Finding your purpose is one module in my workshop that provides a deep insight for the participants. For most, it is similar to a “wow” moment. A moment of realization. Most of us know we have a purpose. But, we cannot articulate it. We have a feeling of what it is. We just cannot put it down into words.
So here, I wrote an article on how to identify and live your purpose. I hope you find this useful.
Step 1. Identify your purpose.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
Every single one of us has a purpose in life. We exist for a reason. We are not born to wander around aimlessly. Knowing our purpose gives us a reason for being, a reason to wake up in the morning energized. Knowing our purpose helps us make decisions. Knowing our purpose helps us prioritize our life. The problem is that most of us do not know our purpose in life.
We cannot live a life of purpose if we do not know what our purpose for existence is. If you are interested in knowing your purpose in life, let me walk you through a few steps that will help crystallize it.
Get a blank piece of paper and a pen. You may also use the digital pad that comes with your smartphone.
Think back in your life and come up with three happy moments. Moments that you will never forget. Moments that put a smile on your face as you recall it. Write these three events down on your piece of paper or smartphone.
You can refer to the template below:
Read your three stories carefully and choose the best one. The one event that tops the other two. Cross out the other two from your list.
Think of 3-5 nouns that best describes that moment. You can refer to the list of nouns below for assistance. You can come up with nouns that are not listed.
Think of 3-5 verbs that best describes that moment. You can refer to the list of verbs below for assistance. You can come up with verbs that are not listed.
Narrow your noun selection and chose two. Cross out the rest.
Narrow your verb selection and chose two. Cross out the rest.
Carefully look at the two sets of verbs and nouns. See which combination of one verb (first) and one noun (second) best resonates with you. A verb+noun combination you can connect with. I was able to articulate mine three years ago. It is Igniting Potentials. When I look back on my life, I notice that I always feel energized running workshops, having talks, and coaching. I believe that we all have great potentials. It is just that we sometimes need help to bring them out and nurture them.
On a scale of 1-10, with one being the lowest and ten the highest, how does your purpose score? If your score is lower than eight, then keep tuning it. An accurate purpose statement needs to score anywhere from 8 to 10. An accurate purpose statement should give you the chills and excite you.
Step 2. Craft a concise Just Cause or Vision
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18
I discovered the best way to craft a just cause or a compelling vision from Simon Sinek’s book “The Infinite Game”. Allow me to share it..
Everyone has a vision or a mission statement. But we lack a standard definition of those terms, using the same words in different ways. This leads to more confusion than cohesion, both internally with our people and externally with our stakeholders.
So let’s throw out the words and start over. Words must be simple to be understandable. They must be understood to be repeatable. And if they are repeatable then they will spread.
In our founder Simon Sinek’s upcoming book, The Infinite Game, we put forward a new term: advancing a Just Cause.
A Just Cause is linked to our WHY, our noble purpose for being. Our WHY comes from our past—it is our origin story and it is who we are. Our Just Cause is our WHY projected into the future. It describes a future state in which our WHY has been realized. It is a forward-looking statement that is so inspiring and compelling that people are willing to sacrifice to see that vision advanced.
There are five criteria to have a Just Cause. It must be 1) for something, 2) inclusive, 3) service-oriented, 4) resilient, and 5) idealistic.
It serves as a positive and specific vision of the future.
While being against something may be effective in rallying people, it doesn’t inspire and it won’t last. A Just Cause is what you stand for rather than what you stand against.
It is open to all those who wish to contribute.
A Just Cause attracts people from diverse skillsets. Too often visions and missions are tied to a specific product or activity. If your stated purpose is about technology or sales, for example, then it is mostly designed for engineers or salespeople. Everyone else who is not an engineer or salesperson may feel like or even be treated as, second-class citizens. A Just Cause inspires all to make their worthwhile contributions and feel valued for it.
The primary benefit of the cause has to go to those other than you, the contributors.
For example, if you go to your boss for career advice, the expectation is that the advice you receive will benefit your career. If your boss gives you advice that benefits their self-interests, they are not service-oriented. This extends to organizations, leaders, and investors. The products and services an organization develops must be designed to primarily benefit their customers, not the company itself. If you are a leader, your leadership has to benefit the people in your span of care. And, if you are an investor, the investments you make have to benefit the company with which you are investing. Of course, you can expect a return on your investment, but it must be of secondary benefit. The primary benefactor of the investment is the recipient, not the investor.
Be able to endure political, technological, and cultural change.
Again, if you define your Just Cause based upon the prevalence of particular technology or a specific product and there is a market change, your Just Cause will not last.
Big, bold, and ultimately unachievable.
It’s not about becoming the biggest, the best, or number one. It’s not about reaching some arbitrary revenue target, even if it is huge. It is about pursuing something infinite—for all intents and purposes, you will not ever attain it. It is, indeed, a vision and not a goal. And as you make progress toward that better future state you imagine, you will be able to feel and measure your momentum. A Just Cause is an ideal. It is something so noble that we would be willing to devote our lives and careers toward advancing it. And, when our careers are over, the Just Cause can live on and serve to inspire further progress; that can be our legacy.
Most people and organizations do not write good vision or mission statements, not because they are bad people, but because we do not yet have a standard definition or guidelines. We are hoping that this framework helps you cast a Just Cause that inspires people for the long run. And, remember, it is the leader’s job to ensure people feel a part of something—not that they simply have a part in something. Inspire your people, and they will inspire you.
Step 3. Identify and use your strengths
“For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. “Matthew 25:29
We all have strengths and areas for improvement. There are two actions that we need to take for both. Strengths are skills or competencies that come naturally. Are you good at solving problems? Are you good at speaking in front of dozens of people? Are you good at remembering things? Are you good at building something?
If you did not have to worry about money, what positive things would you be doing? What strengths will you be using?
List these down. The objective with strengths is to keep improving them. If you are good at writing, then continue building that skill. If you are good at public speaking then continue studying the skill and keep practicing it. If you are good at problem-solving then keep looking for problems to solve.
On the flip side, what skills do you need to improve on? We are all born with areas for improvement just like we are born with strengths. Improving our areas for improvement has a limit. Areas of improvement can seldom turn into a massive strength. There are two approaches you can take to address them.
If the area for improvement does not hinder your purpose and your Just Cause, you can probably set it aside for now.
If the area for improvement is important for your purpose or just cause, you need to develop it to the best of your ability. You can then augment it. You can partner with someone who happens to have your area for improvement as their strength. If you’re not good at finance, try to understand the basics then get someone good at it. We are not perfect human beings that can be good at everything. There is no such thing. Having the humility to embrace both strengths and weakness is at the core of what makes leaders great.
Step 4. Seek the best use of time
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17
Looking busy does not mean you are busy and productive. Not every meeting needs to be attended. Not every task needs to be personally completed.
There is a simple check when you are doing your day-to-day work. Always ask yourself ‘Is this the best use of my time?’ Of course, you need to qualify that question. Is this the best use of my time concerning my purpose and just cause? If the answer is yes then proceed. If no, then find a better use of your time.
The enemy of productive life is saying ‘yes to everything. Not everything is important. Knowing your purpose and your just cause will help you filter the tasks you need to do. It clears out all the unnecessary weeds in your task list.
Step 5. Focus on Results
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I had an interesting staff back when I was the head of the IT Support function for a local bank. Every time I asked him the status of the Domain server upgrade project assigned to him, he would always reply with the steps he is taking. He replied that he is currently reading the relevant technical books, the upgrade software CD he requested from Microsoft, the hardware upgrade he requested from purchasing, and so on. He would always show the effort he was putting into the project. He was so focused on his effort.
At the end of the day, it is about results. Was the domain server upgraded? Yes or no? However, this particular employee was more focused on the effort he needs to put in. This is not a special case. I have worked with employees and managers alike with the same thinking.
This is an all too common response in todays corporate world. People would defend their lack of progress by pointing to their efforts. Employees hiding behind the number of hours they spent working on a task. The people that move ahead of others are the ones focusing on results. They understand that it’s the result that counts.
Successful leaders focus on results. For instance, creating a work environment that fosters psychological safety results in a more cohesive team. This results in team members having the courage to try new things. This results in employees having each other’s backs. They know that their colleagues will not backstab them. They know that their leaders have their backs.
Keep your eye on the results of your effort when living your purpose. Feel free to adjust your plans and actions depending on the result (or lack of) of your actions. Review your results given your purpose and just cause.
Let us build a Nation of Servant Leaders from all walks of life.