"Stand where the lightning strikes": Debunking purpose with Holly Ransom


Sarah Anderson

Purpose as a practice rather than something you ‘find’

Some people are wired for purpose. Some people seek it. Everyone feels and does better when it’s present (or so the research tells us).

Yet purpose comes with a lot of baggage and BS, doesn’t it? As one of the biggest buzzwords around, it needs some serious unpacking. Many of us have been led to believe that purpose is the meaning of life; the singular answer to the question “why am I here?”. But for many, this definition is intimidating.

We believe purpose is something you ‘practice’ rather than something you ‘find’. Who better to help us dive into this idea than one of the most purposeful people we’ve met: disruption strategist Holly Ransom.

Purpose as elevating your impact

As one of Australia’s most influential young leaders, Holly is not only a visionary thinker but founder and CEO of Emergent; a director of Port Adelaide football club; finalist in the young Australian of the Year awards, founder of s p a c e and a Fulbright scholar. She also famously interviewed Barack Obama in 2018 when he visited Australia, so certainly has some experience with purpose and purpose-fuelled people. She’s also a pragmatic, get-sh*t-done kind of gal, so we asked her about her views on how to be, and do, more purposefully.

Holly’s approach to seeking and practising purpose has evolved. “How I’ve gone about trying to embody purpose and achieve against it has shifted dramatically. You evolve the way you pursue your purpose. For me, that’s been building skills that help me be more impactful  —  building skills and getting experience was pivotal in helping architect change. When I’m living, doing, breathing that full time, I’ve got better at sharpening the way I think about my part in the ecosystem of change.”

Stand where the lightning strikes

Holly has a powerful way of perceiving both the source of purpose and the thorny moments in which it makes itself known. “Stand where the lightning strikes: purpose is not what we make of it, purpose is what it makes of us. Purpose hits you when you least expect it, steals you when you're at breaking point. Makes you speak out when it's safer by far to shut up and helps steer you away from the 'nice-to-haves'.

“I believe purpose finds you when you stand where the lightning strikes. When you are being your truest self. When you are refusing the compromise that life offers up in the form of enough time, enough money, enough space, enough stuff. Purpose goes hand-in-hand with knowing that we are enough. That we are the stuff dreams are made of. Then we can loosen our grip of control and slip into the fullest version of ourselves.

Living on the edge of purpose

“The most I’ve ever felt on purpose was when I was given the opportunity to lead the youth summit for the G20. I felt so out of my depth chairing the G20, that all I could do was suck in a lung full of air and choose to swim rather than sink. I think purpose finds us in those moments when we are far from our comfort zone. Sitting across from these powerful leaders, I became an elemental version of myself. I was focused purely on surviving that moment as best I could. And in doing so, I was in my element. Play beyond what you thought you were capable of in order to get closer to your purpose.”

Practising purpose

So let’s get practical - because living purpose really needs to be. If you have a reflective practice, like journaling or meditation, reflect on the following questions:
• Why do I do what I do?
• What do I want?
• What do I feel is my real calling?
• What are my unique gifts and talents?
• How do I want to serve the world?
• I always wanted to... (be a… become… find…)

Once you’ve landed on a purpose statement, make it useful. Use it as a decision-making tool, threading questions or dilemmas through it. Take note of when and where you feel most purposeful; what are you doing, who are you helping and how does it align with what you’ve elicited?

Holly shares some wisdom on some ways to bring purpose into everyday life:

“In my experience, few people have taken the time to define it, let alone to make a practice of regularly tapping into it. I don’t say that to suggest it’s easy but few things give us the bang-for-our-buck that defining our ‘why’ does. And then we need to put our ‘why’ to work. Do we have our ‘why’ stuck somewhere we can see it? Or is it embedded into a daily self-talk ritual? When we introduce ourselves, do we clearly reference it? If you’re answering yes to all of the above, in my experience you are a rarity. And yet it's the single greatest tool in our arsenal to enliven the best version of ourselves.”

Making purpose personal

Purpose is what you make it and an ever-evolving proposition that is best practiced, not found. If you’re lacking purpose, you’ll likely feel it, as will those around you — whether you’re coming at it as a person, an organisation or movement.

We invite you to give yourself permission to unlearn what you’ve been taught about purpose and make it a practice of your own. It could be the first step to a more purposeful life and the emergence of your deeper potential.

To further explore purpose, read our blog The Power of Purpose to find out how to elicit your own purpose using the process we use with our clients.

Holly Ransom is the CEO of Emergent and currently a Fulbright Scholar at the Kennedy School of Public Policy. Holly’s book ‘The Leading Edge’ is available now.

Visibility Co supported Holly and the leadership team of s p a c e with their purpose, vision and strategy in 2020.

About Visibility Co.

Working at the intersection of leadership, strategy and visibility, we seek to be strategic provocateurs and catalysts of systemic change, supporting you to unleash the potential within so you can create a better world from wherever you are.

While we’re not big on labels, we’re often referred to as social impact and communications strategists, or strategic leadership advisors, or visibility experts.

Fancy words for a business, led by Julia May and Sarah Anderson, that brings together purposeful leadership, strategy and communications in truly integrative and innovative ways.

Find out more
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