Purpose – planned and not planned


‘Purpose’ has some sort of connection with ‘destination’. Why would you go anywhere without a purpose in mind? Why go to the trouble?

While exploring instrumental and intrinsic purposes in the macro evolution of the human species, based on Steve McIntosh’s work, I realized that citizens are instrumental to the intrinsic city. As I connect this to the destination / journey / emergence Venn diagram (Figure A), I see that there are two ways to look at destination: specific destination and longer-term direction. The difference is subtle and significant.

Destination venn
Figure A

An immediate destination is a concrete goal or objective that has my attention and serves to focus my action. For example, I will run a half marathon this spring on May 19, 2013. This means that I will have to organize myself, my life and my schedule; I have to plan out a training schedule and commit.

I have chosen this sort of destination before, only to be thwarted by injury. I aimed to run a half marathon in February 2011, but in November 2010 I hurt my ankle playing soccer. With the help of my physiotherapist, I adjusted my expectations and my training schedule and still ran the race. I did a lot of cycling, instead of running, to maintain fitness. I reintroduced running slowly, little bits at a time, gradually increasing time running. The race was no longer about a time goal, but simply finishing without harming myself.

When I set my goal, I had no idea what could knock me off course. I learned to shift my destination in response to my life conditions. I recognized that an important part of the journey on the way to destination is that new destinations will emerge. I also recognized that they will only emerge if I am open to learning and adjustment on the way.

I have a new injury to grapple with as I think about the May 19, 2013 half marathon, and a new destination in mind. The purpose of this run is to simply be a destination that serves a larger, overall purpose: my well-being. I can’t define ‘well-being’ well, but I can recognize actions (or destinations) that will move me in that direction.

There are so many different routes to well-being, many of which I have not contemplated as being a part of my life, but could well emerge over time. At 43, with a healthy body, I can be physically active. In my life to come, there will be quite different destinations I will choose. I can not possible imagine, or plan out, how I will achieve well-being. I can look at shorter term destinations and ask if they are consistent with the direction I wish to go.

Short-term destinations lend themselves to being planned; they are linear and rational. Direction is nonlinear, hard to grasp and full of possibility and purpose. Direction unfolds.

We can only plan so much, but we can stop and look at our direction.

What direction are you going? 

What direction are we going?


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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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