How To Make Your Day Matter by Asking What’s Worth Doing Today


Whats Worth Doing Today

“All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.” — Aristotle

Now there’s a fine question to start you day with, isn’t it?

Take heart, this post just might let your inner-kid out to play and make your day more meaningful, in whatever you do.

You Can Have More Than One Purpose

One trap you can fall into is thinking you need a single amazing purpose to guide the rest of your life.  Another trap to fall into is thinking that there is only one way to express that purpose.

Purpose is a good thing.

It helps you make meaning and find fulfillment.  Flexibility is a good thing too.  It helps you adapt in an ever-changing world.  When you combine purpose and flexibility, you can find or create purpose as you need to, and you can express purpose in multiple ways.

Purpose is a powerful thing.  It gives meaning to your work and adds juice to your day.  If you’ve ever been “on a mission” you know what I mean.  The ability to express your purpose in multiple forms is a way to free you up and be your best in any situation.

Take Your Game Wherever You Go

One of the light-bulbs for me was when a friend mapped out my Golden Circle (a self-leadership tool for finding your purpose.)    Instead of lead you life with “what”, “how”, and “why”, you start with “why”, then “how”, then finally the “what”.   The ‘what” is simply a form of expression, meaning you can take your game wherever you go.  You think and act from the inside out, leading with your “why” and “how.”

Finding your purpose, making meaning, and expressing your purpose is a skill you started with as a child.

How To Express Your Purpose in Multiple Ways

In the book, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky share ways to find meaning and purpose in whatever you do, and express your purpose in multiple ways.

  1. Know that your content in life matters more than the form.  Heifetz and Linsky write, “Just as measurement will distract you from truer appreciations of life, the form of your contribution is far less important than the content.”
  2. Don’t get caught up in the form of expression Heifetz and Linsky write, “If the essential ingredient of meaning in life is the experience of connection and contribution, then part of the magic of life in our organizations and communities lies in the human capacity to generate many forms for its expression.  Meaning derives from finding ways, rather than any one particular way, to love, to contribute to the worldly enterprise, to enhance the quality of life for people around you.”
  3. Use service to others as a way to create rich and deep experiences of meaning in life.  Heifetz and Linsky write, “Fundamentally, the form doesn’t matter.  Any form of service to others is an expression, essentially, of love.  And because the opportunities for service are always present, there are few, if any reasons that anyone should lack for rich and deep experiences of meaning in life.  The most common failing, perhaps, is Lear’s failing: We get caught up in the form, and lose sight of what’s essential and true.”
  4. Give yourself freedom to have multiple purposes and to express a purpose in multiple forms.  Heifetz and Linsky write, “Having purposes differs from having any particular purpose.  You get meaning in life from the purposes that you join.  But after working in a particular discipline, industry, or job for twenty or thirty or forty years, you begin to be wedded to that specific purpose, that particular form.”
  5. Ask, “What’s worth doing today?” Heifetz and Linsky write, “Children have generative power.  They create meaning as they busily connect with whatever is happening.  But grown-ups often forget that ability.  They tend to lose that playful, adventuresome, creative generativity by which they can ask themselves: What’s worth doing today?”
  6. Rekindle your ability to generate new forms of expression.  Heifetz and Linsky write, “The vehicles we find for meaning obviously take some tangible form, and certainly that form matters in significant ways.  Some jobs suit your interests, personality, skills, and temperament; others do not.  The point is not to diminish the importance of finding forms and taking roles that personally gratify you, but simply to rekindle that youthful capacity to imagine a host of possibilities.  Then, when you are forced to compromise, or when you suffer a deep setback, you can recover your natural ability to generate new forms of expression. “

This post was well over due.

One of my mentors had given me the book a while back, with the ask that I help make the book more actionable and I apply the nuggets at work.  I’m still making my way through the book, and this nugget has turned out to be one of my favorite insights on finding purpose, making meaning, and staying flexible in how you express it.

It helps combine the wisdom of experience with the play of a child to play at making meaning the rest of your life, one moment or one day at a time.

Photo by Drew Coffman.


  1. DJ: What a great post … and it sound like a great book. I really like that concept of asking “What is worth doing today?” It really opens your eyes to all the opportunities you have to pour your passion into what is currently in front of you. And, when you are able to do that, you really tap into that side of yourself that experiences life in the best way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights.

  2. I very much love the idea of multiple purposes, instead of eggs all in one basket.

    Life is full of simple little wonders and ways to help others while bringing joy to self.

    I think that what’s worth doing today is laughing! And every day.


  3. @ Sibyl — It is a great book. I underestimated it at first because I got caught up in the style. Then I went back through and focused on finding actionable nuggets. Now I see it’s full of gems.

    @ Jannie — You have a gift for finding meaning and making things fun. I think the idea of multiple purposes fits like a glove.

  4. Hi J.D.

    Excellent quote by A-man! These Greek dudes lived a gazillion years ago, yet they knew the emotional score way back then.

    Yes, let’s all play more! If play guided our days, our days all over the world would feel better and be better. Instead we carry these should boulders on our shoulders – maybe that’s why they are called “should”ers? Why keep doing it? When we give up play we give up our joie de vivre.

    I also agree with having multiple purposes. Instead of searching for my “one and only” life purpose, I figured out my life theme. For example, mine is waking folks up to enjoy their lives. I then gravitate toward or create situations that enable me to do that.

    Our present work configuration tries to stuff folks into generic purposes while denying the playful side of life. Going up the career ladder often means executing this generic, narrowly focused purpose for more and more money. Yet it doesn’t bring more life happiness or meaning because it’s not the person’s life theme.

    College as constructed makes less and less sense to me. No attempt is made to find a person’s life theme.

    Excellent blog food for thought!

    Thx. G.

  5. Hi JD – I love the idea of using different vehicles. It reminds me of something that happened in my past.

    In the early nineties, I was halfway through my nurse training, when something bad happened to me. And to cut a long story short, I was too ill to complete my training.

    I was devastated and I thought my world had ended. It took me a long time to realise that there are many other vehicles you can use to get where you want to be. I went into nursing to help others and when I accepted that there were a zillion other ways I could do that, my life began to improve.

  6. @ Guilietta — The A-man knows how to roll. The more I gander through his words, the more I appreciate his intellectual prowess.

    I think a great way to test your purpose is a simple cutting question — is it effective? … and related to that, I would check – does it give you juice?

    I think organizations are going through some serious re-thinks. I think the economic forces are quickly revealing gaps between intrinsic and market value, and shedding the dead weight. I think the best play here is to follow your growth and bet on skills and experience over playing corporate Candyland or Chutes and Ladders 🙂

    @ Cath — It sounds like you learned an incredibly valuable lesson first-hand and it’s served you well. I thought I was going to be an actor or a chiropractor or a kick-boxer or some combo. So far I ended up a PM at Microsoft, but I’ve learned a ton of skills I would not have learned any other path, and it’s been a valuable vehicle for making impact.

  7. I love the concept of generative power. It’s what I’ve tried to cultivate in myself. Be it poetry, video, audio, blogging, or ebooks I always to find ways to connect with my work. We can create wonder in everything we do if we look in the right spots.

  8. Hey JD
    This a great question to ask ourselves in the morning. It sets the tone for a wonderful day if we so choose to engage in activites that are “worthwhile” Purpose is indeed a powerful thing, purpose fuels our passion and excitment in our life. Nice Post!

  9. Service to others….now that’s good stuff, always! I know that’s when I really feel like there’s purpose to what I’m doing – when I’ve been able to genuinely help another person….

  10. Hi J.D. — I like the idea of allowing my purpose to be expressed in multiple ways in my life and not being wedded to a single mode of expression — I know that, in my own life, the way I talk to people when I’m working with them has seeped over into my “everyday conversations” — and initially I thought this was a danger, but in fact it’s enriched all of my life.

  11. make meaning and be flexible in the expression of that meaning…

    I like that distillation Thank you…will you do more on this book as you continue reading? or do you think this was the meat?

  12. Hi JD ..the badge certainly brings out the why, how, what .. clearly – showing the why as the core – and it’s important to do things for ourselves and remember that we need to complete our own things – I too often help others .. and yes absolutely we need to do that – but not at the detriment of our own goals and dreams.

    Fortunately I seem to have lots of options and have always had them .. now finally I’m working towards a passion/goal that is of value and I can see the future .. I’ve always been flexible in my thoughts ..

    Thanks the next few months are going to be interesting .. have a good weekend .. and a great post & links – thanks so much – Hilary

  13. Hi JD.
    I’ve been reading a lot online lately about similar perspectives. I love it! Thinking there is only one way to express a purpose brings up for me the whole idea of fear of making a mistake. If it *has* to be done a certain way the path sure gets narrow. Great job on this.

  14. @ Karl — I think you summed it up right there — connecting with your work. Nice.

    @ Baker — Right on, purpose is power. The beauty is that we can find the purpose, or create the purpose and cycle through until we find what sticks. Thank you.

    @ Lance — The helper in you is strong, and I’ve seen you in action lifting folks up with words, actions, and ideals.

    @ Chris — I think you’re finding congruence and that’s a wonderful thing. Congruence is a way to live strong.

    @ Patricia — Perfect question — I plan to do more. In fact, this is just one small leaf of insight, and the whole book is full of many branches and leaves.

    @ Hilary — The beauty of working on your passion/goal is that the path is as fruitful as the fruition. It sounds like you’re on your path. Thank you.

    @ Davina — I think it’s a great reminder to focus on the end vs. the means, and stay flexible in the approach. It’s empowering and I like the experimentation aspect to it. Thank you.

  15. JD, I love this post.
    I wrote a few notes down and yet your last line sums it up so well!

    It helps combine the wisdom of experience with the play of a child to play at making meaning the rest of your life, one moment or one day at a time.

    I love the quote that I have on my page which talks about using wisdom to live and love more fully. Otherwise, it actually is of no use.

    I am learning to embrace more play and flexibility into my life, and interestingly enough just the other day that is the theme topic that came up for our next guest blog later this month! How important it is to learn to play!! and to include others in the fun!

    Thank you for sharing more nuggets here today 😉
    have a great weekend!

  16. @ Jenn – Thank you. Play and flexibility are where it’s at.

    One of my favorite definitions of love is “a strong positive emotion of regard and affection.” I like it because it’s easy to apply to life, work, and people. In other words, you can love who you are, love your life, love your work, love the people in your life, and you can express it in a variety of ways. The common bond is it all makes you feel good — thus the positive emotion of regard and affection.

    @ Valentine – Thank you. I’m on path, so it helps me keep going.

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