Imagine the most successful person you know. It could be a family member, friend or contact – or even a public figure. Or, think of someone who inspires you with their mission, ambition and vision for life. And then ask yourself: what is their purpose?
Chances are, for the most successful people in the world, the purpose behind their actions is pretty clear. Maybe it’s a sense of wanting to create change, or wanting to contribute to society. Maybe it’s the desire to solve a problem that needs fixing, or fight for something that matters. Perhaps it’s a personal drive for excellence – a personality trait that moves them forwards. Whatever the answer, one thing is clear: a strong sense of purpose often fuels achievement and success.
Now, turn your attention to yourself. Do you feel connected to a greater sense of purpose? Would you know how to articulate it? If someone asked you what your purpose was, would you know how to respond? If you’re not sure, you’re in the right place. This article will take you through a set of brief steps to start working on your purpose – or rediscover a sense of purpose that was with you all along.
Purpose over time
It’s worth noting that purpose-finding is not a one-time project. As we evolve throughout our lives, our sense of purpose will – and should! – change with us. Human beings are complex, and our ideas about what we want to do with our lives are flexible. Purpose-finding work should be an ongoing process, a part of personal development over a long period of time. We might even find that the process itself (navigating and exploring our ideas of purpose) can teach us more about ourselves than we’d previously imagined.
Purpose for students
It’s been a difficult year for students, full of uncertainty and rapid changes. If you’re feeling like you’ve lost your motivation or ambition, you won’t be alone. But times of uncertainty and change can also be great opportunities for personal growth. By taking the chance to explore ideas of purpose now, you’ll be setting yourself up with secure foundations for the return to ‘normal’ ahead. And you might just find that the work itself provides you with a new source of motivation and energy to fuel your journey.
In brief, here are a few exercises you can use to get started on your purpose-orientated work. If you would like personalised help, support or advice on any of these exercises, please reach out to Expert Tuition, who can set up a tutoring session with Eloise.
The ‘foundational why’
In this exercise, take a blank sheet of paper and write out one of your biggest goals. Don’t worry too much about finding the perfect goal – you can always revisit and replicate this exercise with other goals at a later stage. For now, just write down (ideally in a single line) a goal you really want to go for.
Next, write down why you want that thing. Once you have this initial why, see if you can keep going deeper, asking ‘why’ to each answer you give. After a few levels, you’ll probably reach a place that feels like your deepest why – and be honest with yourself as you reach it. When you get clarity on your ‘foundational why’, you can either use it as a source of motivation (keep checking in with it as you make your way towards your goal), or you can use it to re-evaluate your goals and ambitions (do you really feel connected to the ultimate ‘why’ behind your work? Do your goals or actions need to change as a result of your findings?).
Your mission statement
Once you have a sense of your ‘foundational why’, you can use it to craft a personal mission statement. Mission statements often work best with powerful, assertive language – they should be confident, action-orientated and bold. To start, you can use the phrase: “my mission is…” – and then you can remove this part once you have your statement. Here’s a basic example:
“My mission is…
…to be an inspiration to my community, and to lead a balanced life.”
This mission statement identifies two aspects: community and self-care. One is externally-focused (inspiring others), and the other is internally-focused (making sure life is set up in a balanced way). Notice, too, the things that are not present within this mission statement – career goals, or grand ambitions about changing the world. That’s not to say they won’t have a place in your mission statement, but it does demonstrate what is important to this particular person. The things you leave out of your mission statement are just as important as the things you choose to include.
The reframing exercise
Sometimes ‘purpose-finding work’ is about discovery, but sometimes it’s about uncovering the purpose that was present all along. This is the art of ‘reframing’: thinking through the reality of your day-to-day existence, to find the depth and direction that sits just beneath the surface.
To get you started on the reframing process, here are a few questions.
- Who are you helping in the course of your day-to-day life?
Make a list of all the people you help directly: your friends, your colleagues, your bosses, your family members, your neighbours, your community (and so on). Once you have the list, take a long look through it. Is it possible to see a consistent thread between the types of people you help, and the way in which you help them?
- Does your dream job have an overarching purpose or mission?
Imagine you could work your dream job. What makes that job different from others? Does it have a particular service – or way of delivering a service – that makes it unique?
- Can you find pockets of purpose in your existing routines?
Even if you don’t see your life and work as delivering a sense of purpose (yet), there are nearly always opportunities to spot pockets of purpose for yourself. What about volunteering projects, or mentoring, or creative expression? Sometimes even a simple chat with a junior colleague or younger family member can deliver a moment of purpose in an otherwise monotonous day.
Armed with these exercises – and with consistency, determination and passion – you’ll be well-prepared for the purpose-orientated life that lies ahead of you.