I recently commented on the HBR article by John Coleman “You Don’t Find Your Purpose – You Build It” saying that he confuses the idea of finding meaning with that of finding purpose. What are the differences between these ideas?
You find meaning in something you are doing or in an experience you are having. Viktor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, describes how even some inmates of Nazi concentration camps found meaning in their suffering and this helped them to survive. If they could find meaning in suffering, we can certainly find meaning in more inviting situations such as our work, families, or volunteer activities. Finding meaning in what we do inspires us and helps us succeed. But finding purpose is different.
Purpose is not about an activity or an experience. Purpose is about the meaning of your life. Purpose is the discovery of the reason you believe you were put on earth. Purpose is the difference you can make to others that no one else can make in quite the same way. Purpose informs all the choices you make about how you invest your time, talent, and energy. Purpose cannot be built synthetically. It must be discovered authentically.
How to Discover Your Purpose
Discovering your purpose is not something that happens in an unconscious moment of epiphany. It takes discipline and method to discover your purpose. I have spent most of my life helping individuals and organizations discover their purposes.
Discovering purpose requires that you identify the unique aspects of who you are, the assets you have—both tangible and intangible—and the capabilities you can craft to make the biggest difference to a specific group of people who need what you can provide. Discovering purpose requires that you review your entire life to extract from it the experiences, positive and negative, that have made you who you are. It requires that you identify the activities about which you are passionate, the things that energize you. Your unique life experiences and passions, added to your specific DNA, make you different from anyone else who ever lived. Combine your most unusual assets into clusters that constitute capabilities with which you can impact others in areas about which you are passionate. This will help you begin to articulate your purpose. Your purpose will become even sharper when you can identify the group of people who have most value to gain from the capabilities you bring.
How to Use Your Purpose
I have outlined the process of purpose discovery very briefly. Lapin International coaches spend several hours with our clients helping them through the exercise, but meanwhile, use this to get started. You can also read more about it in Lead by Greatness.
Once you have articulated your purpose in a way that resonates boldly with you, review all the areas of your life that receive large portions of your energy and attention. Check how aligned these areas are with your purpose. Consider ways to better align what you do with the “why” of your existence. Become disciplined about excluding activities that drain your energy and distract you from your purpose. Get better at saying ‘no’ firmly and ‘yes’ passionately. Purpose-driven individuals have no place for a mild ‘no’ nor for a meek ‘yes’. Watch your energy rise, your focus improve, and your fulfillment blossom.