Five steps to finding your purpose
Let’s talk about that big intimidating word ‘Purpose’.
Have you found yours yet?
Probably not, because the thought of it is overwhelming.
This is what we need to correct. Purpose isn’t the answer, indeed, it’s not even the question.
From my work with coaching clients, corporates and educational institutes I’ve noticed a pattern within our ‘career drivers’. Usually it goes like this:
Once you leave University (school) you tend to be driven by money, it makes sense, you’ve been living on pot noodles and bland pasta for the last 3 years, who wouldn’t want some spare cash?
By your late 20’s you’re driven by status, you chase the promotions or switch allegiances to work for the cooler company, again it makes sense, you’ve done your time stapling photocopies.
By mid to late 30’s you start to reflect, you question your path, you’re not sure the late nights and constant exhaustion are worth the cash, you’ve got no time to spend it anyway. What’s it all about you ask yourself? Is this really it? Surely here’s more? Shouldn’t I be doing something more MEANINGFUL?
It’s no coincidence that the pattern beautifully mirrors Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
This is when people usually come to me. They want help, guidance, support to answer the question ‘What should I do with my life? How can I do GOOD?
I want to make a difference, but I don’t know how. What’s my legacy going to be?’
Or I have team leaders come to me asking ‘How can I create a more engaged / higher performing / more impactful (fill in the blank) team?’
Whether you are a leader of your life or of a team, these are all big important, yet overwhelming and potentially paralyzing questions. This is why so many people go a bit ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (for those of you who haven’t read the book what I mean by this reference is that you don’t have to quit your job and go to India to either find your purpose or once you’ve found it to follow through on it).
If you’re asking yourself any of these questions, there are two things I want you to know.
- Firstly: you cannot answer these questions until you (or the people you manage) answer the more important question WHO AM I first. Within this exploration lies the clues to the other questions. This is foundational work that many of us leapfrog over to get to the seemingly easier and more tangible questions e.g. what’s my next job going to be? e.g. how do I get more out of my team? Wrong questions, or more precisely right questions, wrong time. First you need to do the work, start with WHO AM I / WHO ARE MY TEAM? For more on this please read my article about Your YouPrint.
- Secondly: Within our common psyche ‘purpose’ has become a shorthand for worthy, save the world, stop world hunger, save the dolphins, heal the ozone layer kind of statements. No wonder the question is overwhelming, because the default answers are overwhelming. We need to start simply with the definition of ‘Purpose’ (According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, PURPOSE: the aim or goal of a person : what a person is trying to do, become, etc.). There is nothing in here that suggests you need to be working at a global level, it’s simply the ‘aim or goal of a person’. We have permission to operate at a micro (me as a person) level not a macro (universe / earth) level..
I believe that purpose is directly linked to 2 core elements.
Distinction & Satisfaction, but to avoid falling into the same trap of ‘overwhelming’ let’s break these words down into simple questions…
What is it that I do, think or say (that others may not do) that could be of value to other people, problems or causes?
- Here you can think about how you might ‘perceive’ things differently
- maybe it’s to do with your attitude to problems
- your vision, enthusiasm, energy, tenacity, eye for detail, creative approaches and so on
- Ultimately we’re looking at YOU and what is potentially distinct about you or something you can turn into a distinction
Of all of the things I ‘do’ in work or at home, which are the things that make me smile. What makes me feel good, brings me satisfaction, makes me want to get out of bed in the morning, makes me think ‘I’ve had a good day’, makes me keep on going, makes me feel like I’m in the ‘flow’?
Where these 2 lists overlap is a massive hint to what you should spend your time on.
Then the trick is to do MORE of THAT. By doing more you have a better chance of getting better at it (as you practice and build experience) and (here comes the bonus ball) doing more of it demonstrates to others that this is YOUR expertise thus increasing your chances of being approached to do more of it and so begins the virtuous circle.
And here’s the beauty, it doesn’t have to be save the world stuff!
It might be, BUT it doesn’t HAVE to be.
Let’s take me and my purpose as an example, I’m all about empowering people to be brave. Ok, there are a couple of big, lofty words in there. But it translates right across the spectrum from inspiring people with the confidence to stand up and present to 10 people, to motivating others to quit their jobs and travel the world whilst kick starting their online business. Last week I was simply working with a client to be more vocal in important meetings. Is this saving the world? Well, maybe, you never know where bravery can take people. But more importantly, it’s not rooted in a ‘save the world purpose’ it’s rooted in something that I do that not everyone does (encourage people to be brave) and something that brings me great satisfaction – this is my purpose and it drives everything I do. It has become my compass. It helps me decide which clients and projects to take on and which not to, it’s now a natural filter for my decision making processes.
SO, lets imagine you’ve worked it all out. Is it time to ‘Eat, pray, love’? No.
Again, you don’t need to quit your job and go to India to deliver on your purpose.
What this version of purpose gives you is permission to NOT quit your job YET (unless of course you want to), instead it gives you the opportunity to look at your job differently and look for the potential within it. It gives you the chance to ‘craft’ your job first. What do I mean by this?
“Job crafting is what employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement at work, job satisfaction, resilience, and thriving” (Berg, Wresniewski, & Dutton, 2010)
Amy Wrzesniewski (now a professor at Yale school of Management) conducted a research study looking into the topic of job satisfaction, she was curious to understand what was it that made people satisfied. She deliberately focused on a group of respondents who arguably may have a low sense of job satisfaction, namely cleaning staff at a hospital. Amongst her research group she found a fair number who were dissatisfied in their jobs and largely described it as it had been described in the official job posting. But the surprise was the group she found who genuinely reported the job gave them great satisfaction.
“It was not just that they were taking the same job and feeling better about it, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and whistling. It was that they were doing a different job.”
These people had defined their jobs in different terms. They believed they were partly responsible for the rehabilitation of the patient’s health, when they had this perspective they did things differently. Some learned as much about their patients as possible to ascertain if particular cleaning products may cause them problems (allergies, etc.) others paid attention to which patients didn’t have many visitors and made a point of doubling back after their round had finished to spend some time chatting with them. One notable respondent who worked on the ward for patients in a coma went out of her way to quietly change the paintings on the walls between the rooms. When Wrzesniewski asked why, the woman explained that though she wasn’t a doctor, she thought it was at least possible that a change in scenery might spark something in their comatose brains. She also rotated flowers.
You can listen to an interview with Amy about job crafting here:
These people were ultimately creating the work they WANTED to do out of the jobs they had. This is job crafting at its’ essence. You see sometimes the way we see things can be part of the problem, but ultimately it can also be part of the solution.
In summary, the term ‘Purpose’ is overwhelming and potentially paralyzing.
Here are my Five Fast Steps to Finding your Purpose:
- Instead of asking yourself questions like – Why am I here? What should I be doing with my life? How can I make a difference? Start with the foundational question of ‘Who am I’ (for a shortcut to that work check out my article “The most important question you haven´t asked yourself”)
- Once you’ve done that work, look at what makes you distinct and what makes you feel satisfied (this will have been revealed to you during your ‘Who Am I’ work)
- Where those worlds (distinction & satisfaction) overlap lies the clue to your ‘purpose’
- Remember that this is not about saving the world, it can easily be ‘inspiring people to be braver’ (which is mine) or other examples
- ‘looking for beauty everywhere’
- ‘finding the Billy Elliot in everyone’
- ‘making the complex simple’
- ‘telling stories through numbers’
- ‘seeing things from a different angle’
- ‘connecting the unconnected’
- Then do MORE of THAT in everything you do (life, play, family and work). Either in the job you’re in or in a job which gives you greater potential to do more of it.