Put down your Sunny Delight and brace yourself… big and existential questions lie ahead.
Why do you exist?
I’m not necessarily talking in a meta-physical, Stephen Hawking-eque sense. Although, according to him, the root of the answer dates back to a little tiny ball with infinite density and intense heat that started to inflate at an exponential rate a handful of years back. And voila, the universe as we know it began. And then after that, a bunch of stuff that I don’t really understand happened. Something about eternal inflation.
You still awake over there?
Anyways, your parents probably told you you exist because some large weird bird dropped you off on the doorstep. Or for the more forthcoming parents among us, they might have come clean and admitted that it all started at a particularly frisky Rolling Stones concert back in the day.
But that’s still not really what I’m getting at…
What were you put on this earth at this moment in time, to do? What impact were you meant to have on this world during your short time on it?
If you like, we can shorthand this: What is your purpose?
Like her or not, it’s tough to dispute that Oprah Winfrey is a woman who oozes a deep sense of purpose, one that has touched millions and ignited remarkable success. Her purpose: “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring [my] students to be more than they thought they could be.”
Guided by this purpose, she has educated and empowered women and children to believe in themselves, supported people around the globe in pursuing their dream, and provided those who are underprivileged and underserved with the means and education to reach their potential. Talk about impact. Incidentally, she has also given out a bunch of free cars.
Many of the great leaders, revolutionaries, innovators, game-changers of our time have been united by a powerful force: they have all developed a clear sense of purpose. They know what they care about, and what they are here to do.
Steve Jobs – To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.
Richard Branson – To have fun in (my) journey through life and learn from (my) mistakes.
There’s no denying: when we find it, purpose can be a powerful life-shaping force. People with purpose can change the world.
There are scores of books and articles expound on the virtues and power of purpose at length, so we won’t venture to do that here. And the word “purpose” has unfortunately become buzzy and cliche in leadership, business, self-development circles.
But as I’ve moved through the world curiously asking others this question, the reality is that too few of us have a coherent view of our answer to this question.
And I get it. It is big and can feel heavy. It has real gravity.
But imagine a world where everyone had crystal clarity on their answer to this question. Imagine what is possible.
Dare to have an answer.
The new year is an opportune time to wrestle with this question. A number of my coaching clients are. For whatever reason, this question tends to ping more loudly on the radar screen of people in their mid-life.
Are you stuck? Try this.
Take an hour in a comfortable place and fast forward through the highlight reel of your life. Recall those moments when you have been on fire… Those loving-life, in-my-zone, time-standing-still kinds of moments.
Take the time/space to really sit in those moments. Relive them. Feel them again. Be in them.
What were the common themes across those moments? What were you doing? Who were you being? What were the unique gifts and talents you were using? What impact were you having?
There are clues in the themes from these moments as to what your purpose might be.
Give yourself the time and space to find what lights you up. What fuels your fire.
Write it down, like Jobs and Branson did. Look at it each day.
Use it to guide your decisions. How you show up in the world.
Commit to a life of being and doing that thing. Imagine what that could look like.
Don’t hide it. Let it shine.