What is your purpose?

What is your purpose?

In every business cycle there are different words to describe that cycle. If you have been in business long enough, you will have gone through diversity training, total quality management, activity-based costing, balanced scorecard, and more recently sustainability as the buzzword of the cycle. Well, the new buzzwords today are purpose and passion. In this post, I want to talk about purpose.

Another word for purpose would be mission. Simply put, mission answers the question “Why am I here?” Much like the Wise Men followed the North Star to guide their journey toward the baby Jesus, so too does a purpose provide a sort of North Star to guide you on your organization’s or life’s journey. At one time this was radical, but now most organizations have a mission statement. I imagine if you looked at your organization’s website or pulled out your business card, you would see a mission or purpose statement for the organization.

One example of mission statements is Nike’s: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. Just in case this you think this means that Nike only works with elite athletes, there is an asterisk behind the world athlete as if to say, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Or consider the American Red Cross’ mission, which is to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”

Another is the University of Alberta’s mission statement that, as a professor with the university, gives guidance to my role and purpose. UA’s mission is To create and sustain a vibrant and supportive learning environment that discovers, disseminates, and applies new knowledge through teaching and learning, research and create activity, community involvement and partnerships. The University of Alberta gives a national and international voice to innovation in our province, taking a lead role in placing Canada at the global forefront. Surprised it doesn’t just say that the mission is to teach and do research?

What I find interesting is that while the organizations we work for have missions, most people inside of the organization don’t have a personal one.

Quick test. Answer the following question: Why are you here? Not just here reading this blog post (although I would take that answer), not just your role in the organization you work for, but here in life? If you have an answer, ask five people you meet.

When I do this with individuals and organizations I work with, I get answers such as to live a good life, to make money, or to be a good parent to my children. While all good answers, think about the power you could bring if your mission was more refined and exact along the lines of the corporate examples above. What if your mission is to help all children succeed in life, and you just happen to be starting with your own. As they grow up, you continue your purpose and find other children to help. Instead of just living a good life, what if your mission is to bring joy and hope to all those around you? How different would you be at work, at home?

Before you think this is just “mumbo jumbo,” let me go a little professorish on you and provide some research to help convince you that having a personal mission is important for having a successful and intentional life.

If I had one book that I would suggest everyone read it would be Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. While it has nothing to do with business, it has everything to do with business and leadership.

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychologist and neurologist living in Austria during World War II. His work involved helping depressed people become undepressed. Eventually he found himself in a concentration camp and he decided that while there, he would continue to study this issue and, if he got out, he would report on his findings. Man’s Search for Meaning is basically his report. While I leave it to you to read it, let me summarize what he found. First, individuals that had a reason to live found a way to live. Viktor Frankl created a new psychological approach called “logo-therapy,” or the study of meaning. The second thing he noticed was that there was no one meaning that was better than another. Among the quotes in the book, this is probably the most famous:

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked… each man is questioned by life; and he can answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

So I leave you with my original test:

  • What is your organization’s purpose or mission statement?
  • What is your personal purpose statement?
  • How do they match?

 Posted March 17, 2015