Each of us approach the idea of purpose from a different place in our life journey. Our ideas about purpose are shaped by our experiences, beliefs, culture and education. You may be asking “why does this matter?”. Well, what we believe about purpose can frustrate our efforts as we try discover our purpose. Your beliefs about purpose can either help or hinder you.
Given the important of our beliefs and our preconceived ideas about purpose. I thought it would be useful to share the eight beliefs I’ve found to be useful in helping leaders find their unique purpose.
1. Everyone is Born for a Purpose
We are all born for a purpose, it’s the reason we’re alive, but it must be discovered. It’s suprising how many people live disconnected from purpose and meaning. Research cited in the article “From Purpose to Impact” by Nick Craig and Scott Snook, published in the Harvard Business Review found “that fewer than 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their own individual purpose. Even fewer can distill their purpose into a concrete statement.”
The first step to discovering purpose is to believe that you have a unique purpose. You already have a purpose, you just haven’t discovered it yet.
2. Purpose is a Choice
To live on purpose is a choice you make. To live on purpose begins with a decision.
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
It’s a mistake to think that your life will end up on purpose because you’re born for a purpose“. Whilst we’re all born for a purpose, our purpose remains dormant until we decide to activate it. The same is true of our gifts and talents. They remain dormant within us until we choose to activate them and to use them. To live a life of purpose begins with your choice.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” ― William Hutchison Murray
The choice to live on purpose is essential. Without commitment, you hesitate, you draw back, you lack courage and ultimately you fail to act. Unless you choose your purpose you’ll lack courage, direction and effectiveness.
3. Purpose is Unique to You
“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Your purpose is an expression of who you are. You have a unique set of your life experiences, strengths, skills, knowledge, beliefs, talents and passions. No one else on the planet has your unique combination. The moment you decide to live you life on purpose you unlock the untapped potential of your unique combination of skills, talents and experiences.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – E.E. Cummings
You cannot copy or adopt the purpose of others. Many get caught up in trying to become like everybody else. Strongly influenced by popular media and culture to become someone else. I’m not saying you cannot be inspired by others, you can. I’m not saying you cannot learn from others, you should. What I am saying is, you’re purpose is unique to you and as such you should strive to live your life true to your purpose.
“Those who follow the crowd usually get lost in it.” – Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life
Purpose is the golden thread around which you choose to live and build your life. It’s unique to you.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs
4. Purpose Evolves Over Time
You don’t have one single purpose that lasts your entire lifetime. Purpose evolves and changes throughout your life. As you journey through life your purpose will change and shift. These changes to your purpose can be subtle or radical. You should expect your purpose to evolve, to change in focus and in some cases transform as you journey through life.
Purpose also matures in it’s focus as you grow as a person. This maturing creates a shift in focus, from an internal emphasis on oneself, towards an emphasis on others. A matured purpose is focused on making a difference in the lives of others.
Living on purpose is a process of continual discovery, as opposed to a one time event or the discovery of one single lifetime purpose.
5. Purpose is Focused on the Why
Purpose is your response to the question “why do I exist? or ”what does a life well lived look like for me?“. It’s what makes you distinctive. It’s the difference you make in the lives of others. It’s your unique contribution. Your purpose as the reason you exist, is an expression of your unique contribution to the world and the lives of others.
The root of your purpose is your why rather than your what and how. Your purpose is not your role or your occupation, that’s the what. Your purpose is not your job or your position, that’s your how. Your purpose is not the money you make, the position you hold, your social influence or your occupation.
Purpose is the reason for your inspiration. Purpose is the reason you get up in the morning. Purpose is the fuel that feeds your passion and drives your perseverance. You don’t get up in the morning to work, to make money, to keep your job or even to keep your boss happy. Your purpose could be helping executives do great work, or developing people as leaders or shifting the world’s attitude towards global warming. Once you know your purpose your can begin the process of figuring our what and how. It could be a specific job or a specific kind of business or role.
Great leaders have always taken time to figure our their why before their what or how.
6. Purpose Meets a Need in the World
“Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” – Aristotle
To live your life on purpose requires more than understanding your unique talents strengths and experiences. It demands that you be alert to the needs of the world. As Aristotle observed, your purpose exists at the intersection of your talent, skills, strengths and the needs of the world.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso
Many see work as a way to make money and pay the bills. However, there is a large body of research which shows that the pursuit of money and wealth is unlikely to bring happiness or a deeper sense of meaning. Once our income covers our basic needs, purpose becomes the driver, purpose becomes our source of motivation and meaning. It’s purpose that motivates us to get up in the morning. And a clear purpose is one that meets a need in the world.
Purpose exists to inspire and motivate you to make a difference in the world by impacting the lives of others.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” – George Bernard Shaw
7. Purpose is Shaped by Action
Purpose is discovered, understood and expressed as you take action. Action helps you gain a better understanding into who you are. You gain valuable insight into your real strengths, talents and beliefs, how they work and how they can be used.
When you take action, especially outside your comfort zone, you get a deeper understanding of who you are. You learn about who you are and grow into a deeper expression of your purpose.
“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Purpose is your compass it’s the instrument that keeps you heading in the right direction. But for a compass to be useful you have to act.
8. Living On Purpose is Difficult
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela
There are some who believe that living on purpose is the road to the easy life. That when you live on purpose things automatically begin to happen for you, that things will be fall into place. You’ll find the right job. Your relationships will be friction-free. Your money problems will disappear. Life will be problem free. When the opposite is often true. Living on purpose demands more work, larger amounts of emotional courage. Purpose may even cause your obstacles and problems to grow.
“People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” – Sir Edmund Hillary
Living on purpose will require you to grow, to grow your courage, to mature and to persevere in the face of obstacles. Think of the challenges that leaders of great purpose had to overcome. Leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jnr. and so many others. Each of these leaders faced great difficulty as a result of their commitment to a purpose.
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” ― Viktor Frankl
These are my eight beliefs about purpose. Each of these beliefs play an important role in thinking about purpose. Either your beliefs support you in your quest to seek purpose, or they will frustrate and hinder your efforts.
- Do any of these beliefs resonate with you?
- Do you have any beliefs about purpose that you would like add?
- Which of your beliefs do you need to change to help you live your life on purpose?