Let’s Talk About…Purpose

It’s hard to move forward if you don’t know why you’re doing it, so find your Purpose – says Davina Greene.

Davina Greene is The Personal Strategy Coach – a coach, trainer, and People consultant based in Dublin, Ireland. This column was first published in Irish Tatler magazine. 

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Have you ever taken the time to contemplate your Purpose? Beyond the bigger question of “Who are we, and why are we here?”, have you ever sat yourself down to decide the meaning of it all for you?

I see so many people suffer increasing – but unexplained – anxiety and negativity, yet as soon as we start discussing Purpose, things suddenly start making sense. They have perhaps heard of Vision, but talk of Vision is so often talk of desired bank balances, home sizes and locations, partners and kids. Purpose, on the other hand, seems to force people to dig a little deeper. I love the concept of ‘soul’, and I really think that that’s what it reflects.

Many people live on auto-pilot; knowing your Purpose can change that. What is a Purpose? It’s simply an over-arching driver against which you can check all of your activities and choices in life – if they are aligned, you feel good; if they are out of sync, you feel not-so-good. Mine is:

“To help people make the most of life, mentally and physically, leading by example”.

Very short version of my story: after 13 years in the corporate world, out of nowhere my talk in coaching sessions turned to themes of ‘helping and educating people’, my coach pointed out I had a whole new hyper-enthusiastic personality when I spoke on these themes, and I then realised that I was entirely unaligned. So, now I’m a coach and trainer. But I could also be a doctor, nurse, fitness instructor, teacher, or counsellor… Purpose is never negatively limiting of our actions in life; it is, rather, positively corrective of our actions.

Do you have to leave your job if it doesn’t sit perfectly with your Purpose? Not at all. There are 168 hours in your week – if I assume you work 37 and sleep 56, then you still have 75 hours for Purpose-related activities. If there are aspects of your current role that can help you to work towards your Purpose during those 75 hours (money, security, general peace of mind), great. Once you make that conscious decision, you remove work’s power over your emotions. There is now a bigger picture.

How do you define your Purpose? Firstly, switch yourself out of “school mode”. Nobody is going to tell you that your answer is right or wrong, and nobody is pushing you to decide your purpose in the next hour, week, or even month. Secondly, you grab a pen and paper and keep it near you – now that you’ve asked yourself the question, all sorts of words, phrases, people and situations are going to be noticed by you and may well contribute to your final statement. Your Purpose should not chop and change from month to month, but you may find yourself refining the odd word here and there as your perspective sharpens with time and experience.

Some people’s Purpose is very broad and could relate to the whole world (like mine); others may be so narrow as to relate only to themselves (“to live an extreme life” could perhaps be the purpose of someone who intends to spend every day travelling the world, hurling themselves off bridges and out of airplanes).

Always remember, you cannot tell another person what their Purpose is. You can encourage and display both Values and Purpose, and hope that the combination in some way inspires (think of Princess Diana’s impact on Princes William and Harry’s activities and attitudes today), but that’s about all. On the negative side, where there is no sense of, or understanding of, Purpose, we are seeing how terrorist organisations are so easily stepping in to fill that gap for young people. Let’s work to avoid that.

So, off you go…start the process of defining your Purpose. When you know it, why not come visit me on Facebook or Twitter and #stateyourpurpose? I’d love to hear them all!

Key Points

  1. Purpose is a statement of your overarching driver in life
  2. Purpose may take time to finalise, but is unlikely to change significantly, once set
  3. Consider, if there was no such thing as work, how would you spend your time?
  4. Consider what makes you extremely happy, sad, or angry – what you passionately react to.
  5. Do not try to tell a person what their Purpose is – just lead by example.