Do you have a clear sense of your personal purpose? Can you communicate it on demand or is it more a felt-sense? Does it drive daily decision-making and longer-term thinking? Or do you have absolutely no idea and are seeking greater clarity of purpose - for yourself or your organisation?
For people we work with, eliciting purpose provides an unlock like no other. Purpose can be alluring yet challenging to elicit, especially alone. Many people, especially those who want to achieve their potential, crave it, and when we support them to clarify it, it’s one of the most rewarding things we and they ever do.
Purpose is a bedrock of impact. It fuels self-awareness; connects you to what really matters; brings clarity to decisions; and has the power to ignite people and organisations, often to fuel change, personal progression and social impact in ways that matter. Given its importance and power, in this post we're sharing the basics of purpose and providing a DIY approach. Our purpose is “elevate others to elevate others”, and we figure the more purposeful people there are in the world, the more positive change we will see around us. Let’s get started.
What is purpose?
Let’s get clear.
What purpose is not:
A fluffy motherhood statement unrelated to daily decisions
A static or instantaneous discovery
Articulating the whole meaning of life (though it might feel enlivening, transformational and deeply clarifying)
The same as your mission, vision, values or strategy.
So what is purpose? We think about it as our WHY:
Why we do what we do – for the individual, team, organisation, community, country or beyond
It can be day-to-day or longer term: ranging from the purpose of a workshop through to the purpose of a company, career or the purpose of a time of our lives
The definition of purpose can be just as adaptable as the uses for it, and is open to personal interpretation and meaning-making
It's a practice rather than something you ‘find’.
Being clear on purpose helps you focus your two most precious resources — time and energy — more effectively. And there is plenty of research on the power of purpose, demonstrating some pretty strong upsides such as:
Helping us to navigate more clearly and easefully in times of crisis (hello COVID-19!)
Supporting resilience and the ability to recover from negative events
Supporting longer and healthier lives
Creating greater employee engagement, retention and wellbeing.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Recent research by McKinsey during this pandemic found that “when comparing people who say they are ‘living their purpose’ at work with those who say they aren’t, the former report levels of well-being that are five times higher than the latter. Moreover, those in the former group are four times more likely to report higher engagement levels.”
So while the benefits are clear, the definitions and pathways to it are not, and this can understandably put people off pursuing purpose altogether. Working with leaders on individual and shared purpose, we try to let people come at it personally and from different angles. Examples of purpose statements our clients have articulated include:
To be an agent for change to accelerate the systemic shifts we all need
Create the space to realise potential
To be me, and inspire others to be themselves, to leave a better world
Building better lives
To find what I love and live it
The most important thing is that it's meaningful to you. And the best way to elicit purpose is to get your hands dirty. There is one process we use most often to elicit purpose, and we are sharing a DIY version below so you can try it yourself.
DIY Purpose: How to elicit your own personal purpose
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.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners — the Kulin Nations, particularly the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, and Wadawurrung people — upon whose ancestral lands we live and work. We pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and acknowledge the pivotal role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to play within the Australian community. Sovereignty was never ceded.