Are you interested in finding purpose in your work and life?
The disruptions of late may have prompted you to reflect on why you do what you do, and it’s unsettling if you’re drifting off course.
A business leader I interviewed recently noted: “If you’re not aligning your life by design, you get your life by default”. In other words, making progress against meaningful goals is incredibly satisfying.
Finding your purpose sounds like fun, but if you’re super-busy or weighed down by commitments, it might not be as straight forward as you’d hoped for. So, how do you navigate purpose?
Having helped people and businesses with purpose-based challenges for more than a decade, I’ve found there are five common myths that deserve busting:
Myth #1 – Purpose is about giving and volunteering
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who isn’t giving or volunteering in some form. Helping others is an expression of ‘higher purpose’, and for most of us it’s only part of the purpose ‘picture’, not the whole picture.
Purpose is ‘why’ you do something and, when asked, people come up with many interpretations of purpose in their lives, ranging from providing for their family through to feeling valued in their job, maximising their potential or doing something good for the environment. This illustrates how many dimensions there are to finding your purpose.
At face value, Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, has gone all-in on climate action, however I’d wager that even she is working towards other goals in her life.
Bust the myth by keeping an open mind about the scope of purpose in your life.
Myth #2 – I should resign and get a job with a charity
I once thought life was about earning good money so I could, hopefully, retire early and then give something back. This was fine until I found myself constantly thinking: Is this it? Is this my purpose in life? Do I really want to work in this industry until I retire?
Waiting for retirement seemed waaaaay too long!
You may be at a point of inflection where, despite some career or financial success, you fantasise about throwing it in and working for a charity … until you look at the job ads and realise you’d need to take a 70-80% pay cut. With regular bills, school fees and mortgage payments, forget it!
If you’re hostage to a certain lifestyle then you may be a ticking time bomb ready to explode.
Bust the myth by clarifying what purpose really means for you and then looking for the small tweaks that make a big difference.
Myth #3 – I must have a personal purpose statement
Simon Sinek is famous for his work on ‘finding your why’, however reaching for a personal purpose statement can be counterproductive. Harvard Business Review author, John Coleman, sums it up well:
“..most of us will not magically stumble upon a single purpose that makes everything we do worthwhile”
I know someone who knew their purpose at age 12. It took me 50-years to find mine; and then there are some who never do. Forcing the process and coming up short can lead to mild depression or despair, and research has found purpose anxiety is a ‘thing’.
If you do have a purpose statement, that’s great! If you don’t have one, that’s great too!
Bust the myth by not stressing about a personal purpose statement. Just don’t!
Myth #4 – I must help everyone in every way I can
Have you ever given too much of yourselves to other causes? It can undermine your wellbeing, effectiveness and lead to burnout.
You need to be doing well yourself in order to help others. I’ll admit there’s a fine line here: it’s not a reason to disengage from everything you do, however if you lead a busy and complex life then you need to make wise choices. It’s about being purpose-smart, not working harder.
Gaining clarity of purpose and backing it with an action plan is liberating because it gives you a solid and justifiable basis for saying ‘no’ to peripheral requests.
Bust the myth by creating a purpose plan.
Myth #5 – I’m insignificant in the whole scheme of things
You may feel insignificant, disempowered or struggling to see how you can make a difference to problems like climate change. That’s a common reaction.
You have unique attributes, skills, knowledge and spheres of influence – the trick is to leverage what’s at your disposal. It’s about shifting from a mindset of making a difference to maximising the difference you make.
It’s quite exciting to sit down and map out the possibilities.
Bust the myth by identifying the key strengths that you have and those you can develop to increase your impact.
If you are questioning your ‘why’, I hope you find these myth-busting tips useful. Meaning and purpose is so importantin our lives, and yet do we ever give it the attention it deserves?
Create space for reflection and be prepared to revisit your plan often – it will need to evolve as your circumstances change. Purpose is a never-ending journey that’s immensely satisfying when you know you’re making progress.
Thanks for reading, and I wish you well on your purpose journey!
PS. You might like to download my Meaning & Purpose Guide to help you take control of your work and life journey.
Phil Preston is a speaker, facilitator and coach specialising in purpose discovery and strategies. He’s the author of Connecting Profit with Purpose, founder of The Business Purpose Project, host of Talking Purpose in Business & Life and the co-host of Corporate Conversations on Purpose. Phil can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Phil Preston 2022, All rights reserved
Banner photo credit: Bruce Mars via unsplash.com