I’ve been thinking a lot about the business case for building #peoplefirst and #humancentric companies that have a #purposedriven mission.
Then it hit me—this is an old paradigm of thinking. This is how traditional business looks at things; they need a direct, measurable ROI for any of the decisions they make. It’s not incorrect to think this way—it just leads to a particular set of outcomes, often ones that are not human-centric, but rather profit-centric.
What I’m arguing for is a new paradigm and way of looking at things. A filter where we do the right things and put #peoplefirst which research shows indirectly increase revenue and profitability.
What is a sense of purpose?
This Fast Company article on the future of work states it best:
“Each institution needs to become mission-forward and people-first in every decision, strive to understand the motivations and development goals of their employees, and commit daily to an exceptional culture of purpose and belonging.”
There are a lot of ways we can put #peoplefirst. I’m going to start with connecting people to purpose.
And there are two sides to the purpose coin:
- Developing a purpose-driven company (aka business as a force for doing good in the world) and
- An individual feeling a sense of purpose in their lives and work.
I’m not going to talk about the former because “there is near-unanimity in the business community about the value of purpose in driving performance” (Harvard Business Review). I’m going to dive into the latter because it appears less obvious for business leaders how to help employees connect to a sense of of purpose.
I really like this definition of “sense of purpose”:
“…having the intention to accomplish something that is meaningful to you and makes a positive difference for others. So having a sense of purpose in what you do at work relates to believing that what you do is meaningful and contributes to making a positive difference for others” (FocusWRX).
What sense of purpose is NOT:
People are often motivated by money and there is nothing wrong with this. Some might say they make a ton of money, so they can contribute to the causes that matter to them. I’m sure this happens, but people that operate this way are more of an outlier than the norm. For the record, having money is nice. It provides that sense of stability and security. It allows you to have the experiences you want.
People will often say that they’re motivated by taking care of their family. Sure, there’s often truth to this. However, it’s often at the expense of doing soul-crushing work and working insane hours. Your family doesn’t care about how much money you make. They care about how present you are and how much quality time you spend with them. For the record, you should care about your family.
Here are a few other perspectives:
- Meaning in life is thought to be “the sense made of, and significance felt regarding, the nature of one’s being and existence” (Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006, p. 81).
- Purpose can be defined as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond the self” (Damon, Menon, & Cotton Bronk, 2003, p. 121).
- Ikigai = Japanese for “way of being.”
- “Happiness comes from WHAT we do. Fulfilment comes from WHY we do it” (Sinek, Docker & Mead, 2017, p. 6).
You can find more definitions here.
So now that you have a few definitions and some idea of what it isn’t, how do you define sense of purpose?
To me, we’re most connected to our sense of purpose when we’re not just alive, but when we’re living. Wake up everyday feeling energized and excited for what’s in store. Getting to contribute our strengths and talents in meaningful way. Feeling gratitude and unrelenting joy to get to experience life. That deep fire that burns within that pulls us in a particular direction. That which compels us to persevere through challenges and setbacks. Feeling well-“used” at the end of each day.
Sense of purpose—where to start
1. Stop comparing your sense of purpose with another person’s sense of purpose.
Your sense of purpose is unique to you. This is a personal journey.
2. Clarify your core values and the motivators behind them.
This is the foundation of a strong sense of purpose. Think of this as your human being operating manual. Armed with this clarity, it becomes clear where you’re operating in or out of alignment. The focus then becomes on experimenting with perspective and behavior changes that create more alignment. With greater alignment comes greater energy, fulfillment, and joy.
For example, one of my core values is growth. This was originally motivated by me feeling that I wasn’t good enough as I am. It has since evolved to being motivated by self-actualization, where I’m realizing my full potential. I had to do some deep psychological rewiring for this shift to occur. And yes, sometimes I still feel like I’m not good enough. The difference is that it no longer drives me.
3. Take inventory through reflection.
Consider the journey of your life and work. What are the common threads you can draw? What have you learned along the way? Where did you feel like you were living (vs alive)? What story does your life tell? Who have you become? What chapter is emerging?
For example, as I look back over the course of my life, it’s apparent that my gift has always been in helping others self-realize and self-actualize. Realizing who they really are, and then activating their full potential. At the center of it has always been curiously holding space for others to explore the uncharted parts of themselves. And I’ve witness incredible transformations. I’ve been able to facilitate this process through interpersonal dialogue. I’ve honed this craft over a lifetime of experience. Now, what’s emerging is a pull towards creating physical environments that facilitate this process. Why? Because environment shapes behavior. So what happens when you create an environment that fosters this? I don’t yet know what or how this will manifest, but there are undertones of re-designing real estate and community development.
4. Get outside of your head and drop into your heart.
For me, I let my heart guide me vs trying to “figure out” or “plan” my purpose. Sense of purpose is not something you can force, it’s rather something that flows through. In fact, it’s an evolutionary process—it’s ongoing and not something that we necessarily arrive at.
For example, after having clarity on my core values and taking inventory, I’ve felt compelled to look at jobs on LinkedIn and Indeed. This was an attempt to force clarity. It was me grasping for certainty in an uncertain reality. What’s been more helpful is talking it through with others who can help you work through the muck. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by gifted coaches, mentors, colleagues, and friends who have capacity to listen, summarize what they’re hearing, and ask me meaningful questions—people who can listen beyond the words I’m saying. As I’ve shared, more clarity has emerged, and I’m attracting people and experiences that are in greater alignment with my sense of purpose.
5. Take action.
Nothing new will emerge unless you do something different. As you attract people and experiences into your life that align with your core values, motivators, and vision, you will need to intentionally respond. This is where it behooves us to stay mindful. If you’re not paying attention, you can end up saying yes to opportunities that aren’t truly aligned with your sense of purpose. You’ll know when you’re off course because your energy around it will be lower relative to other opportunities. Move in the direction of what energizes, pulls, and compels you.
For example, I was considering being a game warden because I appreciate nature and wildlife, wanted to build local relationships (being in a new area), and wanted to spend more time away from a computer screen. Since then, I’ve discovered new ways to accomplish this without becoming a game warden. As I continued dialogue with others about what was emerging, they invited me to consider getting my real estate license because it aligns more with real estate and community development.
What you won’t see in my examples are the confusion, doubt, concern, inspiration, excitement, and joy I’ve experienced as my sense of purpose has evolved. Life is not linear, so this process is no different. When we’re floating down the river, sometimes we get caught in an eddy. It’s only a matter of time before we start flowing again. And hese steps can aid in that process.
What questions do you have? How can we help?
If you’re ready to get unstuck now, book a FREE 1:1 no-sales-pitch strategy call with a lucidly advisor today.