Many people go through much of their lives without really thinking about their purpose. I don't mean a lofty, philosophic, and often unrealistic purpose that has us striving to save the world or solve the challenge of poverty throughout the world (although these are both admirable for those whose true purpose is to do so). What I am talking about is the individual and unique purpose that drives and grounds us. The one thing that gives meaning to our lives and motivates us to achieve our potential.
Purpose is best expressed in two parts. The first part is fixed. This is the intrinsic nature or core of who we are. It describes the "what" of our purpose and does not change over time or across situations. The second part is variable. It is "how" we express our purpose and can change over time or across situations. The "how" represents the actions that we take in the fulfillment of our purpose. When our actions are synchronized with our purpose, we will not only perform our best but we will also feel our best. For example, in my previous management roles, I always found myself feeling the most satisfied and energized both during and after helping one of my team members solve a particularly challenging situation. As I was to discover, this reflected the fact that this situation or activity was in sync with my purpose which was to "help others to help themselves" (the "what") by coaching people to explore their options and discover their capabilities (the "how"). In my current coaching practice, the work I do with my clients is one of the most satisfying times in my day as it allows me to fully express my purpose.
One way of viewing our lives and our state of being is as a system. When part of that system is out of sync with the rest, we cease to function efficiently and effectively. When our actions are out of sync with our purpose, we do not function at our best. This is what happens when we spend our time focused on material and external rewards. We fail to truly attend to our purpose and risk working against our true nature. This leads to both dissatisfaction and unhappiness as we go through life trying to swim against our natural flow. If we focus our efforts on fulfilling our purpose, the material and external rewards will follow or, more often than not, will lose their importance. Even without these rewards, our lives will be much more fulfilling and this will lead to greater satisfaction.
Purpose is particularly important in the fulfillment of our potential as it represents the ultimate commitment in our life. When we use our capabilities in activities that serve our purpose, we achieve a state in which our skills and our commitment are highly synchronized. In this state we are achieving what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as flow in his books "Flow" and "Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life" (I highly recommend these books). When we are in flow, we are at the highest level of engagement in what we do and are the most contented. For many of us, this state is achieved without awareness. All we know is that we are thoroughly and completely enjoying what we do.
In identifying our purpose, there are a number of things that we can do. First, we can attend to situations in which we have achieved a state of flow. What are we doing when we are most contented? What activities provide us with the most enjoyment and satisfaction? When do we feel the most challenged and that we have the capabilities to meet these challenges head on? The activities in which we are engaged in during these situations represent the expression of our purpose. In examining these expressions of purpose we can discover the very essence of who we are. Second, we can look at where we have achieved the most success. Through examination of our successes we can discover both what we do well and what brings us satisfaction. Third, we can look at what we dream of doing and why. Our dreams provide us with great insight into where we can achieve potential and thus satisfy our purpose. Finally, we can follow our hearts. When we over-use our great ability to think and analyze in discovering our purpose, we too often begin to judge and, as result, limit our possibilities.
Do not worry if you are uncertain about your purpose. Most of us do not discover our purpose without a lot of effort while some of us know right away. Look at discovering your purpose as an exciting journey. One that will allow you to better understand who you are and of what you are capable.
Copyright © 2005 by Peter Cartmill, All rights reserved.
Peter Cartmill is a Personal and Career Coach and the founder of GreatAspirations.ca. To learn more about how Coaching can benefit you, visit http://www.greataspirations.ca