If you are feeling like you are not fully engaged in your work, in a key relationship, or in life in general, you may feel stuck. Are you circling a roundabout, unsure what to do to improve your situation? You may be asking:
- Where do I exit this roundabout?
- What decisions in my life am I delaying or avoiding?
- How can I make the most of my time and other resources?
In my Roundabout Hero™ series, I share how three Ps - Position, Perspective, and Purpose - are key components to helping you get unstuck. I have created a series of articles around Position , Perspective and Purpose to help guide you from your current position, your Point A, to where you wish to go, your Point B.
Here, I will share insights and exercises on the third part of this series, Purpose.
What is Purpose?
The word purpose is used frequently, especially in self-help content. It is often used interchangeably with mission but there are distinctions between the two. Your mission is the overlying arc of what you do; the business. Your purpose is the unifying principle and answers the question, why?
There are over 5,000 results on Amazon for “books on purpose.” It is a popular subject. One of my favorites is Start With Why by Simon Sinek where he asks and answers the question: “Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential and more profitable than others?” Sinek states that these successful people and companies all have something in common. They have first answered the question, WHY? Why a product? Why a service? Why a movement?
While we’ve been taught that having a purpose is a good thing, what exactly is it?
I found a useful definition in the article, “The Psychology of Purpose,” located at templeton.org. The John Templeton Foundation organization has a stated purpose of enabling people to create lives of purpose and meaning.
They have defined purpose in psychological terms as, “A stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once personally meaningful and at the same time leads to productive engagement with some aspect of the world beyond the self.”
Let’s look deeper at the terms within this definition.
- Intention: You choose your actions deliberately.
- Accomplish: You set a goal and take action to achieve it.
- Personally meaningful: You find significance in the actions you take.
- Productive engagement: You create a positive outcome by your actions.
- Beyond the self: You impact others in a beneficial way.
I’m going to return to our definitions of mission and purpose for a moment here, using the Walt Disney organization as an example.
A mission statement completes the statement, “We are in the business of…” A purpose statement goes deeper. The purpose, the why, does not change - but it inspires change.
Disney aims to inspire, to create a feeling. Their main purpose of creating happiness for others flows through every aspect of their operations, from the ticket sellers to the ride guides to the hotel staff and to the entertainers.
It’s a happy place, and as an entertainer for many years at Disney, I have heard that phrase over and over from both kids and adults. They have even painted inspirational phrases on the walls backstage! A well-stated purpose is an emotional aspiration.
When you take the time to reflect upon your purpose (even if you aren’t actively pursuing a business), you make an invaluable investment in yourself and in those who you can impact by executing your mission. Get FREE Purpose Workbook Download
What are the Benefits of Purpose?
Most of us, at some point in our lives, experience the feeling of being stuck. Being stuck can cause you to feel unsettled, anxious, depressed, and even despondent.
Maybe we are unsure of what to do when our life brings changes like being laid off, becoming an empty nester, retiring, or going through a shift in our health or marital status.
We find ourselves circling the roundabout, not knowing which exit to take because we are unsure about where we want to go facing doubt, confusion and even fear. We are uncertain of our desired Position, our Point B.
Purpose is the engine behind the decisive exit of your roundabout. Having a compelling purpose encapsulates what matters deeply to you. This purpose connects you with something greater than yourself. Purpose has the ability to:
- Propel your growth. When you are inspired, you want to learn, grow, and expand your horizons. You want to know more. You want to be more by performing to your best abilities. You expand your thinking, opening yourself to new ideas and opportunities. You can fuel and solidify your purpose by becoming a sponge for knowledge by consuming quality materials and content, sharing and discussing ideas with others, and examining varied perspectives.
- Focus your actions. When you feel stuck, you are uncertain which lane you should be in and which exit to take. Purpose enables you to narrow your choices when choosing between multiple options. It helps guide your choices, illuminating the path you will follow. Despite living in a world full of distractions, you enjoy greater focus.
- Provide inspiration. When you are circling a roundabout, you can feel indecisive, lethargic, and even depressed. When you have purpose, you often feel determined, energized, and motivated to get out of bed in the morning.
- Build your resilience. Life provides you with an abundance of challenges, great and small. Purpose helps you through the tough times because you know why it is important to keep pressing ahead. Author Viktor Frankl, imprisoned by the Nazis for three years in four different concentration camps including Auschwitz, wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946 after the war ended. He included a quote in his book attributed to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” Frankl’s why to help others helped him survive his own imprisonment.
- Create additional and deeper connections. In your desire to further your purpose and increase your impact, you may have the opportunity to expand your network and connect more deeply with others who share your interests and passions. Purpose can also help identify those in your circle who you may have outgrown.
- Draw others to you. Purpose serves as a magnet, drawing in others to want to know more about your efforts and maybe even to join you. Your conviction and action can serve as an inspiration to others. They may want to be part of the actions you are taking or use your example as a model to find and live their purpose.
- Create life satisfaction and happiness. You can attempt to chase happiness, but per Viktor Frankl, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” When you instead focus on your purpose, your capacity for happiness can follow. Living your purpose can provide deep satisfaction in knowing that you are using your resources - your skills, talents, experience, time, and money - toward a pursuit of something positive, impactful, and bigger than yourself.
Why is Purpose Important?
I’ve now shared what purpose can do for you - propel your growth, focus your actions, provide inspiration, build your resilience, create better connections, draw others to you, and create satisfaction and happiness.
What do these benefits of purpose have in common?
- You are empowered to perform to your best ability.
- You connect with yourself and others in a meaningful way.
- You receive immense physical and mental health benefits.
Purpose may also help you live longer. In a study of 6,985 American adults aged 51 to 61 published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network in May 2019, researchers found that a stronger purpose in life is linked with decreased mortality.
NPR covered this study, summarizing that study participants without a strong life purpose were more likely to die sooner than those with strong purpose, especially of cardiovascular disease. NPR reported that the study results showed that the relationship between purpose and mortality held regardless of gender, race, education level, or economic status.
NPR wrote that the association between purpose and mortality was so compelling that purpose “appeared to be more important for decreasing risk of death than drinking, smoking or exercising regularly.”
A Case Study in Purpose - Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl (mentioned and quoted above) was an Austrian psychiatrist, philosopher, neurologist, and author. He is the founder of logotherapy, a form of therapy to help people find meaning and purpose in their lives.
Viktor survived multiple years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, though his entire family perished. His book Man’s Search for Meaning, written soon after his release from the Tuerkheim camp near Dachau, remains an enduring exploration of life, love, suffering, sacrifice, attitude, and choice amidst the backdrop of cruelty, starvation, sickness, and mass murder.
He found that, despite the dehumanization experienced by the prisoners, many were able to hold on to their sense of self. What did those who survived this unfathomable ordeal have in common?
While the survivors weren’t always the strongest in a physical sense, they had inner strength. They were mentally resilient. And they had a reason to live. They were fueled by a purpose that enabled them to stay strong in the face of abject misery. They needed to stay alive to achieve a goal they set out to attain. They needed to stay alive to help their fellow prisoners and retain hope of being reunited with their families.
Part of Viktor’s purpose in the camps was to help newly arriving prisoners to overcome the shock of their new situation. He worked to keep them from committing suicide. From his book he quotes, “The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.”
The power of purpose is evident in the survival of so many in those camps.
You may be thinking, “Okay Deb, I got it. Having a purpose is beneficial in so many ways. But how do I know my purpose?”
Knowing what your purpose can be challenging. Your purpose can be different at various stages of your life. In my second article on the topic of Purpose, I will discuss this further with thoughts on uncovering your purpose.
Purpose helps you through the tough times because you know why it is important to keep pressing ahead.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
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