I heard a wonderful story the other day. A 5 year old girl remembered her mother always telling her that the most important thing in life was to be happy. One day at school, a teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. The girl wrote her answer down on a piece of paper – ‘I want to be happy’. The teacher frowned and asked her to try again, saying she hadn’t understood the question. To which she replied ‘No, you don’t understand life’.
When Harvard Business Review dedicates an entire issue to ‘The Value of Happiness’ and employee wellbeing, and the British PM launches an initiative to find out the nation’s happiness index, you know that the penny is finally beginning to drop.
Contrary to the claims of popular culture, which does its utmost to convince, coerce and cajole us into believing that the attainment of wealth and material possessions is the secret to happiness; we all know that this is simply not the case. That ‘something more’ is different for each of us, but as the field of positive psychology grows, it is becoming clear that there are some common indicators we all share – among others the quality of our relationships, our contribution to the community and wider society, our level of mastery and autonomy, fitness and health, leisure time and a sense of purpose.
Your sense of purpose is what gives your life meaning. You have a unique purpose in this life, one that you were born with, and which is waiting for you to claim. So many people know this, but it can take years of enquiry to truly grasp it, to be able to articulate it with clarity. That’s because we’re not brought up to think in these terms, we grow up with the expectations of the outside world projected on to us, our impressionable minds absorbing the subtle and not-so-subtle values that accompany the notion of work and career. So much of our thinking and our choices in life stem from this unconscious imprint, an unquestioned assumption that we are defined by our work, our relationships, our living situation and the ‘stuff’ in our lives – the outside in, rather than the inside out. But an ‘enlightened leader’ knows that purpose is at the core of a satisfied life, and focuses time and effort to ensure that work and business support that purpose. More importantly, the more it relates to ‘making a difference’, the more motivating it can be. As Daniel Pink, author of ‘Drive, The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us’ writes:
‘The most deeply motivated people – not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied – hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves’.
So how to discover your unique life purpose? How to connect with it, and then live in alignment with it – 24/7? Your life purpose reveals itself through your gifts, your strengths and talents; through what you love to do. It is the ‘sweet spot’ in your life – the intersection of where your values, skill and passion make a difference through your work. It is unique to each and every individual, it is unique to you. Why? Because you are unique. So even though someone else may articulate their purpose in an almost identical way, it won’t reveal itself in the same way, and won’t look the same on the outside. Nor will you experience it the same way as anybody else. It’s a relationship – it’s a part of you, it’s part of your DNA, and yet it is also somehow bigger than you, it stretches you beyond your limited idea of who you are – to who you truly are.
In my next blog I’ll outline my 5-step process to help you define and clarify your purpose.