The Power of Purpose & How to Find Yours
I reconnected this week with a founder that I’d fallen out of touch with for a bit. He’s the kind of smart, determined, charismatic person who just feels like he was born to found and lead a business. And yet, as of late, his company has been sputtering a bit. He shared how he’d been feeling disengaged and disconnected from his own sense of personal purpose.
This isn't an uncommon story. When a leader's life revolves around the business, their personal sense of purpose can easily drift away. It’s happened to me and it’s happened to many other leaders that I’ve met.
In this mode, work dwindles to be little more than the latest revenue numbers. And when the metrics aren’t moving, it’s deflating. Your energy drops and staying on the path becomes a challenge. Hell, even when the metrics are moving, it doesn’t feel right, just easier to ignore for a period of time.
Then, a day or so later, during a short break, I stumbled upon a Reddit post asking a similar question: “How can I find my WHY?” There was only a single, rather unhelpful response so I offered an approach that worked for me.
I felt it was worth sharing in greater detail here.
Why Start with Why
Throughout our lives, we're bombarded with messages about who we should be and why. It's a cacophony of voices—teachers urging good grades for a promising future, parents cautioning against being too loud one day, then encouraging assertiveness the next.
These voices, often from people who hold power over us, are disorienting for a young child. We buy into some of these stories about who we need to be in order to belong. In doing so, we lose track of who we really are and what really matters.
That’s why, as fully resourced adults, it is a powerful choice to reclaim what was lost and become clear on why we are here.
Discovering Your Purpose in Your Past
Purpose lies in revisiting our childhood, exploring what we lost when we bought into those voices that convinced us to be someone else.
If you want to explore your own purpose, ponder this question:
What did the young me most long for that he/she didn't get?
For me, I wanted to feel connected and accepted.
We moved when I was growing up. At my new school, friends didn’t come easy for me. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and that I needed to be someone else to fit in or belong. I felt alone and I was alone. Even as I type these words I feel the tug of sorrow remembering afternoons spent alone playing Nintendo rather than playing with friends.
The gift of purpose lives within our wound.
Holding Onto Your Purpose
When you touch that wound and encounter this sense of purpose it can be helpful to just sit with the energy for a bit. You might feel a deep sadness (like I do) or perhaps anger at what was lost. Or you might remember times in your life when you felt the most aliveness and joy. Times when you were, living on purpose. For me, volunteering for a month at summer camp, living in my university dorm, and a period of time when a friend lived with me during a hard season in his life - all situations of deep connection in environments where I and others were fully welcomed just as they were.
After connecting with the energy of your purpose (your WHY), it’s useful to put it into words so you can tap into it anytime. Don’t obsess about the perfect words, just get something directionally right that you can refine over time.
Here’s a template that can be a useful starting point:
I create a world of (the thing you most wanted but didn’t have as a child) by (clear actions that you are committed to taking).
I like this format because it names the deep truth of the type of world that the young you wanted and then urges living that out through action.
Here’s my purpose statement: I create a world of connection and belonging by extending my hand, intentionally building culture, and living as a role model.
I use this to remind me that the simple act of extending my hand to say hello, offer help, or give helps people feel seen. And helps me feel seen.
Intentionally building culture reminds me that I have a role to play in shaping the communities that I am a part of. When I lack intention to culture building, I take, I play the victim, I am passive. When I build culture, I pursue connection, meaning, and impact.
Living as a role model reminds me that I have experienced far too few people who were proud of who they were and lived a purpose-driven life. This last one is a scary but useful for me, setting a standard of accountability on how I live.
Most of all, my mission is a useful reminder that I have gifts and that I choose to give those gifts. To help others, but more so to help myself. I’ve lived many years of failing to give my gifts and those were the hardest ones for me.
You too have gifts, born from who you are and from what was missing in your younger years. Know them, then give them.
I’ll close with a favorite poem, one that speaks the truth of purpose more eloquently than I am able.
Cargo, by Greg Kimura
You enter life a ship laden with meaning, purpose and gifts
sent to be delivered to a hungry world.
And as much as the world needs your cargo,
you need to give it away.
Everything depends on this.
But the world forgets its needs,
and you forget your mission,
and the ancestral maps used to guide you
have become faded scrawls on the parchment of dead Pharaohs.
The cargo weighs you heavy the longer it is held
and spoilage becomes a risk.
The ship sputters from port to port and at each you ask:
“Is this the way?"
But the way cannot be found without knowing the cargo,
and the cargo cannot be known without recognizing there is a way,
and it is simply this:
You have gifts.
The world needs your gifts.
You must deliver them.
The world may not know it is starving,
but the hungry know,
and they will find you
when you discover your cargo
and start to give it away.