In our life, the purpose creates a destination. It drives full engagement by prompting our desire to invest focused energy in a particular activity or goal. We become fully engaged only when we care deeply and when we feel that what we are doing really matters. Do you have a purpose in life? What is the intensity of that purpose? How many times are you are recalling that purpose in a day?
Actually, the purpose must always be in your mind, because it keeps you on track. The track, which is leading toward them. In life many times it happens that you derail from the track. It is because you distract from your purpose and the track visibility reduces. To keep this track clear, you must always remember your purpose. You may derail in between but from that derailed track, you will again be on the right track once you are firmed towards your life’s purpose.
The search for meaning and purpose is among the most powerful and enduring themes in every culture since the origin of recorded history. The philosopher and mythologist Joseph Campbell described the search for meaning and purpose as “The Hero’s Journey.” For us, self-transformation is the greatest challenge. The hero’s journey begins when something awakens us to the need for change—illumination, discomfort, pain. Along the way, we face doubt, uncertainty, fear, and hardship. At some point, we realize that we cannot make the journey alone, and we seek help from a “mentor.”
Unfortunately, most of us do not pursue the hero’s path. The simple, almost embarrassing reality is that we feel too busy to search for meaning. Who has the time and the energy to actively pursue a deeper purpose? Many of us sleepwalk through our lives, operating on autopilot most of the time.
My Friend’s Story
One of my friends was facing a challenge in his year-end appraisal. For him, feedback from an influential group of seniors was like, he has very good potential but his behavior is negative towards his current role and responsibilities. He was stressed because of this. He was mentally clear that this time his appraisal rating will go down, which otherwise was always good in the last several years.
He called me to discuss his concern. During our discussion, I found that he was out of his original growth track. Basically, he is the expert in his field. During peak workload conditions, instead of pushing things in the desired direction, he started arguments with his colleagues for not finishing the work. He had a feeling that he was not at fault while carrying out the arguments. This leads to a negative image building among others, which overall affects his career. As an old friend of mine, I had suggested to him some immediate damage correction actions. Within a few days, the situation was under control and he was right back on his original growth track.
Learn from Nature
Several years ago, the city of Orlando, Florida, planted a long line of trees along the highway. The first time there was a storm with heavy winds, nearly every tree was blown down. The city dutifully sent workers to prop the trees back up. They secured them with baling wire and other external sources of support. It did no good. When the next storm came, the trees were blown over again. Over the next year, the same scenario repeated itself a half dozen times, despite a series of strategies to prop the trees back up.
It never seemed to occur to the folks in charge that if trees are to survive in a high-wind area, they must have a deeper root structure. It did occur to us that we were observing in nature a phenomenon that characterizes many of our own lives. Because we so often lack deep roots—firm beliefs and compelling values—we are easily knocked by the prevailing winds. If we lack a strong sense of purpose we cannot hold our ground when we are challenged by life’s inevitable storms. In such situations, we react defensively, blaming the storm or simply disengaging and ceasing to invest our energy.
Measuring The Sense of Purpose
The purpose is a unique source of energy and power. It fuels focus, direction, passion, and perseverance. To get a quick sense of the power of your own purpose, take out your pen and paper and spend a few moments answering the following three questions, using a scale of 1 to 10.
- How excited are you to get to work in the morning?
- How much do you enjoy what you do for its own sake rather than for what it gets you?
- How accountable do you hold yourself to a deeply held set of values?
If the answers to these questions total 27 or more, it suggests that you already bring a significant sense of purpose to what you do. If your answers fall below 22, you are more likely going through the motions. The issue is not so much whether your life is providing you with a sense of meaning as it is whether you are actively using life as a vehicle through which to express your deepest values.
“The two most important days in life are the day you born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
Purpose becomes a more powerful and enduring source of energy in our lives in three ways: when its source moves from negative to positive, external to internal, and self to others.
A negative source of purpose is defensive and deficit-based. It arises in the face of threat—physical or psychological. When we feel our security and survival are at stake, emotions such as fear, anger, and even hatred can be a powerful source of energy. The negative emotions drain energy and prompt the release of hormones that are toxic to our systems over time.
Purpose fueled by the feeling of deficit also narrows our attention and limits our possibilities. Imagine, for a moment, that you are out on the sea in a boat that springs a leak. Your purpose immediately becomes mobilized around keeping the boat from sinking. But so long as you are busy bailing water, you can’t navigate towards a destination. The same is true in our lives. When we are preoccupied with filling our own holes to stay afloat, we have little energy available to define any deeper or more enduring purpose. By contrast, when we are able to move from the inner experience of threat to one of challenge, we introduce a whole new range of possibilities into our lives. Rather than reacting to fear, we can focus on what moves us and feels meaningful.
Janet R. is a highly driven senior executive at a large New York City media company. By her own description, she brought to her work a fierce commitment to excellence. She saw this as a primary value in her life, and she felt that it had helped her to rise steadily up the corporate ladder. As with Roger B., a somewhat different picture emerged when we began to look beneath the surface in her life. The feedback Janet received from colleagues on her Full Engagement Inventory indicated that while they did indeed see her as committed, focused, and intelligent, they also found her to be highly controlling and defensive.
Janet found this feedback painful but also provocative. She had always assumed that she derived purpose from her commitment to excellence. At the same time, she acknowledged that she took very little pleasure in work well done. At best, she felt a brief sense of relief and then a renewed anxiety about the next challenge. What really drove her, she realized, was a fierce hunger to avoid mistakes. Even small ones, she said, made her feel vulnerable to criticism—her own and that of others. The consequence was that Janet lived in a state of narrowly focused attention, forever zeroing in on the potential for failure. Physically, the toll showed up in headaches and lower back pain. Emotionally, Janet lived in a state of tension that robbed her of energy and enthusiasm and antagonized her colleagues. Mentally, her obsession with getting everything right compromised her willingness to take risks and to exercise much creativity.
As Janet explored her motivation more deeply, she realized that she had turned her commitment to excellence into a form of tyranny and that her perfectionism had a devastating energy consequence—in her own life and on others. When she began to explore her values more deeply, she realized that she especially admired kindness and humility in others and wished that she could better embody these qualities in her own life.
Janet decided to institute a ritual of revisiting her primary values every morning. By learning to balance a continuing positive passion for excellence with a newfound commitment to humility and concern for others, she began to tap into a more positive and less costly source of spiritual energy.
“I started to see how much I viewed the world as an enemy I was always fighting against,” Janet shared. She further shared “It also occurred to me that I didn’t always have all the answers. Changing my outlook has been one of the toughest challenges I’ve ever taken on, but connecting to the values of kindness and humility has been like taking a close friend along on the journey. I still don’t like being wrong, but I see now that it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it’s more important to stay connected with people than to be right.” (Inspired from “The Power of Full Engagement” by James E. Loehr and Tony Schwartz).