself each week, even on those anomalies on Monday morning, for example, ask yourself, what is your purpose for this week from today through Friday? Eventually, if you were to try to draw conclusions from the answers to that question, you'll likely find some kind of theme, some cohesion between these answers. And here's a tip for you as you're going through this process because it can be a little bit difficult and it's easy to attach yourself to last Monday's answer or to try to draw out more meaning than it really has. Don't be afraid of changing your purpose. This isn't something that's etched into your tombstone the moment that you call it your purpose. Don't be afraid of answering this question with something that feels small. That's the whole point. Purpose doesn't have to be some destined vision. It is a tool to use as a guidance mechanism, a decision-heuristic, a piece of motivation, even a measuring stick for success for yourself. Even when we look at those anomalies, by the way, on those vacation weeks, we can point to some larger themes that help us understand ourselves better. For example, when I went on vacation, spending time with my family was a priority. This points to my personal values of building strong relationships with my wife and children. So I want you to think about purpose as a looser concept, rather than thinking about it as this golden statue in your life. This very important and permanent concept. I want you to think about it more as a fluid concept that you can adopt and release as it is helpful. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. This discussion on purpose and deconstructing purpose, bringing it down to the small atomic action by action and even weak by weak level rather than trying to encompass your entire life's vision or some kind of calling into your purpose. Think about it in smaller terms and you can start to get a grasp on the bigger picture eventually. Thank you again to today's sponsor retool. If you want to get started, building internal tools remarkably fast without wrestling with UI libraries or hacking together your own data sources. Go ahead and check it out. Thanks again for listening to this episode. If you would like to discuss the ideas that we discuss on this show further and further detail with other people beyond myself, get more perspectives on these same topics. Great place to do this is in the Developer Tea Discord. Head over to developertea.com slash discord to get started today. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea. Hahahaaa.