Finding Your Purpose
After last weeks post on purpose, a lot of the feedback I received was “that’s fantastic to understand your WHY, but how do I find it?
The work world is tough. Wake up, go to work, deal with the boss (or if you are the boss, deal with everyone), make money (ideally to make more this year, than last year), come home, manage personal life, go to bed, wake up, and repeat. That’s plenty to deal with every day. Why get fancy (and waste time) by trying to also understand why you do what you do? The answer to that question isn’t fancy; it’s simple. Whether you’re reading this as an entrepreneur, an employee, as a leader of a team or a division or you want to tackle the WHY of your entire organization, discovering the WHY injects passion into our work. For Walt Disney, to find ‘JOY’ unlocked the magical kingdom and brought happiness to millions.
Studies show that a sense of purpose makes us more resilient, improves health, increases life satisfaction and, according to one medical study, even helps people with chronic conditions feel less distressed. Research from North America even found that people who said they had a sense of purpose lived longer than those who didn’t – regardless of what age they found their Why. Need any more convincing?
Having a Why gives us direction. It gives us something to long for, to yearn for. An end point. A reason for being. When times get tough, if you don’t know why you do what you do, it’s really easy to give up, to throw it all away – and to believe it’s not actually worth all the struggle, heartache and pain.
When you have a reason for being, it’s so much easier to keep going. It gives you reserves of hustle that you didn’t even know you had, which give you the fight, energy and willpower you need to move mountains and take the next step in your journey, whatever that is.
One of the hardest things to predict about finding your WHY is how long it takes. For some, the process goes more quickly, and for others, more slowly. There is no “right” amount of time. What’s important is to stick with each stage (outlined below) until you feel confident about moving on to the next one.
Lisa Messenger says that once you know your Why, the How has a way of working itself out.
So outside of the the Japanese way to help you find your Purpose, there are 7 further steps for you to unlock your WHY
1. Get Clarity on Who you Are
As Michael Margolis states: “Character trumps Credentials” so this section delves into our core rather than our ‘achievements’.
As he points out: there are lots of different exercises that are going to help you to take an inventory, help you to identify: what are the ingredients in your story? A lot of this is about giving people entry points for connection. You want to make it easier for people to discover something they share in common with you.
It’s a matter of going back and collecting those seeds and connecting the dots, so that you have a sense of a story that lets people know: Wow, this is a person who has a clear sense of purpose, who is on a path, whose entire life story has conspired despite the twist and the turns.
Where were you born? Who were your parents? What education did you undertake (formal and informal)? What do you want in life? What makes you tick? What makes you come alive? What wakes you up? What inspires you? What do others say about you? What are the recurring themes in your life?
2. Identify Distinctive Strengths
A distinctive strength is something that ou do well that others within your sphere do not. Pairing this strength with a need to be met or problem to be solved gives you the momentum necessary to move into hypergrowth.
The following list of questions is not exhaustive, but it will get you started:
What difficult circumstances have you had to overcome? What skills have helped you survive? What are you good at? What made you different, even an oddball, as a child? What are you willing to fight for? Where do you think you add greatest value? What do you value? What’s your personal vision? What are your non-negotiables in life? What do you believe in? What makes you stand out from the crowd? What wakes you up in the morning? What compliments do you shrug off?
3.Gather Your Stories
Each of us has only one WHY. It’s not a statement about who we aspire to be; it expresses who we are when we are at our natural best. At its core the WHY is an origin story. At its core, the WHY is an origin story. By looking to our past and teasing out the most significant threads – the experiences we have had, the people we’ve been influenced by, the lives we have touched and the highs and lows we’ve faced – we can identify patterns.
For individuals, our WHY is normally fully formed by our late-teens. To uncover our WHY we must bring together our standout memories – our defining moments – and examine them to find the connections.
4. Share Your Stories
The more specific the memories, the better. Rediscovering the details, the feelings, the conversations, the lessons learned will offer clues to who you are and what your WHY is. The more stories you can recover and share, the more data you will compile. And the more data you can draw on, the more easily you’ll begin to see the recurring ideas or themes.
Press your memory for the stories that have made the biggest difference in your life. Some occasions you recall may be momentous, but many wont be. What’s important is the quality of the memory, the specific detail you remember and the strong emotion you feel as you tell the story to someone else. Because it is very difficult to be objective and see the golden threads if we keep the magic insular.
Are you wondering: “this may take ten years of therapy?” Relax there’s no coach required. You’ll come up with as many specific, impactful memories as you can – at least ten. Once you’ve got them all down, you’ll choose about five or six that made the biggest difference in your life and share them in as much detail as you can.
5. Develop Themes / Personal Values
As you pan for your stories and share them, themes will start to emerge, insights about yourself or your team that you may never have expressed before. As the process unfolds, one or two of these nuggets will seem to shine brighter than all others. They will feel bigger, more important. They will shine so brightly that you will point to them and say, “That’s me – that’s who I am”. These themes become the foundation of your Purpose Statement. They could also form your personal / family team values. The Purpose work I undertook as a solo dad led to myself and my three kids to come up with our family values:
6.Draft Your Purpose Statement
With one or two shiny nuggets in hand, you are ready to take a crack at your Purpose Statement. Try to make yours:
- Simple & Clear
- Focused on the effect you’ll have on others and
- Expressed in affirmative language that resonates with you
Using this formula by Simon Sinek, I have constructed mine to be the following:
TO shine a light in the dark SO THAT teams ignite with passion and individuals walk through darkness and find their light
TO inspire people to do the things that inspire them, SO THAT, together, we can change the world.
7.Create Your Story
Our Story is everlasting and must be relevant in both your personal and professional life. It is a statement of your value at work as much as the reason your friends love you. We don’t have a Professional Why and a Personal Why. We are who we are wherever we are. Your contribution is not a product or a service. It’s the thing around which everything you do – the decisions you make, the tasks you perform, the products you sell – aligns to bring about the impact you envision.
My story can be found at marktruelson.com
Part 2 of the Interview with Lisa Messenger (the ‘edited’ highlights)
How to Find Your Why
“Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility.” Oprah Winfrey
Q. How did you go about finding your why?
Lots of therapy!!
It is more understanding your weaknesses and getting comfortable with that.
Plenty of us try to do it all. When I realize that I am terrible at detail, I am just the most shocking person on the planet. So I now have people who do that. There are so many things that I am bad at and I know that now. I used to be quite anxious when I was caught up in things that I was not good at. So I know don’t feel bad outsourcing my weaknesses and being surrounded by awesome people who are great at my deficiencies.
And what I am great at is being a visionary and a connector, someone who can see problems and then solutions. I love this process. You get challenged and you feel alive solving these kind of things.
I can deal with immensely large issues. I don’t even flinch. But if there are dead flowers in the office it drives me mental. It is getting comfortable with what your trigger points are. If I see all these little things I cannot even deal. So if they are removed I can do what I do best.
Here’s the real magic of finding your Why: once you know it, the How is unlocked.
And your How is free to move and flow, morph, iterate, pivot and change, depending on external needs.
Once you know your Why, the How has a way of working itself out.
You want to find your Why. You know it’s close, nearby; it’s been hanging around the fringes for months, maybe years, waiting for you to gather the courage and strength and energy to tackle it with two hands.
Or perhaps it’s going to be a complete surprise to you. I always knew that I wanted to connect with people in a meaningful way and create a platform for others to shine, innovate and grow. But, never in a million years did I imagine that the platform I would choose to launch with would be a global magazine. So, you never quite know what form your Why will take, do you?
How you can find it? There are so many different ways. Essentially – and here’s the bad news – there isn’t a shortcut, quick fix, pill or elixir. You need to put in the work and feel into what you love.
What makes you feel good? What feels effortless and in flow (even when it’s hard)? What kind of projects and tasks make you excited to tackle them (things that strengthen you)? And what makes you retract, feel small or uninspired (things that weaken you)?
It’s often said that we teach what we need to learn, so what are you missing in your own life?
- What are, or have been, your pain points in life – mental, emotional, physical or otherwise?
- What do people say you are good at?
- Do you thrive when offering acts of service?
- Do you like to connect with people?
- Do people refer to you as a natural ‘helper’ or ‘giver’?
You need to be open to feedback. And open to the parameters of feedback. You have to be open because a lot of times feedback is a mirror to what your boss is thinking. So I often pre-frame things by saying “I am open to this, if you have an experience around this…”
Sometimes we are not good at understanding our strengths so being a keen listener helps. Sometimes you will hear “you are really good at this” and patterns will emerge.
But be careful about the external validation piece until you build up the internal bank of gratitude. If you listen too much by the external you can be overtly guided by that.
Diving deeper here: what are all the experiences in your life that have led you to this point?
I want you to get gritty and really think about the hard, uninspiring, challenging, uncomfortable and even cringe-worthy or shameful experiences of your life. Trust me when I say that this is where the gold is.
This next point is almost counterintuitive but so very, very important. As you work through these questions, don’t overthink the answers. Just let them come.
Stop over-analysing, reviewing and forcing things to take shape, and let your Why come to you. It will probably hit you in the strangest of moments. And when it lands, it will make absolute perfect sense.
Step 1: Get clear on who you are?
- Ask yourself the tough questions.
- Make it visual
- Make a vision board
When I started a book publishing business, I had only written one book myself. A book is a one-dimensional beast compared to a magazine and everything that comes with it. I wrote my first book ‘Happiness” because I was so unhappy. Like desperately unhappy. This is interesting because the Lisa that everyone ‘knows’ is a complete flip on the Lisa pre book publishing. I was literally drinking myself to death. Hadn’t spoken to my parents for three years. Got married to a guy I had nothing in common with.
So I was desperately unhappy and living a life according to the expectations of others (of who I should be, what I should do). I was very confused. So I went around Australia and asked people what made them happy. So I was in my own search. It was then that I looked at traditional publishing versus self-publishing.
I then looked to my background in sponsorship and this platform then became the fundamental basis behind Collective Hub. In Australia best sellers equate to 5000 books sold. I looked at that and thought well with Corporates spending so much on ‘objects’ as giveaways (e.g. ‘squeegee balls and mouse mats’), surely they could buy a book on happiness. I literally started cold calling and one of the first ones was Clinique and they bought 2000 copies. I then rang Mercedes and said, “Why don’t you incentivize test drives”. I had no experience at all but I started to think logically about distribution channels. The clincher was I rung up Officeworks and I saw that they were giving away yoga mats with $200 spent. “Surely a book on happiness matches that.” I got a call from someone in procurement and they said, “we will take 10,000 copies!!!”
I then was asked to publish books for other people and the skills and seeds were sown for my WHY. Collective Hub is the Happiness book experience on steroids.
The only way I can step into my Purpose is that I have experienced so many things and emotions over the years. That is where our strength comes from and our ability to remain steadfast.
Step 2: Make intentional space to put your why into words
When you think about your life, your purpose, your ideas and where you see yourself heading, what kinds of thoughts and feelings come up for you? Now, these are some pretty heavy-duty questions – and you may have to take yourself out of your day-to-day grind to start answering them.
When I was recently in India (purposefully removed geographically to another continent to ensure I had the time and space to just be…) I wrote. A lot. The ramblings, thoughts, ideas and insights that poured out of me over those days (and the weeks that followed) formed the basis of my latest book. They also enabled me to reconfirm my Why, which in turn enabled me to come home and enlighten and enliven my team again.
Giving myself intentional space really allowed me to journey deeper into my own personal Why and my life’s purpose, which I couldn’t have done in the bustle of day-to-day life. It also gave me a delightful excuse to watch, read, listen and consume everything about purpose from the greats – the people and leaders I admire.
It is so much bigger than you. When it lands, it just feels effortless, like it’s the most natural thing in the world for you to do. It shouldn’t be something forced and it shouldn’t be an overthought.
It should just land and flow, easily and naturally.
It might come to you in the middle of the night, as you stand in the shower or while you wait for an elevator. It might be triggered by something you see, a conversation you have or a combination of events, memories and meetings that compound into an idea that feels like the missing jigsaw piece in your life.
It might feel like it comes out of nowhere but, when you explore it, examine it, dig out its roots and dissect it, you will probably find that it is not entirely new.
It might not be the most obvious thing when it lands – it might not even be the thing you thought you were working towards. But in hindsight, it will all make perfect sense. Once you sink into your Why, you’ll be absolutely amazed at how your life shifts, how incredible new doors open up, how opportunities you hadn’t dared to even dream of suddenly fall within reach.
When I found my Why, everything changed. It seemingly happened out of nowhere, but the more I reflected on it, it made absolute, complete sense to me.
It was exactly what I had been (unconsciously) building towards my entire life.
And I do mean: my entire life!
The career you chose, the skills you learnt, the mistakes you made, the failures you faced and the people you’ve met along the way haven’t been wasted – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Every little thing you have worked at, started, experienced, loved, learnt from and been challenged by, all of these experiences are culminating together in one perfect bundle that will form your Why from this point onwards.
I don’t dislike the person I was before I discovered my Why. It’s crucial that you’re grateful for all your life stages, all the people you’ve been and the transformations you’ve experienced. So what if you spent 10 years in a job that didn’t ignite you? Who cares if you committed to the wrong career or chose a university degree that didn’t turn out to be your vocation? Stop feeling sorry for yourself or wishing you’d acted differently.
Step 3: Looking back propels you forward
When I look back at my life, absolutely nothing makes sense in a linear order. I never set out to start a magazine and I didn’t plot out my career to help me gravitate to this point. But in a nonsensical way, after it all came together, everything I have ever done makes perfect sense and has undoubtedly put me on the path towards living my Why today.
As singular units in time, each of my experiences don’t appear to be linked or even the slightest bit integral to my life now, as the founder of a global media and education movement.
I was a horse-riding instructor in the country. I was a corporate events manager. I managed sponsorships for big brands, such as The Wiggles and Cirque Du Soleil. I launched and ran my own small business, a book publishing and marketing company.
These experiences all appear to be completely separate and unique, in no way, shape or form linked to my role now. However, when I look back I can start to see the links in the chain…
Growing up in the country probably made me quite grounded and prepared me for stepping into the world I move in now, which can be over-the-top and unbelievable at times. Working in events taught me how to multitask and juggle a million things at once, which is crucial to what I’m doing now. While Collective Hub started as a magazine, our events are a major business extension and add so much value to our community.
Working in sponsorship for The Wiggles and other arts and entertainment properties was the best possible on-the-job training of my life. It gave me absolutely essential grounding to broker the big deals I’m doing now with Collective Hub!
These are just a handful of my experiences and they have all, in their own surprising way, prepared me for what was to come.
It’s not only the sum of our professional experiences that shape us, either. I’ve been (very!) open in my past books about the personal milestones that have moulded me as an entrepreneur. Going through a divorce, drinking too much, giving up drinking 13 years ago, becoming estranged from members of my family, reuniting with them again. Love, loss and burnout have all made me strong enough, tenacious enough and resilient enough to deal with what came next.
If you haven’t quite landed on your Why yet, that’s fine – don’t dwell on it and don’t be hard on yourself. The most important thing to focus on now is that you’re finally ready to start really digging deep to connect to your purpose.
Nothing that you have done in the past is wrong. It was where you needed to be at that point in time, in that headspace, to fill your cup with the experiences that have led you forwards to this moment.
The question is: where will you go from here?
Step 4: Conduct your funeral
Now, I’m not saying you need to do something as dramatic as this in order to shake things up and start asking the deeper questions to get to your authentic truth! But, I am a huge advocate of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, of putting ourselves in purposefully counterintuitive situations on the path towards living our best and brightest life.
- When all is said and done and you’ve breathed your last breath, what will your impact be?
- What legacy will you have created?
- What will people say about you?
- What contribution will you have made in this world?
These are big questions. They can be confronting to ask yourself, and even more confronting to answer. While the answers can be uncomfortably revealing, they can also be incredibly empowering. That’s because the best thing about imagining your funeral now is that you’re still full of life and have the power to change it. Don’t waste a single breath!
Q. Can you have more than one love?
This is not sexual!!
In terms of Purpose, I realized that you don’t necessarily need to be looking for one Why.
Young people are projected to have 17 jobs over five different careers in their lifetime. With technology changing and the rise of artificial intelligence and automation, the job of your dreams may not have even been invented yet. Who would have thought you could be a professional drone-racing driver!
My point? Don’t be constrained by searching for the one great love of your working life.
If there are two industries or career paths that make you feel alive, lucky you! I know from meeting successful ‘slashies’ all the time that it’s possible – and incredible – to have two great Whys in your world. Schoolteachers who, at night, morph into DJs; creatives who run charities; scientists who are professional sportspeople – these guys have no interest in quitting their day jobs to pursue their Why, so they live their twin purposes side by side.
So people may have two different careers yet their overarching purpose may be interlinked. It becomes a very personal thing. That is why in the book I ask others to discuss their different purposes because it hasn’t been my experience.
For me one love has been my thing.
Q. Tell us about your experience with tantric sex?
And ‘severed toes’. Haha!
When I nearly sank the company in October last year, I ran to India and stayed with a cult. I had to wear purple robes, head to toe all day. I purposely do weird things like that as I find strange places often wakes myself up.
That’s what I love about stepping into strange situations; you never know where, or to whom, it might lead you.
I then made a promise to go back when times were good and I did this last February. It is one thing to do it when we are in a bad space but there is something wonderful about being brave enough when we are in a good space.
There was a 5-day course on Tantric pulsations. Anyway….
“Well I am going to check this thing out”….
And you know the funny thing about the tantric workshop we went to? It had absolutely nothing to do with sex! Instead, it challenged us to deconstruct our judgments and existing beliefs, and it prompted loads of interesting conversations and revelations.
BE unafraid to put yourself in strange situations (with boundaries!!!)
Q. How do you open your eyes to opportunities?
It doesn’t have to be some weird workshop in India that gets you out of the ordinary and puts you in situations where you can learn from people you wouldn’t normally meet.
It could be anything. I have just moved from Bondi to Darlinghurst. I am a beach person but I am forcing myself to walk and explore little nooks in my new suburb.
It could be listening to music you don’t normally listen to, or going to places you don’t normally go. Saying ‘yes’ to the invitation your gut instinct would normally turn down – the loud rock concert, or the intimate dinner with a casual acquaintance.
At the moment, after moving to a new area, I’ve committed to doing one thing a week locally that I’ve never done before. It could be something as simple as eating in a new restaurant, playing tennis against two eight-year-olds (they beat me!), walking a different route to the office or spending my lunch break at a bookshop, in a section that I’d normally walk past.
Seek creative outlets. Try different hobbies. Interact with people you don’t normally hang out with and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Breathe, paint, draw, colour, cook, read, sing, stretch, knit, craft, build, code, deep-dive, research, meditate… do it all. And then some. Soon, your real passions in life will start to reveal themselves to you.
Do something that pushes you in a different direction, challenges your norm and saturates your soul with new experiences, information or feelings. You never know what ideas it might trigger – and what fun you’ll have along the way.
Q. Tell me about the notion of ‘embracing aloneness’?
It has become one of the most beautiful things that I have learnt.
For years and years I thought the notion of being alone was about being lonely. “I am home alone, I don’t have any friends…” It was a huge burden for years. I may exude a lot of extrovert qualities but I am much more of an introvert.
In the past six months or so, I’ve done a deep dive into some pretty intense self-exploration… It’s been brave. It’s been courageous. It’s been pretty crazy. I haven’t explored this level of self-inquiry for some years, and it has brought me huge awareness around the notion of ‘aloneness’ and what this truly means.
I think there is so much stigma attached to the notion of being alone. In my experience, there are certain times that trigger each of us and send us into feelings of abandonment, fear and the perception that we’re not good enough.
Recently however, I’ve spent a lot of time consciously choosing to be alone – just me and my monkey mind – and also in complete emptiness. Contrary to what you may think, when I’m home in Sydney I spend a great deal of time alone. I absolutely love it – now.
But now, being alone is something that I’m perfectly okay with – I’m more than okay with it. I lead an increasingly public life, thanks to you guys. It’s what I’ve chosen to step into, and not a moment goes by that I’m not exceptionally grateful for it. Yet, the flip side of that coin is that I need downtime to recalibrate.
I love one-on-one time and I relish the very, very simple things in life – meditation, cooking, yoga, dog walks, travel, writing, sitting in the sunshine. I avoid planning weekends and love to be spontaneous as much as possible.
Why am I talking about this? Because so often, people are not okay with aloneness. And we should be – being alone is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. To get really raw and existential (and to paraphrase Osho): we are born alone and we die alone. In between those two moments in time, we scramble around trying to accumulate relationships, families, loves, careers and hobbies to fill our time and give us purpose. But the truth of the matter is that we are ultimately alone. Rather than trying to escape from aloneness, why not learn to tolerate it, enjoy it and even rejoice in it? It’s from this space of stillness that we can go within and ultimately get stronger on our own, to step into our Why and take it out to the broader world.
When you truly embrace aloneness you never need to feel lonely again
Part 3 of the interview will be part of next week’s blog: Living On Purpose