Reference Guide: Purpose

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Module Reference Guide

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall 1

Our values are the foundation of our strategy, the rock on which everything else rests. Our purpose and aspirations sit at the top of the strategy map framework, representing our direction, legacy, and motivation. The development of purpose and aspirations can be an iterative lifelong journey of learning about yourself. Allow yourself to consider and create who you want to be and how you want to be in the world. Allow history to inform but not dictate your future. Having some idea of your purpose is better than none.

Japanese culture defines ‘ikigai’, which is the overlap between what you’re good at, what you love, what the world needs, and what the world will reward you for. Simon Sinek refers to purpose as your ‘why’ in his 2009 TED talk 2. His work has inspired the creation of a purpose statement using the formula: what you do so that you can contribute to some better future. The power of purpose is that it makes us look beyond ourselves to how we can contribute to the greater good. Purpose provides us with meaning.

A more anecdotal definition of purpose is ‘the reason we get up in the morning.’ Particularly in times of fear, loss and uncertainty, this familiar framing of purpose is a useful one. It is natural to feel inclined to focus on mere survival in difficult times and wait for it all to end before getting back to existential questions or long-term thinking. Understanding our purpose – the way our unique skills can meet the needs of the world – has been shown to reduce anxiety, sharpen focus, and even improve our physical health.3

Simply put, purpose is the rationale, the reason, the ‘why’ for what we do. Being clearer on your own sense of self, what you believe and what’s important to you, helps you focus on your two most precious resources, time and energy, more effectively and makes the choices in the present much easier to make.

Having a purpose that gives meaning to your life makes the choices in the present much easier. When you are on a journey, heading to something meaningful, then when you have multiple choices in the present, you choose those things which help on the journey. You fill your days with things that count.

Many of us find it difficult to identify what our true purpose is. Others have a feeling that they know what it is, but are forced to conform to society’s norms and reject their real purpose in the name of practicality.

We discover our purpose; it is an “uncovering” rather than a forced creation.  Our essential purpose is often clouded by the pressures and expectations of the society we are brought up in and the people around us, including our family and friends.  It can take time to unearth the false beliefs we have taken on board.

“And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?”  – Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime 1981 4

At any age, stage, or station of life, you can get a disturbing feeling that there must be more to life than you are currently experiencing. This is often particularly acute when at a crossroads in life or in some form of transition or change. Although you may have a wealth of information about what your purpose is not, you may not have clarity on what that ‘something that I am meant to do’ is. You ask yourself questions such as:

  • How did I get here, and is this where I want to be?
  • What’s next? What am I meant to be doing?
  • What is all this for?
  • Who am I, and what’s my identity?
  • Where do I fit?
  • How do I make my life more meaningful?
  • Am I good enough?

The purpose exercises will help you explore your purpose for yourself and others, and as you progress through the rest of the programme, come back to these questions that perplex you and address them periodically.  

Your purpose for yourself provides a sense of your future possibilities and your passion for something yet to be done in your life and gives you a clearer sense of the future. Widening out your purpose to include others provides a shared sense of future possibilities and clarity on how you can work together to contribute and make a positive difference for the greater good. Once you have a sense of this, choices in the present can be aligned individually and collectively to being the best we can be to shape the future.

Consider how your talent and your passion connect with what the world needs, what difference you want to make and how you want to make that difference in the world.  Allow the reflection and exploration that you do in developing your Personal Strategy to inform and clarify and curate your purpose during the course of the programme.