Purpose is more attainable than you might think
We all know people who seem to have found their purpose. They are passionate, focused, impactful, and inspiring. We may think of famous examples of purposeful leaders, or we may know people from our own lives. They seem to have an underlying drive and sense of meaning in everything they take on – whether it’s guiding a work team, coaching youth sports, or even cooking up dinner. Regardless, developing a sense of purpose doesn’t need to be grandiose. It simply means engaging with our lives and work in a way that transcends ourselves and impacts others in a positive way.
Purposeful leadership can be found in the kindergarten teacher who unleashes a child’s sense of awe; the teenager organizing local efforts to take action on climate change; the leader turning around a struggling organization; the team member mentoring a new colleague; the parent getting up early to make a healthy school lunch. Purpose is not so much about what you do (your role or your company), but about how you approach your every day and recognize the ripple this has on those around you.
The idea of finding your purpose may feel overwhelming. Here are a few simple questions that can help as you explore the ingredients that constitute meaning and purpose for you. Rather than discovering something new, you may find that you’re uncovering what has been there all along.
1. When did you last lose track of time? When we are engaged with purpose, we are often so engrossed that we completely lose track of time. Think about a moment when that was true for you - in any aspect of your life. It could be recent or you may have to go back in time. What was going on, what were you doing, who were you with, or were you alone? Perhaps you were in a state of flow where you were so focused that time stood still. Maybe you were onboarding a new co-worker or coaching your daughter’s soccer team. You might have picked up the guitar again for the first time in decades, or written the outline for the book you have been wanting to write. Harvest the ingredients of that moment, the feelings, the thoughts, the focus of your attention. What was it that had you so immersed in the moment? This is the realm of passion and joy.
2. Where are the meaningful moments in your every day? Have you ever thought that to find greater purpose, you might need to leave your current role and go work for a non-profit? The reality is that plenty of people working for non-profits can feel a lack of purpose too. For many people, the days and weeks can feel like an endless to do list. In those moments you need to take a pause and look up and out, to reflect on what fuels you beyond the relentless stream of things that cross your desk. Perhaps it was the way your team came together at quarter-end to work on that last deal that took you over the finishing line, or a conversation you had with an employee about their career aspirations. Or maybe you went out of your way to highlight the outstanding achievement of someone on your team to senior leadership. This is the realm of impact.
3. How might your position enable you to serve others? You may be a senior leader at one of the most powerful companies in the world - a platform which gives you access to the world’s most influential people, networks, events, conferences, speaking opportunities. How might you use this platform as a launching pad for the impact you want to have? What are the topics and causes you find yourself drawn to? Is it helping women advance in the workplace, or addressing the mental health of teens? What moves you as you think about your community, company, or world affairs? How can you use your platform and your voice to give expression to things that you deeply care about and want to be known for? This is the realm of service.
4. Carve out time for silence. Our world has become noisier with so many people and things vying for our attention. Only when you switch off the noise and tune into the silence, immersed in a place where there is no interference, can you create the space for purpose and meaning to emerge. For many people, it first means learning to be more comfortable with the silence, with the idea of pausing. You don’t need to go to a mountain top or a five-day retreat (although I am a big proponent of this!). Pausing can be as simple as walking outside for the two minutes in between meetings to feel the sun (or rain) on our skin. It can be taking three deep breaths in the 30 seconds between zoom calls in order to intentionally end one thing before beginning another. It could be looking up to notice the moon rising at night, or watching the sun in the morning. Find small moments that bring you joy, where you can tap into gratitude and simply pay attention to the moment and what it holds. Silence is not easy if you are conditioned to be fast paced and productive. But this is the realm of cultivating the soil of purpose.
Tuning into your life in this new way requires you to pause and take stock. It requires you to attune to the moments in which you are most in touch with your sense of joy and meaning. These are the ingredients of a life of purpose. Your purposeful life.