To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. — E.E. Cummings
Hot on the heels of last week’s edition, 3 C’s for Maturing True North Leaders, in which I focused attention on the power of CONTRIBUTING for leaders within a “certain age” range, is this follow-up: what is PURPOSE and why is it so important — for leaders of all ages?
They’re age-old questions aren’t they: Who am I? Why am I here? Does my life matter? WHAT IS MY PURPOSE?
Wise King Solomon’s answer? Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Socrates observed, The unexamined life is not worth living. Know thyself. (c. 428–348 BCE)
Pastor Rick Warren’s 50 million copy best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life offers concrete answers for True North leaders:
- We were planned for God’s pleasure
so your first purpose is to offer real worship.
- We were formed for God’s family
so your second purpose is to enjoy real fellowship.
- We were created to become like Christ,
so your third purpose is to learn real discipleship.
- We were shaped for serving God
so your fourth purpose is to practice real ministry.
- We were made for a mission
so your fifth purpose is to live out real evangelism.
But what is the sum of these, and how do we take wisdom from these prescriptions to create meaning and purpose in life?
In a 2019 study, 89% of 16–29 year-olds claimed their life lacked meaning or purpose. If you’ve been around Millennials and members of Gen Z, you’ll recognize the symptoms of this malaise: fear of the future, general anxiety and a sense of “lostness.” If we’re seeing these concerns now in the academic world, it’s only a matter of time before these same young people move into the professional world bringing their purposelessness with them.
Let’s clarify a few things:
1) Purpose is NOT Life Goals. Purpose is bigger, deeper, wider than just goals. Were you ever told, “you were made for this?” Sounds encouraging, but what does it mean? You were born to be a ______________(fill in your profession)? And if you were born for that, is that it? Just that? What happens when that job ends? Then what?
2) Purpose is NOT Flow. Flow, as discovered by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a state of consciousness in which people find genuine satisfaction doing tasks into which they are completely absorbed and which utilize their creative abilities.
3) Purpose is NOT found in doing. It’s not merely an activity…or a job…or even something about which you are passionate. Passion is driven by your emotions. Purpose finds the reason behind the emotions — and answers the vital why questions of life.
Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you. — Oprah Winfrey
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
4) Purpose IS transformative. Transformational Theory (found in the Leadership literature) describes a state in which a charisma-filled leader works with followers to identify needed changes, creates an inspirational vision to execute the change and in the process, elevates all included: employees, the enterprise and him/herself.
Living within our purpose allows the True North leader to ascertain needs, define pathways to resolution of those needs and execute a viable plan with which everyone can engage. Purpose provides VISION, ENERGY and EMPOWERMENT.
5) Purpose IS purposeful. When your purpose is clear you find it applies to all aspects of life: professional, personal and spiritual. Use of our God-given gifts is an expression of purpose. And when those gifts are employed for the benefit of others, in each realm of life, we move closer to full purpose living.
6) Purpose IS focused. Purpose only becomes purposeful when finely targeted. Targeted toward others — toward service. Expressing our purpose improves the situations and lives of those around us. Personal relationships flourish. Professional relationships are valued. And our spiritual relationship is deepened by greater and more focused communion with our Creator.
7) Purpose is malleable. Mozart’s music has been “interpreted” by hundreds (more?) of conductors. Did Amadeus’ intentions change? Were the notes he so creatively arranged in astounding sequences altered? No. His purposes for the Ave Verum or The Magic Flute did not change, but the expressions have. Your true purpose may be to guide or nurture others. Imagine how, at different stages of life, that purpose’s expression has changed. Flexibility, even in life purposes, is one of God’s greatest gifts to leaders.
Your leadership purpose is an expression of who you are and what makes you unique. It’s not what you do, but the how and why you do your life’s work. Not your job. Your calling. Your purpose stems from your identity, the very essence of who you are. It’s not your resume — that rehearses what you’ve accomplished, often, because of your purpose.
Let’s wrap this up, realizing that not everyone has successfully identified a PURPOSE for life. How do you accomplish this important yet complicated task? The point here is to identify who you are — at your core. List what you believe to be your lifelong strengths, values and passions. Make a list, then ask a close friend to reflect on their perceptions of you — see if they match up. Then make a list of those pursuits that most energize you and bring greatest joy into your life.
Here are a few questions that may help along the way:
· Before school and the world beat it out of you, what did you most love doing as a child?
· Think of at least two of the most challenging experiences in your life. How did they shape who you are today?
· What do you most enjoy doing? What makes you happiest today?
One of my all-time favorite authors, Frederick Buechner equates God’s purpose for us with our greatest satisfactions,
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
When the True North leader’s life purpose aligns perfectly with God’s rich desires for us, we are fulfilled, contented and find deep meaning.
We find purpose.
Dr. Mintle holds an earned Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He has served in executive positions across a broad range of media organizations and as a dean in two universities. This and previous blogs now provide conversation fodder for a group of True North Leaders online. Join us at True North Leadership on Facebook.