I was recently listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, and was inspired by the August 2 episode titled You 2.0: Cultivating Your Purpose.
In the coaching and leadership development work I’ve done throughout my career, I have taught the importance of identifying your life’s purpose and equally so, the purpose or true mission of your team or organization. Aligning with your collective purpose creates meaning and high performance.
Purpose fuels the “why” that engages you. The podcast brought in supporting research featuring Cornell psychologist, Anthony Burrow, on how clarity on life’s purpose improves your health, increases your longevity, and shields you from challenges we all confront throughout the phases of our lives. Purpose gives you a perspective on the developments in your life and builds resilience. One distinction made that I particularly enjoyed is that finding purpose is a present tense activity while finding meaning usually involves looking back on situations or chapters in your life and attributing significance to them. They are distinct activities and shouldn’t be confused.
Purpose fuels the “why” that engages you.
Discovering your purpose is an internal activity. If I asked you to invest one – two hours a week to develop/refine your purpose in life and guarantee that you would be happier, more fulfilled, healthier and in general, more prosperous, would you do it? If your answer is “yes,” I’d like to share a series of processes that will assist you in reflecting on what matters and why. These exercises come from a manual I developed entitled, Right Focus. They will help you find or hone your purpose – you will see what’s been inside you all along. Below is an initial exercise that offers a great place for you to start.
My Life Timeline
In the first part of this exercise, use the timeline to note major events that have meant a lot to you in your life. Download the exercise.
When you finish, take a few moments to reflect on your life. Think back to those times in your life when you have felt most alive or energized by something you were doing.
What were you doing? Perhaps you were writing a song, drawing a picture, working on a class project, helping someone out with a problem, comforting someone, learning something new, initiating something, challenging tradition, winning a race, tending a garden, or designing a home.
Take a few moments to think back on each stage of your life that you’ve lived so far. What were some of the major interests, peak experiences, projects, and activities that sparked passion in your soul? Take your time and have fun with this. If you have trouble recalling, ask a family member, friend, or colleague to recall when they have noticed you being particularly passionate about something.
Birth – 10 years old
Pre-teen and Teen Years (10 -18)
Young Adult (19 -25)
Adult (26 – 39 years)
Mid-life (40 – 60)
Wise Elder Years (60 and beyond)
Additional Right Focus Exercises:
One way to dig deeper and get to the true essence of your personal purpose is to ask yourself “What” questions that help you get to the core of your purpose. For example, you could ask yourself:
- “What is motivating me when I do…? “
- “What is important about that?”
- “What is appealing about…?”
Ask yourself at least three “what” questions after you’ve produced your first draft of your purpose statement. For example, let’s look at Susan’s purpose statement.
During this exercise, she noticed that she felt most energized and passionate whenever she was decorating spaces. At school, at work, at home and even at friends’ homes she was always decorating and rearranging spaces. She noticed this pattern started in grade school and never stopped! She particularly loved decorating homes. She logically concluded that her passion and purpose was to decorate homes for people. But was that her deep purpose? Is there a greater purpose we can uncover?
We guided Susan through “The Three What’s” to get to that deeper, more purposeful purpose statement. Here’s how it went.
|My purpose is to decorate homes for people.||What is motivating you when you decorate homes?|
|I love the process of creating beauty and harmony out of dull, lifeless spaces.||What is important about creating beauty and harmony?|
|When spaces are beautiful and harmonious people feel happier and more relaxed and hopefully it helps to make their families happier, too||What is appealing about helping people feel happier?|
|I feel like I’m making a difference in people lives and helping to create positive energy in the world.||So, what is your deeper purpose in life?|
|My purpose is to create beauty, harmony and positive energy that make a difference in people’s lives.||Excellent!|
The result of this exercise is usually a more compelling and accurate personal purpose. It results in a purpose statement that should stand the test of time and be consistent throughout your life.
It’s important to get your purpose statement defined because it will also serve as a guide to help you make sure you are on track and focusing on what’s important to you in life. If you start to feel out of balance, you will be able to stop and ask yourself, is what I’m doing purposeful for me? Does this really fit with my purpose?
By digging deeper, you will reveal a personal purpose that will be broad enough and flexible enough to give you room to expand and grow in the ways that you fulfill your purpose. Your purpose will be purposeful enough and big enough to inspire you and the people around you, even when the going gets tough.
In Susan’s case, her purpose became much larger than helping people with decorating their homes. She could start there, and later expand her work to include office spaces, schools, community centers, and any activities that create beauty for Susan and the people she helps. Her broader purpose statement allows for bigger and more varied things to happen in Susan’s life because creating beauty and positive energy doesn’t always take the form of interior decorating, it could include landscaping, fashion, feng shui or anything that enhances beauty in people’s lives.
Crafting your personal purpose statement is a process of discovery. It reveals itself to you in layers as you reflect on your life. Let’s do one more self-assessment to see what layers reveal themselves.
This self-assessment exercise will help you find even deeper insights into what motivates you personally and professionally. Answer the questions below.
|Things I like about my life||Things I would change|
|People have always come to me for or complimented me for…||The roles I play most often in relationships or in groups are…|
|My greatest accomplishments and/or growth experiences so far…||Future accomplishments and growth experiences I desire…|
|My greatest life lessons that I would share with others are…|
(physical, mental, spiritual, social)
|If I had 6 months left to live, I would do these things…|
(physical, mental, spiritual, social)
|What would the important people in my life say about me now||What would the important people in my life say about me now|
Review your answers listing experiences that sparked your passion and ask yourself the following questions. Download the exercise and write out your answers.
- What do these activities and experiences have in common for you? Were you expressing yourself? Creating? Fixing? Organizing?
- What were you feeling? Were you under pressure? Relaxed?
- Were you working independently or with others? Were you leading? Cooperating? Challenging?
- What was your purpose at the time? Were you goal-driven? Competing to be the best? Serving the needs of others?
Your personal purpose is your higher calling. It is the motivating force that underlies everything you do. Your purpose statement is a brief statement that describes what inspires you and motivates you at the deepest levels. Based on your answers to the above exercises, write a first draft of your Purpose Statement. Don’t try to be perfect – just write what comes to mind!
My purpose in life is to: