DePaul University Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Learning Activities > Purpose Exploration

Purpose Exploration

Explore Your Purpose (EYP) is a mission-based initiative to foster more intentional purpose exploration and vocational discernment among students, staff and faculty at DePaul consistent with DePaul’s Catholic-Vincentian heritage and mission. 
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Enduring Understandings for Explore Your Purpose Curriculum

To guide current and planned curricular content for the Explore Your Purpose effort, the following enduring understandings, or “big ideas,” have been developed:

  • Magnifying glass  

    Living a Meaningful Life

    Personal meaning and social purpose are essential components for a good and fulfilling life and are assets in one’s work/career.

  • Compass  

    Discerning Vocation

    Discerning a sense of vocation (personal meaning and social purpose) happens over time and requires intentionality and ongoing reflection as well as help from others.

  •  

    Understanding the Vincentian Heart

    Living with personal meaning and social purpose is not all about you, but ultimately more about how you relate to the larger world and human community.

  •  

    Sustaining the Journey

    Sustaining personal meaning and social purpose over a lifetime will require moving through moments of difficulty and developing sustaining practices which foster and evolve one’s sense of vocation in an ongoing way over time.

For more details about these enduring understandings and associated learning outcomes, click here​​.

Activities for Purpose Exploration

The following activities have been developed to foster intentional purpose exploration; each supports one or more of the above-mentioned enduring understandings. ​​

Résumé and Eulogy Virtues

Résumé and Legacy Virtues

Students are asked to reflect on aspects of their personalities that they would like to shape their professional lives versus the aspects that they would like to be recognized for in their later years.

Download handout​

Instructions: Ask students to list their virtues in the corresponding columns using the handout. Before you ask students to begin, you can give them a few brainstorming questions for each type:

Résumé Virtues Legacy Virtues
What skills have you developed? What did you stand for?
What successes or accomplishments have you achieved? How did you make people feel?
What influence have you managed to gain in the world and for what purpose? What did you do for others and society?
What gifts did people feel they received from you?

 After students list their virtues in the corresponding columns on the first page of the handout, then ask some follow up questions:

  • How do these two lists converge, diverge, complement, or work against each other?
  • What insights can you gain from this?
  • What is needed to become the person you feel called to being? 

Time Required: At least 15-20 minutes of class time.

Credits: David Brooks' 2014 TED Talk on Eulogy Virtues vs. Resume Virtues.

Related Enduring Understandings: Living a Meaningful Life; Understanding the Vincentian Heart​

Reflecting on the Present

Reflecting on the Present

Students are asked to reflect on experiences in their present lives that have impacted them positively and negatively and to mark these moments accordingly.

Download handout​

Materials Needed: Writing utensils - red, green and yellow

Instructions: Have students list their present experiences on the activity sheet and then match each with a corresponding colored circle:

  • Green for moments that have given them life and energy
  • Yellow for moments that they ought to pay attention to
  • Red for moments that may be causing them har or draining life from them

Then have students title each circle to capture the theme of the issue/experience that it is referring to. After they are finished, have them reflect on the following questions:

  • What do each of these things have to communicate to you in terms of your sense of identity or vocation?
  • How are they or might they be clues or helpful pieces of information for you to consider?
  • Is there anything evolving or emerging for you in terms of your sense of self or vocation?

Time Required: At least 20-25 minutes.

Related Enduring Understanding: Discerning Vocation​​

Living a Whole Life

Living a Whole Life

Students are asked to identify the different roles that they occupy in their lives and how these compare with relative importance to their career and work lives.

Download handout​

Instructions: The large circle on the activity sheet represents one’s whole life. Have students use smaller shapes (circles, ovals, squares, triangles, etc.) of various sizes within the larger circle to represent the importance of each role within their lives, with larger shapes holding more importance. Have students consider the following possible roles:

  • Work/Career
  • Family
  • Friendships
  • Neighborhood/Community
  • Leisure Time
  • Personal Care/Rest
  • Meditation/Reflection/Prayer
  • Exercise/Physical Health
  • Learning/Personal Development
  • Professional Skill-building
  • Networking (professionally)
  • Creative Expression

After students have finished, have them reflect on the following questions:

  • How do each of the roles that you listed contribute to your sense of purpose or vocation? To your overall sense of joy and well-being?
  • Put the name of one person next to each who can speak to who you are (or who they know you to be) in each role in your life. What would they say about you and how you live out this area of your life?
  • What roles in your life need more of your attention? Which are over-used or get too much of your time and attention? ​

Related Enduring Understanding: Living a Meaningful Life

Time Required: At least 20-25 minutes​

Reflecting on People and Relationships in My Life

Reflecting on People and Relationships in My Life

Students are asked to consider communities and relationships in their lives that have either led to positive support and growth or negativity and stagnation, as well which communities they are currently investing more time in and those that they should focus on more.

Download handout​​

Instructions: Have students arrange their communities and relationships within the four-quadrant graph according to the parameters marked on the axes.

  • The Top-Left is for positive relationships that require more investment
  • The Bottom-Left is for negative relationships in which the current boundaries should be maintained
  • The Top-Right is for positive relationships wherein the investment should be maintained
  • The Bottom-Right is for unhealthy relationships that are in need of less investment

After the students have finished, have them consider the following reflection questions:

  • How might you describe the nature of each of the different quadrants? What do these relationships include?
  • What is it about them that is supportive and positive, or harmful and not healthy?

Required Time: At least 15 - 20 minutes

Related Enduring Understandings: Discerning Vocation; Sustaining the Journey

Reflecting on Your Life Timeline

Reflecting on Your Life Timeline

Students are asked to reflect on events, experiences, and surprises that have happened in their lives—from birth to the present day—that have impacted their development and their identity.

Download handout - for students
Download handout - for faculty/staff​

Instructions: Have students identify each impactful event in their life with a title along the timeline. Then, taking each into consideration, have them write what they have learned from labeling these events and to list clues about who they are and what is important to them. When they have finished, have them reflect as a group on the following questions:

  • What happened? What were some surprises, gifts, or challenges that shaped or impacted your life?
  • What did you learn about yourself? What clues emerged about who you are as a unique individual?

Time Required: At least 20-25 minutes of class time.

Related Enduring Understandings: Discerning Vocation; Sustaining the Journey

A Toast... From the Future

A Toast... From the Future

In the tradition of “Mad Libs” word games, students are asked to consider four people that they admire or look up to and what they might say if they were giving a congratulatory toast to the student 25-30 years in the future.

Download handout

Instructions: Have students list four people that they admire or look up to, corresponding with the four blank spaces marked with a letter at the top of the page. As the student goes through the transcript of the “toast,” have them complete each sentence according to the instructions below each blank or the context of the paragraph. When they are finished, have them reflect on the following question:

Stop for a moment and look back at what you have written and thought about during this exercise. What does it tell you about what is truly important to you?

Time Required: About 15-20 minutes.

Credits: Trinity University's Reflections Program

Related Enduring Understandings: Living a Meaningful Life

Rivers of Life

Rivers of Life

Using the Vincentian spiritual strategy of paying attention to one’s life, students are asked to reflect on recent events and relational encounters that they have had with others. They are then asked to answer a series of questions about what they witnessed from each event through various spiritual perspectives and then encouraged to discern what these events/encounters might be communicating to them.

Download handout​

Instructions: Ask students to consider events and relational encounters that they have had over the past few days. Have them answer the following questions:

  • What happened that inspired you?
  • What happened that surprised you? Have any unexpected gifts emerged?
  • What happened that challenged you?
  • What happened that touched you deeply and called you to care?

Next, have students consider more deeply what these events may be communicating about themselves, what is important in life, where they need to spend their time and energy, and what they can do differently.

Time Required: About 20-25 minutes

Credits: Vi Thorgren, Center for Spirituality at Work (Denver, CO)

Related Enduring Understandings: Discerning Vocation; Understanding the Vincentian Heart

I Am a Person Who...

I Am a Person Who...

Students are asked to consider all aspects of their personalities and preferences with regard to the ways in which they work and build relationships with others.

Download handout​​

Instructions: Have students consider the following:

  • What you know
  • The kinds of people you most prefer to work with
  • What you can do
  • Your preferred working conditions or context
  • Your level of responsibility
  • Your likes and dislikes
  • Your preferred geographic location
  • Your goals
  • Your sense of mission and purpose

Then have students complete each sentence beginning with “I am a person who... ” included on the activity sheet according to what they have considered.

Time Required: About 10-15 minutes

Credits: Bolles, R. N. (2014). What color is your parachute?: A practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers.

Related Enduring Understanding: Living a Meaningful Life

Self as Gift

Self as Gift

Students are asked to reflect on the uniqueness of their personhood and then consider the impact that their gifts and talents have had on the lives of others through the lens of agape—a transcendent form of love.

Download handout

Instructions: Have students reflect upon and answer the following questions:

  • Take a moment to imagine yourself as a gift. If you are a gift to the world because of your unique personhood, skills and talents… how might you describe the gift that you offer or that you are?
  • For WHOM are you a gift?  What is the MEANING or significance of the gift for them?
  • How does the way you understand yourself to be a GIFT connect with the needs of the broader world or of the communities of which you are a part?  What effect can this gift have on others?

Required Time: About 10-15 minutes

Credits: The definition of agape (A=ancient Greek: ἀγάπη, agape): the highest form of love, charity; a universal, unconditional love that transcends, that serves regardless of circumstances; self-giving love.

Related Enduring Understanding: Understanding the Vincentian Heart​

Reflecting on Values Ideal and Real

Reflecting on Values Ideal and Real

Students are asked to reflect on five values that have been the most important to them throughout their lives and work. They are also asked to consider challenges that may get in the way of living out these values fully as well as strategies for growing further in these values.

Download handout​​

Instructions: Have students reflect on five values that have meant the most to them throughout their lives and fill in the provided table accordingly. For each value, respond to the following questions/statements:

  • Where did this value come from or how was it cultivated in you?
  • Obstacles/challenges I face in living out this value
  • Some ideas or strategies for addressing this challenge and/or living out this value

When students are finished, have them consider:

  • What can I begin to do now to integrate my values more regularly into my actions and day to day life?

Time Required: About 20-25 minutes

Related Enduring Understanding: Living a Meaningful Life

Next Steps on the Journey

Next Steps on the Journey 

Students are asked to consider the wisdom of St. Vincent de Paul and to think of one or two immediate steps they can take toward a clearer discernment of their vocation or purpose in life.

Download handout

Instructions: Have students consider one or two immediate steps they can take to help them continue on their journey of vocation and write them inside of the provided footprints.

Time Required: About 10-15 minutes

Inspiration: “Wisdom consists in following Providence step by step.” – St. Vincent de Paul

Related Enduring Understanding: Sustaining the Journey  ​

Beginning with Joy

Beginning with Joy

Students are asked to reflect on times throughout their lives where they have experienced joy and meaningfulness and to use these memories to reconnect with their sense of purpose in their current lives.

Download handout

Instructions: Have students reflect on their previous experiences by answering the following questions:

  • What are some things that make you smile?  Or, who are some people who help you to do so? What are some moments or experiences in your life that have brought you to smile?
  • What are some things or who are some people that you really appreciate? Can you think of a moment in your life when you felt grateful for something someone else has done for you?
  • What do you take delight in?  What is one experience in your life where you felt delight?
  • What do you find to be profoundly beautiful?
  • What have been some moments or experiences in your life that made you feel really happy?
  • When was the last moment/time in your life when you felt you were really thriving?  What was happening at that time that led to this feeling or experience?

Time Required: About 15-20 minutes

Inspiration: “Inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born.” - Whyte, David. (1997).  The house of belonging: Poems. Langley, Wash: Many Rivers Press.

Related Enduring Understanding: Living a Meaningful Life​

Using the Past to Face the Present

Using the Past to Face the Present

Students are asked to reflect on a specific goal that they had tried to achieve in the past, the challenges associated with their trying to accomplish this goal, and the outcome achieved.

Download handout

Instructions: Have students reflect on a specific goal that they set out to accomplish in the past and have them fill in the table based on the following prompts:

  • What goal were you trying to accomplish?
  • What were some obstacles or challenges encountered before this goal could be accomplished?
  • What did you do step-by-step to move forward?
  • How would you describe what you accomplished?
  • Was there any measure or quantity to prove your achievement?
  • What did you learn?

Time Required: About 15-20 minutes

Credits: Bolles, R. N. (2014). What color is your parachute?: A practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers.

Related Enduring Understanding: Sustaining the Journey  ​

The Common Good

The Common Good

Students are asked to reflect on their understanding of the “common good” and its place in both personal and societal contexts.

Download handout

Instructions: Have students read and reflect on the accompanying description of the “common good” and then have them fill in and answer the questions provided.

Time Required: About 15-20 minutes

Credits: “Vocation is not only about ‘me’ and my personal fulfillment, but about ‘us’ and the common good.” – John Neafsey

Related Enduring Understanding: Understanding the Vincentian Heart

Purpose Dashboard Check

Purpose Dashboard Check

Students are asked to do a self-assessment regarding their current career path, measuring the amount of resources, level of interest, confidence, and sense of integrity they have to sustain this path.

Download handout 

Instructions: Each of the four dashboard meters represents an aspect of what is necessary to cultivate a sense of purpose along a career path.

  • Resources - The availability of both internal and external resources and opportunities to support and cultivate purpose along your current career path. 
  • I Like It - Your level of interest and engagement in what you are currently doing and living.
  • Confidence - Whether or not you believe you can sustain your current career path. 
  • Coherence - Whether or not you feel you are living in a way which is authentic and brings you a sense of integrity and wholeness. 

After marking the amounts for each dashboard, students are asked to fill out the following sections: 

  • Current Purpose Questions: Review the dashboards above and reflect on what life and career questions arise for you when doing so. Consider up to three questions that can become a focus for your purpose exploration at this time. (For example, do I have what is needed to be successful in this field of study/work? Or, how can I bring more of my true self into what I am doing each day?)
  • Action Step: What is one action step you can take to move more in the direction you feel you must go?

Time Required: At least 20-25 minutes

Sources/References: B. Burnett and D Evans. (2016). Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Related Enduring Understanding: Sustaining the Journey

Toward a Larger Whole

Toward a Larger Whole

Through reflection, participants are asked to move closer to understanding their connection to the broader social purpose or particular societal role of their discipline in contributing to a more just and loving world.

Download handout​

Instructions: Have students reflect on and answer the following questions:

  • How would you name or describe your chosen discipline of study or work?
  • What do you find beautiful about this particular discipline?
  • Describe the artistic or creative dimension of your discipline. Where or how is creativity and self-expression relevant or required?
  • What might be an image that could help capture your understanding of the social purpose of your discipline or how it contributes to humanity and the common good? (If it is something you can sketch, do so below or on back of this sheet.)
  • What might be a good slogan that captures the purpose or social goals of your discipline?
  • How do you understand the relationship between your own personal sense of purpose and that of your broader discipline of study or work?

Time Required: At least 15-20 minutes.

Credits: J Haughey. (2009) Where is Knowing Going: The Horizons of the Knowing Subject. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. NB: Kata Holos is a Greek term meaning catholic, or “toward a larger whole” or “from the whole” or “throughout the whole.”

Related Enduring Understanding: Understanding the Vincentian Heart

Begin Where You Are

Begin Where You Are

Recognizing the human tendency to constantly look toward the lofty future for a sense of fulfillment, students are asked to consider the roles that they fill in their current lives and how these can offer them a sense of purpose now.

Download handout​

Instructions: Have students consider their roles in the following contexts:

  • Family (family member)
  • School or work (student or employee)
  • Friendships (friend)
  • Neighborhood or local community (neighbor)
  • Nation/world (citizen)
  • Other contexts or roles you may think of

Next, have them fill in the following two sections for each context:

  • Who do you feel called to become or what are you trying to achieve in this context or role? What is your “mission” in this context or role?
  • What is one action step you might take to move toward greater intentionality in this context or role?

Time Required: About 20-25 minutes.

Related Enduring Understanding: Discerning Vocation

Intersecting with History

Intersecting with History

Students are asked to reflect on specific events or moments from larger society and how these have impacted their sense of purpose throughout their lives.

Download handout​

Instructions: Have students fill in the first column with specific events or moments in larger society that have influenced them. Then for each event, have them fill in the following two sections of the table:

  • Why was this event/moment significant? In what way did it impact you, those around you, and/or the culture or world in which you live?
  • How did this event/moment play into how you imagine your own place in the world or sense of purpose going forward?

Time Required: About 20-25 minutes.

Related Enduring Understanding: Discerning Vocation

Stop, Start, Continue

Stop, Start, Continue

Recognizing that sustaining an ongoing journey of purpose requires constant realignment and reflection based on new experiences, students are asked to consider behaviors and habits in their current positions that should either be stopped, started, or continued in order to maintain or return to a sense of balance and fulfillment on their journeys.

Download handout​​

Instructions: Have students think of at least three habits that should be “stopped,” “started,” or “continued,” respectively, and write them in the relevant sections.

Time Required: About 10-15 minutes.

Credits: "Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God...Why do we spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if only we knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?" - Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island.

Related Enduring Understanding: Sustaining the Journey

Values Clarification

Values Clarification

Students are asked to reflect on a provided list of values and to select the ones that mean the most to them, ultimately narrowing down the list to their top five values.

Download handout​

Instructions: Have students read the provided list of 42 values and draw a star next to the ten that are most important to them. If there are personal values not listed, they have the space to add those as well. Finally, have students further narrow down their lists to their top five most important values.

Time Required: About 10-15 minutes.

Credits: DePaul University Career Center; Stanford University Student Affairs

Related Enduring Understanding: Living a Meaningful Life

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