WHAT IS PURPOSE?
While you’ll find many definitions, my favorite is Richard Leider’s:
“Our purpose is the essence of who we are and what makes us unique, why we’re here. It’s a source of direction and energy. It’s what gives our lives meaning.”
In short, it’s your why, your reason for being.
I have learned 4 essential truths about purpose:
- It’s central to our identities. It reflects our authentic selves in a meaningful way, not someone’s else’s vision of who we should be.
- It evolves. It changes over time, just as we do. Many of us will have different purposes for different phases of our lives, as our roles change.
- It’s aspirational. It’s something to strive for and not meant to be easily attainable. It’s all about the journey.
- It is larger than ourselves. While it doesn’t exclude personal gain, it goes beyond it, seeking to contribute in some way to the world. And no, you don’t have to be Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa to have a purpose. The way you give, by serving your family or community, an idea or a cause, is just as worthwhile.
CAN I HAVE MORE THAN 1 PURPOSE?
I believe our overarching purpose in life is to achieve our highest potential, to become our best selves. But I don’t find that phrasing alone to be very motivating. It doesn’t reflect an individual’s situation. That’s why I choose to help each of my clients craft a personal purpose statement, one that’s based on his/her unique values, gifts, and passions.
And when it comes to having more than one purpose, I do think the way to contribute our best self to the world will change over time, as our circumstances change, and as we learn and grow in our awareness, maturity, and skillset. While an adolescent’s purpose might focus on identity exploration, a new mother’s might focus on caregiving, a journalist’s on informing, a volunteer’s on saving puppies.
WHY IS PURPOSE IMPORTANT?
The research is clear. Purpose is critical to our happiness.
Dr. Carol Ryff out of the Institute on Again at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has researched the topic of Happiness for over three decades now. She has found that “purpose in life” is one of six critical elements that contribute to positive well-being.
In addition, purpose benefits our health and longevity. Here are a few links on the research:
“People who feel they have a purpose in life live longer”
“Purpose in life is good for your health.”
“Health tip: Find purpose in life.”
HOW DO WE DISCOVER OUR PURPOSE?
Sometimes, our purpose finds us. We are called to respond to a crisis, whether it’s caring for a relative who’s terminally ill, taking on two jobs to make ends meet, or fighting against an injustice.
For most of us, there’s no major catalyst that gives us that clarity. We may simply feel bored and unfulfilled and want to find a way out. Or we may be fed up with letting life happen to us and ready to carve out a more conscious path forward. We may even come across the idea, or some intriguing piece of research on the benefits of purpose, and feel pulled to explore it.
In those cases, it will take reflection and exploration to discover our purpose. A mentor, coach, or program can lend structure to this quest and help significantly lessen the frustration and time it often takes to get to a clear statement of purpose.
In my programs, I help you identify how your values, gifts, and passions connect, to yield your unique purpose, then guide you to define an action plan that will allow you to live and thrive with purpose.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?
I recommend the following books:
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- On Purpose: How We Create the Meaning of Life by Paul Froese
- The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, better by Richard Leider
- The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life by William Damon
- The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek