What's Your Purpose
Understanding your unique purpose is at the heart of not only greater productivity, but greater accomplishment and greater joy.
Why understanding your purpose is critical
Discovering or rediscovering your purpose should be a top priority for three reasons:
First, purpose gives meaning.
You will feel that you are making a difference in the world and that your life has meaning when you know your purpose. Without purpose you will cram your life full of activity, but never feel accomplished. Whereas, purposed-filled action results in a profound sense of satisfaction.
Many times we have seen people moved to tears when they finally articulate in writing their deepest heartfelt sense of purpose. They suddenly realise, “I matter, I make a difference.”
Second, purpose directs action.
Your purpose will help you select goals that resonate with what matters most to you. Your purpose also directs your choices by giving you a decision filter. Tough decisions can be confidently made often times by simply asking the question, “Will this choice fulfil my purpose or not?”
Third, purpose provides power.
Friedrich Nietzche once said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Your purpose is the ‘why’ behind what you do. Whenever you meet obstacles, become drained, or despairing, turn to your purpose and you will find renewed energy and strength.
The 3 elements of an actionable purpose statement
Three basic tenets about purpose:
Look closely at those statements and you’ll realise three core elements to purpose: a Recipient, a Role, and a Result. We’re going to examine each one of these now. As we do, take notes about questions we’ll be raising. John Arnold has interjected his answers, so that you can see how these elements might look in a person’s purpose statement.
1. Your Recipient.
The tenets above simply refer to purpose as what you do for others. Who or what concerns you deeply? What needs do you see in the world that tug at your heart? Is there a change you would love to see happen? If so, who would benefit from that change? Answers to questions like these point to the recipient of your purpose.
For me, I am concerned about people who are missing out on the beauty of life. People who are burdened by stress and directionless and perhaps not even realising it — people yearning for more out of life. I am also concerned for my family and want to equip and encourage them to become the best versions of themselves. Who are you concerned about?
Note: The focus of your purpose could also be something like the environment or a cause.
What’s important is that you identify the need you want to meet. Who are what is the object of that need? What is the problem you would love to solve and who or what will benefit. Therein lies your recipient.
2. Your Role.
You have unique gifts, talents, and passions that drive you. You live out your purpose through these attributes. They define the role you play in making a difference.
Author Fredrich Buechner says, “Vocation is where your deep glad meets the world’s deep need.”
What he calls vocation I would call purpose.
So what’s your deep glad? What do you love to do? What are you great at? How do you like to make a difference? What do people praise you for? What skills do you have?
For me, I love writing and creating. I love teaching. I love equipping people with very practical, tools, tips, and strategies. I like being a blessing with the blessings I have received.
What about you? Think in terms of verbs and actions as you consider your role.
3. Your Result.
If you met a deep need in the world, what would be the result? What impact do you want to make? What legacy do you want to leave? What is the ultimate hope for the difference you will make?
I often times refer to the result as the “so that…” portion of a purpose statement. For example, I do what I do, so that people live profoundly meaningful and epic lives and so that, they can see, feel, and experience the fullness of life’s beauty. That’s the result for which I strive.
A short purpose statement for me including the three core elements might look like this: “My purpose is to help people who are stressed out and yearning to have a better life, by equipping them with practical tips, tools, and strategies for time management, so that, they might become fully alive to the beauty of life.”
Do you see the recipient, role, and result in this statement? Your statement doesn’t have to be this tightly constructed. In fact, when you write yours, do not overthink it. Instead, write quickly and let the words flow from your heart.
When Allyson wrote her first purpose statement she did so in just seven minutes. Here it is. See if you can spot the core elements.
Allyson’s Purpose Statement
My purpose in life is GROWING. In life, I want to grow and change. I want to be different tomorrow than I am today. I want to grow as a wife – to be more in love with my husband, to hold hands more often, to enjoy long talks into the night, and to share our hopes and dreams. I want to grow as a mother—to watch my children mature into their own destinies. I want to grow as a spiritual person—to become kinder, wiser, more hopeful, and more understanding. I want to grow my skills as a financial adviser and help my clients grow their assets. I want to work at my job with joy and honesty and integrity. I want each day to be filled with fun and excitement and challenge. And, I want to help others bring about meaningful changes in their own lives by sharing my discoveries and ideas. My purpose in life is fulfilled by growing and through helping others grow.
How to complete this worksheet
Step 1: Connect
Connect with your deepest motivations before writing your statement. Ideally, you want to identify your top ten values using Life’s Prioritise Worksheet before writing your purpose statement. If you have already done so, take a moment and review your highest values. If not, download the prioritise worksheet here or continue on and complete it later.
Your values tremendously motivate and influence your life. Values also drive purpose. Once again, reflect on the three core elements above and review any notes you might have taken as you read.
Lastly, on the right side of the Discovering Your Purpose Worksheet you will see a place to write seven things that you love about life. This list may include foundational items, like your faith, your family, and your work. It may also include many of the simpler aspects of your life that you love, such as spending time with your kids, reading, hiking, gardening, golfing, coaching Little League, travelling, or volunteering. Because love is the foundation of purpose, having a list of what you love in front of you while you contemplate your purpose is very important.
Step 2: Write
Write as fast as you can to try to discover what is most important to you. If you have done the reflective work above, you don’t need to overthink this. Your pump is primed. Just let your words flow on to the page. When Allyson first wrote hers she did so in just 7 minutes. Yours may take longer. That’s fine, but don’t overthink the writing.
Once you finish writing, go back and read the powerful words you have written. Circle the words that stand out. As you read, you will likely see repeated themes and ideas. These are your PURPOSE words, which you will list on the right side of the page.
Finish the exercise, by completing the sentence at the bottom of the page:
“At the age of 85, I will know I have fulfilled my purpose when…”
Step 3 – Absorb
Your purpose will only shape your daily actions, if you strongly position it in your conscious mind. Post a copy of your purpose statement in a prominent place where you will see it regularly. Read it out loud daily for ten days. Review it when setting goals or when you struggle with difficult choices.
1. Missing a core element.
Many purpose statements lack one of the core elements. When a core element is missing your purpose statement becomes less actionable or less meaningful. For example, if you are unclear about who your recipients are, your efforts will lack direction and results will be limited.
2. Overthinking while in the writing process.
The time to think and reflect is BEFORE you write. Most people get this backwards, they spend little or no time connecting with their deepest motivations and then painstakingly struggle at wordsmithing their purpose statement. The result is often a pretty statement that is reflective of expectations and ‘shoulds’ that someone feels on a daily basis, rather than reflecting their heart’s longest desires.
Reflect for as long as it takes for you to feel grounded and connected with the things that matter most to you. You may feel great peace or excitement when you make that connection. When that happens writing is effortless. If that isn’t your experience, that’s okay. What is important is that you do whatever it takes to
write from your heart.
3. Never reassessing your purpose.
You should go through this process at least quarterly. As you acquire new skills, discover new passions, see new needs in the world, your sense of purpose will change. This is particularly true if you are consciously working hard at committing yourself to your highest values. With maturity comes clarity. If you have lost a sense of meaning in work that once was valuable to you, you may need to re-examine your purpose.
Organise your thoughts, organise your life...
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