Posted on May 5, 2024  
by Noel Guilford

It is generally accepted that people who have discovered their purpose in life are more fulfilled, accelerate their growth and deepen their impact in both their professional and personal lives.

And yet researchers at Harvard Business School found that fewer than 20% of business leaders have discovered their purpose. Even fewer could document their purpose in a written statement and hardly any of them had a clear plan for translating purpose into action.

Your purpose is who you are and what makes you distinctive. Your purpose is your brand, what you’re driven to achieve, the magic that makes you tick. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it and why—the strengths and passions you bring to your work and personal life.

At its core, your purpose springs from your identity, the essence of who you are. Purpose is not a list of the education, experience, and skills you’ve gathered in your life nor is it a professional title, limited to your current job.

Your purpose should be specific and personal, resonating with you and you alone. It doesn’t have to be aspirational or cause-based, and it’s not what you think it should be. It’s who you can’t help being. In fact, it might not necessarily be all that flattering.

Which in part goes to explain why discovering your purpose isn’t easy; if it was, we’d all know exactly why we are here and be living our purpose every day. To figure out who you are, let alone “be nobody but yourself,” is hard work.

But as we saw in last week’s Sunday Supplement, finding your path to an ideal life is a seven-step process, one of which is to discover your life purpose which requires that you answer five questions:

  • What am I good at? Think about situations at work or in other areas of life in which you have demonstrated critical strengths such as creativity, teamwork, or analytical skills. What are two of your most challenging life experiences and what did you learn from them?
  • Which am I passionate about? What do you especially enjoy doing? Perhaps your answers include mentoring, problem-solving, or helping young people. Describe a moment and how it made you feel.
  • What are my core values? Think about critical decisions you’ve made and principles you hold dear that have provided your with direction, such as honesty, fairness, or integrity.
  • What need can I help address in the world such as quality education, decent work and economic growth, or innovation?
  • Where can I have the most impact on others? Don’t try to solve all the world’s problems on your own; identify those areas where you can make the most difference.

Ask friends or family members what your strengths are, what values you live by, what things excite you, and what need you might help fill. Draw from your own answers and theirs to help discover your purpose.

As you review the answers to these questions you’ll start to see a unifying thread. Use this to draw out your purpose statement. But writing the statement is not enough. You must also envision the impact you’ll have on your world as a result of living your purpose.

Your actions – not your words – are what really matter. How will you deepen your impact by living your purpose? And how will you decide what not to do by using your purpose as your guide? Ask yourself ‘Does this [activity] move me towards fulfilling my purpose?’

Of course, it’s virtually impossible for any of us to fully live on our purpose 100% of the time. But with work and careful planning, we can do it more often, more consciously, wholeheartedly, and effectively.

Noel Guilford

PS Generative artificial intelligence such as Chat GTP can be a useful tool to help you draft your purpose statement; if you’d like a prompt to use you can get one here.

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