What purpose looks like

purpose of lifeYesterday someone posted a provocative question that showed up on my Facebook timeline. They asked “If you don’t know your purpose, are you still looking for it?” Surprisingly, many of the comments indicated the commenter did not know their purpose or that their sense of purpose was continually evolving.

I understand the latter because we get wiser and more insightful as we age or at least most people do. And we become more aware of what talents and aptitudes we possess and which ones we don’t. But the answer to the former troubles me. It seems somehow sad that adults do not seem to possess a sense of reason. They live, do things, hold down jobs, have families, go here and there, but why and for what purpose.

I don’t know who it was but someone once said that “He who is all wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.” People without purpose seem to cycle inward or at best, revolve around a set of activities that repeat themselves. People with purpose never let that happen. They do things not to just be doing things. They do things because the things they do have a reason, possess meaning and intent. They move forward and outward whereas those without purpose just go through the cycles. We all will spend our lives on something. People of purpose spend it on things worthwhile.

What made that Facebook post and its responses even more engaging was that just two days before, Friday last, I sat in a room with a 100 or so people who make up the Horizon Council in our city. The Horizon Council is a group of women and men who are the movers and shakers of Greater Ft. Myers, Florida, and Lee County. These people make things happen. A voluntary coalition of businesspeople, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, they purposefully joined together to make life better…and not just for themselves. They have demonstrated that by serving the larger needs of society, individuals who make up that society are bettered too. Each and every person there are people of purpose. Each and every one are different, have a variety of responsibilities, but they have made an impact and continue to do so.

If you and I were sitting in a coffee shop having a pleasant conversation and I were to ask you what is your purpose in life, could you give an insightful answer? What would purpose look like if we were to describe it? How would it feel? Where would one find it? Could it be that most people never even consider the concept?

Superlative leaders do.

Purpose is not so much what you do as it is what has been realized as a result of what you do. Superlative leaders do not work for the sake of work. They work for the intent of the work, what it will achieve, and how change will result.

Purpose is, by pure etymology, the reason for which something exists. For you and I the meaning is the same – that we have a destiny. No, I am not suggesting that we foster or nurture delusions of grandeur. Purpose is not a Napoleonic Complex. It is, however, the firmly held sense that we are going to realize something significant. What that is or how it may manifest itself is your decision and privilege.

The sense of destiny profoundly affects how you think. Purposeful people simply do not consider frivolous pursuits. Time and effort, as they understand it, is an expense and not to be frittered away. You will not find a purposeful leader working for the weekend. S/he will never sigh “Thank God it’s Friday.” For superlative leaders, Monday is the big day of the week, a new set of days in which the purpose comes closer.

Purpose feels like excitement, runs on deep reserves of energy, and exudes enthusiasm.  People of purpose radiate power.

Purpose is under assault daily. There are those who would attack and challenge your sense of destiny. Ignore them.

Purpose is pursued ahead of you but measured behind you. You look back and count the accomplishments, recognize the mile markers you’ve passed, and understand just how much you’ve been able to do.

Purpose gets bored with the endless pursuit of entertainment. Superlative leaders feel good about what they do because the world is a better place because of what they have done. They seldom say it but they often feel it.

And they need to.

It is perfectly acceptable to acknowledge the facts. I recommend that at the end of every day, you write down three things you got done. They will most likely include things that were not on your plan or schedule. Then, think about them and what they reveal in terms of the bigger picture. In just one year’s time you will have accomplished over 1000 things! Next, consider the common theme throughout all of them. Look above and beyond the individual tasks to the broader and more principled picture.

Purpose manifests itself in three dimensions – personal, social, and societal. Most never get very far beyond the first one, often using social purpose to further personal purpose. Superlative leaders get way beyond the first two. They are builders of civilization, advancers of human realization, willing participants in the evolution of social advancement. They may never use those terms or even consider their actual day-to-day participation, but it drives them to make things somehow someway better.

It is that sense of the significance of every day, the importance of every effort, the nobility of every engagement that drives superlative leaders like yourself. See there, you are making a difference!

Thursday I will show you how to discover purpose for yourself. See you then.