What Is Your Personal Purpose?

For business owners, when you started up your company you most likely thought through why you were in business and what you wanted from it.  That is, what is the purpose of the business? The same basic question makes sense for you personally.  What is your lifes’ purpose … What is your personal purpose?

Many people seem to ignore this core question.  I am reminded of my favorite novella written by Richard Bach entitled Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  This seagull had a personal purpose wanting to fly higher and faster than his brethren seagulls; he loved to fly. The flock concentrated on eating, searching for crumbs on the beach in a competitive frenzy only to wake up the next day and do the same thing all over again.

They floated through life.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull made a difference as he taught others there is more to life than just surviving. If you find yourself, floating through life take some time to think through your personal purpose. Do you want to fly high?

Here are some thoughts to help you along in discovering and empowering yourself with a personal purpose.

Be/Do/Have

Monte Pendleton, one of the founders of the Silver Fox Advisors, wrote a piece on The Unlimited Power of the Personal Purpose. He says,” Man’s normal approach to life is reversed into ‘Do/Have/Be.’  It begins with doing instead of being, e.g., do your homework, then you’ll have an education, and then you’ll be a doctor. 

This approach misleads us into thinking that it is what we do that makes the most difference.” … “The truth is, the real difference we make in life is made, not by what we do, but by expressing who we already are (be). We already are magnificent.  We are a unique combination of virtues and qualities that have prepared us for a special task in life, to be on purpose in our world.”…

“You will love being ‘on purpose’ because it gives you permission to be exactly who you’d love to be, do what you would love to do, and have what you would love to have.” 

To zero in on what you want to be, you must prioritize what you love most. Monte suggests there are eight key life facets that you need to rank and force fit against the other. 

Here are the eight factors: career, family, financial, mental, physical, relationships, spiritual, serving.  With this ranking, then you focus on what you would love to be expressing with each.  For example: With my family, I would love to be expressing ____.  After a few iterations and a lot of discernment, your personal purpose tends to unfold.

Not unlike a business, Monte advocates you then develop your personal vision that is your dream of what you would love to Have or Have Accomplished at some point in the future. You go back to the eight factors and complete the sentences for each such as in my career, I would love to Have or Have Accomplished ____.  Then you set goals to do and achieve what you want to have.

There are many ways to explore and  develop your personal purpose statement.  Just search the internet and you will see. The concept is not new.  For example, the Japanese for centuries have been practicing ikigai, which fundamentally means a reason to live. 

In essence, what is the purpose of your life?  Ikigai has four components:  Passion—Do what you love; Profession—Do what you are good at; Mission-Do what the world needs; Vocation—Do what you can be paid for.  If this wholistic approach interest you, take a read of ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia Puigcerver and Francesc Miralles.

McKinsey’s Take on Personal Purpose

Recently, I came across an article from McKinsey & Co. entitled Do you know your life’s purpose? They suggest that life’s meaning comes from some combination of your values.

In their study, these are the values measured: achievement, conservation, caring, freedom, respect, tradition, enjoyment, stability, and equality/justice.  What I found interesting is that they uncovered three common patterns based on these values: free spirit, achiever, and care giver. 

That makes sense to me having always been achievement-focused wanting to contribute as much as possible in my short time on earth.  At this point, in my business role, the contribution is to help others become better leaders and successful in their business because a Leader’s impact has a multiplicative factor.

Uncovering your personal purpose does take some deep thinking and personal reflection on your part.  Many of the Silver Fox Advisors (SilverFox.org) can coach you through the process that Pendleton recommends.  Is it worth the effort as Monte Pendleton proclaims?

What is the benefit?

In terms of benefit, I like Steve Taylor’s post in Psychology Today back in 2013 on The Power of Purpose which he felt was rather basic to leading a healthy life. First, he says that purpose causes us to look outward and less focused on our worries and anxieties.

McKinsey found that “People who have a strong sense of purpose tend to be more resilient and exhibit better recovery from negative events.” This is an exceptionally good thing in the middle of a pandemic crisis.

A corollary to looking outward is that we feel part of something bigger and less self-centered.  Taylor also describes the notion of flow, “the state of intense absorption in which we forget our surroundings and ourselves.” A strong sense of purpose brings more flow and the happier one becomes.  

I think that is obvious but a key benefit. And, when we follow our priorities of what we want to be, that leads to do and then have, we move into our comfort zone that increases our self-esteem and confidence.  Finally, he suggests having this direction and goals leads to hope.  There is a reason to live the next day.

Self-Development

My approach to personal purpose centers on self-development based on what you want to be.  For me, people can get a little tied up with eight or ten different criteria to evaluate their priorities. It seems to me there are really three basic macro areas: career development, personal development, and social development.

Under career development, I ask people to rank the following on what is most important to them and why:               

1) type of career (small to large company),

2) type of industry,

3) type of role,

4) financial livelihood, and

5) work environment.

This is generally done easily and varies considerably among clients. 

With personal, I ask them to again rank describing what is most important to them and why:                                                 

1) mental,

2) physical, and

3) spiritual. 

Again, there is little problem in general for people to rank these.

Finally, under social development falls

1) family,

2) friends, and

3) community.

Sometimes people ask to break out church from community. Often family comes to the top.

With each of these subsets of the macro areas prioritized, the real determinant of personal purpose begins. I ask them to rank the top prioritized item from each macro area against the other areas. 

In other words, does career development, personal development or social development have the top-ranking priority? We keep matching across the macro areas the top-ranking items until the list of priorities is complete.

To help people through this process, these type questions are interspersed: where are your passions? what excites you to talk about? what makes you feel good when doing it?

My clients are generally business owners or small company CEOs.  Thus, we morph what is going on in the business to their personal purpose map from the above development areas. This normally is eye opening.

In this regard, I usually introduce the COP model by Zener and Folkman from their book The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders. It has some similarities to ikigai. Visualize three concentric circles overlapping like a triangle. One is based on your competencies, one on your passions, and one on organizational needs.  Where these three circles overlap, they call that the leadership sweet spot. It can be insightful on where to spend your time and effort within the business. This is similar to ikigai.

The Four “Inner” Ps

Personal purpose is one of the four “inner” Ps that I will discuss in an upcoming blog on my leadership model. An earlier blog on September 15, 2020 described The 3 Ps of Leadership (People, Planning, and Performance) that relate to your “outside world.”

I think it is crucial for a leader to have a strong sense of their purpose.  Being willing to share that with your people can excite them as they see your excitement.  It also leads to coaching to find out what their personal purpose is that helps create bonding and trust between you.

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