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What’s Your Purpose? (Part 1)

Note: This resource is part of our Moving the Bar in Your Career and Your Life, a unique approach to professional development series: My 3 Ps: Passion, Purpose, Potential. Click here to see the entire series.

“Hi, my name’s Kevin. So…what’s your purpose?”, I ask. “What? Wow, Kevin, where did that come from?”, you respond. I know, I know. There are so many things to do. You’re so busy it seems that you barely have enough time to breath, let alone think about something as seemingly abstract and elusive as what you want to do with your life. Plus, there’s plenty of time for that later, right? Well, not really.

Not if you want to maximize your chances of being successful. We all have goals and ambitions in life, but too often we let our dreams slide by without taking action. And if you don’t have a clear idea about what you really want to accomplish with your life, then how do you know if what you’re spending your frenzied time on is the right stuff to get you there? So many people work hard and are constantly busy (if not overwhelmed), but to what end? Often, they’ve lost sight of their “bigger picture”…if there even is one to begin with. And without a clear purpose, it’s impossible to be as effective as you should be with your time and your life.

To help illustrate this point: Imagine two people who are dissatisfied with their current situation of living in New York City. They each wish to achieve a new goal and to do so must drive from their current location to a new destination. Sally has a plan (a purpose) and knows that she wants to go to Los Angeles and, therefore, takes a direct route, traveling approximately 2,800 miles. Tom only knows that he wants to make a change, but doesn’t know where he’s going. He drives to Atlanta, then Minneapolis, Dallas, Denver, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City and finally Seattle, arriving 5,800 miles later. Now, not only did Tom end up in an unplanned-for location, but he can only hope that Seattle is an appropriate destination for him. Plus, he traveled over 5,800 miles to get there. Google Maps suggests a much more direct route from NYC to Seattle of about 2,900 miles – half of the distance that Tom actually traveled! Not knowing where you want to go or how to get there is not a very effective way to live purposefully.

Dr. Paul Rosch has said that “Too often, we are adrift on the sea of life.” Well, I say, “Drop anchor!” To live a purposeful life, it’s critical to first know your purpose. Just as an organization’s vision acts as a statement of potential and a description of what it wants to become, a personal purpose statement gives shape and direction to your life. We may be busy, we may even be efficient, but we will only be effective if we live with the end in mind. Seeing clearly into the distant future is similar to walking into a dimly-lit room: all you have to do is keep your eyes open long enough and they will begin to focus accurately on what is ahead.

So, if you know your purpose and are actively living it, that’s awesome! Keep it up. Part 2 of this series should still be a healthy refresher for you. However, if you don’t know your purpose, then it’s to your detriment not to get busy working on that. How to get started will be covered next time.