Undoubtedly 2020 has been a year where many of us have had time for reflection, to assess perhaps what is really of value and re-assess how we seek to go forward both professionally and personally.
As a ‘purpose’ professional, indeed one of the pioneers of much of the thinking and language surrounding its application and marketing in business, I have been particularly interested in the discussions I have had with several senior business leaders on how, as a direct result of the 2020 experience, they seek to re-define a personal sense of purpose. For what it is worth, I share here some of my learning and thinking, accrued over forty years of full-time work and how being purposeful applies itself both professionally and personally.
Firstly, life has to be more than just the work we undertake to feed ourselves. To find a core purpose, a motivation which can power your personal abilities to achieve real change in your circumstances and the world you occupy; you need to develop a personal purpose intention. Clarity of purpose can define your life, shape decisions and build success.
It is not something which sits in a compartment of your life, either at work or in a faith, or through voluntary work. Rather, the power of purpose when clearly defined permeates every part of your life and is expressed in all of your undertakings.
Although many will have seen my definition of the distinction between Purpose, Vision and mission for business, I want to share this analysis from a personal perspective:
Your purpose explains how you choose to use your life. Your vision should explain how living your purpose changes the world around you. Your goals (translated from the ‘Mission’) enable you to realize your vision.
The Identification of your purpose should be a unique experience, although inevitably, having clarity will mean you gravitate to those similarly motivated and who operate with similar values and beliefs. That is the natural way of human life. The way in which you may manifest your purpose; what you identify as your route to achieving your vision of your life, can be different, but together and once recognized, you will find others will start to show they share your interests and have a care for you and your purpose. With a purposeful existence you will be less diverted, reduce your risk of failure and have a greater chance of building something which is appreciated by those around you. Therefore, it is clear just from these simple assertions that being clear on your purpose can have a hugely positive effect upon your life and those around you.
Asking yourself about your purpose can come at any time. This is both in terms of life and when. As I explained, recent months have seen me have at least half a dozen such conversations with senior leaders in the 50s, whilst the question may emerge whilst relaxing on a sunny day, celebrating a particular birthday, or the death of a loved one or the birth of a child. As such, life can in retrospect be seen as a set of key markers, points where contemplation or a decision where you begin to ask what we should be doing next; what is the purpose of (and in) your life? If 2020 has raised any question more so than normal, I am sure this is the one. The purpose of life is more than just streaming films and zoom calls.
So, as we move into a new year and one hopes a new period of vaccinations and emerging back into roles, such new circumstances opens up possibilities for thinking to emerge and that can help shape your purpose thoughts. Although one must balance any emotional influences prevalent at such times, with a realistic interpretation of your life overall, such combined heart and mind thinking can transform lives. A clear purpose allows you to move forward, alongside values which can guide behaviour and goals that focus your energy
Under normal circumstances, the majority of people find it hard anyway, to know what to do with their lives. People choose career paths, think through what type of home and lifestyle they want, but often far later than one would ideally hope, realize that these alone do not create a purpose for their existence. We know that we have limited time on this planet, yet waste in in trivial pursuits. One can easily argue that for most of us, through no fault of our own, we have just wasted an entire year. Therefore, notwithstanding a natural desire for enjoyment, I believe that by seeking something which goes beyond simply and literally feeding yourself and your family, you will find a life much more enriched, much more lived. This is where people seek purpose and the quest in life, a question posed for everyone on the planet, even in the light of Covid, should be not just about staying alive, but finding something to stay alive for.
Purpose will support your endeavours by giving a sense of meaning in your work and life generally. Purpose overlays on top of your actions a sense that what you do matters, not just to yourself but to the world at large; it means the things you create matter as well.
Such purpose driven activity attracts people with a passion for what you stand for and what change you wish to see in the world. It makes your actions appear to others to be special.
It therefore creates something brilliant about what you do, because regardless of conventional qualifications or recognition, those with purpose shine.
It is likely that at various times, you have been doing something, or talking with someone about something, where you have felt truly engaged and invigorated by the task, in a way which other things fail to make you feel. This will be as a result of your task being aligned with your purpose, where the principles of such an alignment have naturally occurred.
If you experience this as ‘Living on purpose’, you will know what it feels like to have a clear and authentic direction. You will feel energized, content and ultimately fulfilled because you will be fully absorbed in the sense of purpose being aligned. Achieving this must be your focus and as Buddha is attributed as saying; ‘Your Purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it’
Putting aside Covid restrictions and the unusual circumstances many of us currently live under, we can still recognize that we have choices, even when you feel things may not be going exactly your way, the choice is to change the direction. You may spend a huge proportion of your life at work, or time in leisure. How many hours are potentially wasted, without fulfilling your potential. What is the personal loss and loss to the world of not maximizing your potential? Today, as we face huge economic and societal issues, in addition to getting through Covid, one thing you can control personally is focusing on defining a purpose and planning to create a meaningful impact in work aligned with that new purpose.
As Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose’.
Let us now consider the law of cause and effect which states that for every effect there is a definite cause, likewise for every cause, there is a definite effect. To utilize this in your purposeful thinking, you must understand that your thoughts, behaviours, and actions will create specific effects that manifest and create your life as you know it. If you are not happy with the effect you have created, then you must change the causes that created them. Purpose can change actions, and you can change your life by transforming your thoughts and actions to create a new purposeful one. A life without cause is a life without effect.
The diagram below is well known and is a simplified illustration of the Japanese Ikigai ideology that is long been associated with the nation’s long-life expectancy. It has great merit in its simplicity and ease of adoption. The purposeful life is shown through key interactions shown as doing what you love; building on your talents and skills, finding a role which matches both (either paid for or appreciated in another manner) and doing something which contributes to the world. By bringing these influences together, others emerge. The overlap between doing what you love and care about and what you are good at, can be seen as following your passion. If it is applied to the world, such love can become a mission to affect significant change. The role, is where your strengths are appreciated, whilst the vocation is where regardless of reward you can dedicate yourself with energy.
I hope this may just spark some personal thinking at the start of what can be the most purposeful year in your life. Good luck and feel free to follow me here or on twitter @johnwritlarge