Finding your Why: Building a life lived with meaning and purpose
Posted on 06 September 2018
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Does this quote from the old German philosopher resonate with you experientially? Yes? Then you already know the profound value that purpose brings to your life, career and other pursuits. Beyond just doing, purpose gives us a why - and if that why is strong enough - our motivation, drive, resilience, tolerance and tenacity are exponential, equipping us to deal with anything life throws at us. Given Nietzsche’s ideas are about finding your meaning in life, not about making you happy, then I need to point out that great fulfillment can be realised by living a life that aligns with a clear purpose.
If purpose is the reason - or the why, - then what parts of our lives can we apply this to? Or Do we get just one why in life? Short answer - it's for everything. Or to be more precise, for anything. You can have a separate purpose for any key area of your life - your work, your philanthropy, your family, or your life as a whole - a single statement that defines your overarching why.
“Your life is a boat. You need a rudder. But it doesn't matter how much wind is in your sails if you're not steering toward a harbor - an ultimate purpose in your life”
― Victor Strecher
What’s my why?
Ask anyone who doesn’t know what their purpose is, and they’ll tell you how hard it is to figure it out. In fact, do a quick survey - how many of the people you’re close to have a defined purpose? Ask them, it’ll make for a great conversation. Is it 2 in 5? 1 in 5? Given how powerfully it can define the course of our lives it’ssurprising how few people have a clearly defined purpose. Defining your purpose can enable you to find resonance between actions and the reason for them. So how do you find yours? There are a few approaches from a number of people who have done great work around purpose. Victor Strecher’s work resonated most with me. In his book “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything” his approach to defining and living into your purpose is a 6 step process:
Step 1: Consider what matters most to you from a list of core values and then select three to focus upon (See my last post on values)
Step 2: Think about a person or people you’d like to emulate;
Step 3: Take the headstone test. What would what your epitaph be? What would you like people to say about you at your memorial service?
Step 4: Determine what goals in your life matter most
Step 5: Assemble your valued goals into an overall life purpose, a simple statement that succinctly captures your why.
Step 6: ‘Wear the suit’. Post your purpose where you can see it every day so you can be continuously inspired by it.
I’d also encourage you to read Maggie Warrell’s article in HBR - even though it’s from a few years’ ago it’s still as relevant as ever. She adds context to purpose and helps inform your process by looking at how purpose is comprised of - or at least informed by - your talents, your passions, your skills and expertise and,of course, your values.
Now you know your purpose, you possess something of power - a statement that defines who you are, built from the ground up on the bedrock of your most fundamental characteristics and desires. So what are you going to do with it?