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What purpose means to me: Sofia, 28, USA.

February 2024 – Interview by George Lee

Theme: Purpose

What purpose means to me:
Sofia, 28, USA.

In this insightful conversation we connect with Sofia V. a tech professional based in New York City, to delve into the essence of a meaningful and purposeful life. With six years of experience in conversational AI, Sofia also pursues her passion for fashion and design during evenings and weekends. Join us in discovering groundbreaking possibilities and how innovation could lead us in the pursuit of purpose and fulfilment.  

Sophia standing next to one of her fashion creations

TCL. What does ‘having a purpose’ mean to you, and why is it important in your life? 

Sofia. To me, having a purpose means having overarching principles or goals that guide my actions. It serves as a thoughtful through line and structure to my life, allowing me to build a clear narrative from the various elements of my life and who I am. Having a purpose makes me feel like I am contributing something unique to the world, something that might not exist without my efforts. It provides direction and energy, acting as a beacon when my self-belief falters or when faced with uncertainty. 

Purpose is crucial to me because, while I may not always strongly identify with my job, where a sizable portion of my life is spent on something I’m not deeply passionate about, having a purpose reframes it as a means to an end. Without purpose, despair could easily set in. It allows me to view my job as a stepping stone towards a greater goal. A sense of purpose makes me more resilient to fatigue and frustration because it feels like I am working towards a meaningful outcome. 

"At 23, I felt a real sense of urgency, that time was running out."

TCL. What makes you feel like your life has meaning or purpose? 

Sofia. In my early 20s, I grappled with a lack of direction and purpose, feeling the pressure from society to have it all figured out. Being a student provided a clear role, one that is approved by society, but after graduation, I found myself in a job that didn’t really inspire me. Unsure of my options and feeling time ticking away, I explored various ideas and interests in my head as possible ways forward — becoming a tattoo artist or a professional writer — but nothing felt like it fit. 

Social media made this pressure so much worse, and I found myself comparing my journey to the seemingly perfect narratives of others. At 23, I felt a real sense of urgency, that time was running out. Conversations with friends revealed a shared struggle influenced by societal expectations. However, lockdown provided a transformative period where I discovered a passion for sewing. 

Sofia with her mum

Sofia with her mum.

On a whim, I applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology and was accepted. Sewing became my outlet, offering the fulfilment I had sought. Now, I view my job as a means to support myself financially and as a safety net while I study. When concerns about time running out arise, my mom’s advice to ‘just stop‘ has been grounding. Watching my mom reinvent herself in her 40s and hearing her say, ‘I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up — I am still working that out,’ inspires me. Our conversations reassure me that there is time, the pressure is self-imposed, and it’s never too late to reinvent oneself. 

"Getting older has emphasised the importance of relationships individualistic goals lack significance without connections."

TCL As you have become older or experienced new things, have you felt different about what gives your life meaning? 

Sofia. When I was younger, I found meaning in travel, being social, and reading. Reflecting now, I realise these were forms of escapism from what I perceived as my daily drudgery. While I still enjoy these activities, I’ve come to understand that true purpose needs to be cultivated internally in everyday life. Getting older has emphasised the importance of relationships, recognising that individualistic goals lack meaningful significance without nurturing connections. I’m evolving towards a more multifaceted view of purpose, challenging the societal view of the solitary hero narrative and embracing the value of interconnected relationships in living a purposeful life. 

But it is impossible to discover one’s purpose in survival mode, while struggling to meet basic needs of paying rent or putting food on the table. Societal safety nets should be strengthened to help lift individuals out of survival mode, allowing them to explore their purpose. Building a supportive community of friends and family who provide new perspectives and lend support when times are tough, is essential. It does feel like society has become very lonely and individualistic. I think some people can find purpose in isolation, but for most of us, it makes it much harder. Programmes that help us build community locally are critical. In New York, so many people don’t know who their neighbours are. Simple actions, like knowing your neighbours, can make a significant difference.  

"Traditional goals like home ownership, marriage, and having children may not resonate as strongly with younger individuals."

TCL. Do you think everyone, no matter where they come from or how old they are, wants similar things to feel like their life matters? What do you think those things are?  

Sofia. I believe that people of all ages aspire to feel that their lives matter. Everyone desires to lead a life that is dignified and free. I think my sense of purpose has been influenced by the security and safety I experienced while growing up. However, many traditional goals like home ownership, marriage, and having children may not resonate as strongly with younger individuals. Disillusionment is prevalent among people of my age group; the prospect of owning a house or becoming debt-free after college seems increasingly unattainable. These goals, so significant to my parents’ generation, don’t feel as personally relevant to mine, and represent the aspirations of a bygone era that may no longer exist. As a young person, it is very easy to become cynical, as everything often appears to be consistently negative. However, I think there is cause to feel some cautious optimism as well, and to believe that some things have improved. In the pursuit of finding purpose amidst the pain and drama of the world, it is essential to carve out something for oneself and resist succumbing to hopelessness or despair. Recognising that one cannot fix all the world’s problems by dwelling on them, our purpose might be to contribute in small ways to make things a little bit better. 

"Having a purpose makes me feel like I am contributing something unique to the world."

Sofia at college

In Sofia’s engaging interview, intriguing possibilities for innovation emerge. How might we reimagine work-play structures to better align with our individual passions and purpose? What support systems or programmes could guide us through life transitions, developing our resilience and self-discovery? Can technology be used to strengthen local communities, breaking down barriers in urban settings and building more meaningful connections among neighbours? In the pursuit of a more fulfilling life, how can societal norms be redefined to accommodate evolving values, especially concerning success markers like homeownership and family? Lastly, how can safety nets be enhanced to ensure individuals have the freedom to explore their purpose without being hindered by basic survival concerns? By exploring these questions, we can pave the way for innovative approaches to personal development, societal expectations, and community building, fostering a future that is more purposeful and interconnected.