The Paradox of Purpose #2: Loving the Questions, Living the Answers

Holly Woods
6 min readJan 17, 2022

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This is the second article in a series to help us to navigate our way into an uncertain future with more clarity and radical hopefulness. Other articles listed below.

They told me my questions weren’t worth answering.

“Weren’t worthy of answers?” I asked the peer review committee, “or too hard to answer?”

Pin drop silence.

They politely ignored the questions from this junior faculty member and slammed shut (THUD!) the thick manila folder that contained my “faulty” proposal.

I had dared to submit a proposal that went well beyond the linear logic of scientific institutions that breed disregard for novel approaches. Like any good anthropologist, my grounded theory orientation yielded questions that emerged from observation of real life.

They just didn’t want to hear them unless the proof was in the easy-bake pudding.

The fears were immense (and valid) among my scientist colleagues. Outside-the-box thinking meant a risk to tenure track. Loss of credibility in your field. Fewer invitations to collaborate.

Less funding.

In my early days as a scientist, I thought that if I just got good at knowing how to use all the various research methods and analyze brilliantly, I could answer any question. Then I’d be of real use.

I spent a dozen mind-bending years learning scores of analytic methods. When I left academia, I had a garage filled with those flimsy cardboard banker-boxes of scientific papers yet had a heart empty of resolve.

I’d solved nothing.

I’d become adept-enough as a scientist, alright.

But the system wasn’t set up for novel questions. It was designed for attainable answers.

We don’t live in that world.

Rainier Maria Rilke, being my favorite poet of all times, guided me through some tough years to…

“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. “

We live in a world that needs to get better at loving the questions and living the answers.

Here’s more tools for your Both/And Toolkit.

Paradox #2: Gaining Clarity and Cultivating Openness

Certainly you know that living on Purpose requires you to Gain Clarity or Discernment about who you are in order to have more meaning, fulfillment, and to find work that matters. To make a greater contribution. To be of use.

You may want greater clarity about purpose because you’re not yet satisfied with your life yet, no matter how “successful’’ you’ve been. Or you may have had meaning and fulfillment but lost it along the way.

When you are in Alignment with your Purpose, your soul is literally guiding you to express what’s living in you to make a contribution. The clarity of purpose will cause you to Focus in that direction and become more and more aligned as you become “more of who you are and less of who you are not.”

HOW: Gaining Purpose clarity and discernment starts with listening closely, and by creating space for who you really are. Discovering what lives inside you and wants to be expressed. Notice the patterns of your life that reveal the unique one-of-a-kind version that you are, the Golden Thread of your life. Find the things that light you up, create aliveness, generate sparks, and feel like freedom or joy or curiosity. You’ll start to feel it in every part of your being as you gain clarity and alignment. Resources include my How Do You Know When You’re Living on Purpose that includes Key Purpose Indicators to help you know what to look for, and the bestselling Golden Thread: Where to Find Purpose in the Stage of Your Life, as well as Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul and Hillman’s The Soul’s Code. To satisfy my inner child, I still love The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

And simultaneously, you are always in a state of becoming more than you were. By Cultivating Openness to live in alignment with your Purpose, you are also stretching beyond your imagination. You’re allowing your current identity to morph into your next way of being.

Purpose doesn’t exist as one job or career or product or project, but as a multi-faceted awareness of your intrinsic nature. You are way more than you think you are, and always becoming way more than you can imagine as you grow and shift into the next version of you. The Adaptability of your self-perception to become something that was formerly beyond you requires a Flexibility of mindset and Malleability of your identity.

HOW: In general, be open to finding new ways to see the world. Explore the ways you categorize and label things, including your identity. Even if you have an awareness of your true soul Purpose, there is always a greater awareness if you cultivate an open stance to becoming more and more of who you really are. If all you currently know about Purpose is that certain things light you up or cause you to be satisfied, that’s great. Do more of those. Be open to explore new and different ways to bring that level of aliveness into your life. Cultivate a “treasure hunt” approach to life to always be on the lookout for finding parts of yourself. Resources include Rick Hanson’s Just One Thing (Chapter 34- Don’t Know), Peter Himmelman’s Let Me Out, Pillay’s Tinker Dabble Doodle Try and Think Wrong (from an organizational context) by Bielenberg et al.

Paradox #3: Cultivating Curiosity and Claiming Awareness

The process of being lost and getting found is rooted in Cultivating Curiosity about life.

The childlike qualities of enthusiasm and interest and inquisitiveness may seem tedious or unnecessary if you know exactly where you’re going in life. When you know yourself so well that you know exactly how things will go, then certainly they will.

Letting go of that certainty creates a freedom to question all things, to let something else emerge.

Stepping outside your own assessment or judgment about who you are and how you function in the world can free you up from the rigid expectation about what should happen.

Life doesn’t happen to us; it happens for us.

An Intentional Inquiry into what’s present in any moment opens the door to possibility and a life beyond your imagination.

HOW: As life comes toward you, suspend your judgment, your expectations, your notions of right and wrong or what should be. Those constructs are cemented in an earlier version of your life and hold you back. As you get curious, ask what’s possible as life emerges around and within you? Resources include Living on Purpose: Curiosity Required Now, Rick Hanson’s Just One Thing, Chapter 32- Be Curious, Pema Chodron’s Getting Unstuck or The Places that Scare You, and Philip Shepherd & Andrew Harvey’s New Self New World.

And yet, you can also Claim Awareness about what is true for you. If you listen deeply enough, you have a deep intrinsic Knowing that can guide you into the uncharted waters of your future.

Oftentimes that inner knowing is covered over with a facade or fabricated identity or stories about who you are. Or you carry a false humility about what you can claim, so it’s tough to tap into the essential or unmarred version of yourself where awareness can guide you.

HOW: Ask yourself what you know for sure, without a doubt. Then ask yourself what truly matters to you. Start there. Then listen for more. You’ll notice what’s significant even more acutely as you get more curious. Your innate knowing can guide you to a life that has significantly more meaning, fulfillment and aliveness. Resources include One Year Later- What’s Essential?, A.H. Almaas’ The Unfolding Now, McKeown’s Essentialism, and The Untethered Soul by Mickey Singer.

In the next article, we’ll explore the paradox of Inspiration and Humility, and Being & Doing.

Prior articles:

Why Paradox is Essential Now: How to Be Free at Last

The Paradox of Purpose #1: Finding Your Way Forward Even While Lost

About the Author

Dr. Holly Woods is the Author of the #1 Bestseller, The Golden Thread: Where to Find Purpose in the Stages of Your Life. Read it, you’ll never again think your life doesn’t matter.

Holly is a purpose activator. She believes that touching the spark of your soul lights you up so much that you alter the world just by being in it.

She is the creator/ innovator and dreamer behind the Purpose Flywheel™. She’s spent her life imagining a world where we could become who we’re meant to be so we can be a nuanced puzzle piece for our puzzling world.

Learn about Holly’s work at Emergence Institute.

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Holly Woods

I guide leaders to navigate the uncertain future so they can enact world-changing visions, rooted in purpose and catalyzed by synchronicity,.