I asked the Oracle (I typed into Google) “How to find purpose in your life” and sighed deeply. I know how to find purpose, I know what my personal mission statement is – I’ve been through this exercise many times before but for some reason, on a grey rainy day when the stresses of the world seem to bit that little bit deeper – I needed a little reminder.
I know I’m prone to these occasional bouts of self-reflection; of investing/wasting time on trying to refocus so I know now to set the Pomodoro timer and give myself both the time to reflect but also the boundary to stop
Look back on your childhood and see what memories stand out; good and bad. Its’ these childhood experiences that have potentially shaped the adult that you now are and that gave you your purpose – or showed you what you didn’t want to do.
Maybe there was a particular subject at which you were great at school? Or maybe there was a group of people who you particularly enjoyed their friendship or belonging to that group? Was there a teacher who stood out to you because you had ultimate respect for them, what they did or how they went about it?
Childhood isn’t always the solution to working out what purpose your life has but it’s a great place to rekindle some of those activities that made you happy when finance and adulting weren’t problems to be aware of.
The Venn Diagram Technique to Finding Purpose
You don’t just have to use a Venn Diagram, there are many great pieces of Mind Mapping software out there that can help you take notes or start to extract one part of your thought process from another. But Venn diagrams are popular, easy to understand, and…
If you’ve researched personal mission statements as much as I have then it’s highly likely that you’ve come across the concept of Ikigai. Except like most people you’ve probably been misled about Ikigai and what we are really referring to is The Zuzunaga Venn Diagram of Purpose
Except that’s not really Ikigai.
You can read more about the true origins of both the Ikigai Venn diagram and Ikigai itself in Nicholas Kemp’s article Ikigai is not a Venn diagram. There is also a useful passage about how you can use the five pillars of Ikigai to develop your purpose or personal mission statement if you are looking for an additional framework. Spend some time looking at Nicholas’ Venn Diagram for a greater understanding of Japanese Ikigai.
So to recap, Ikigai itself is great but is more about Values, Roles and Relationships, Hobbies & Interests, and being Present than being about What you Love, What the World Needs, What you can be Paid for, and What you are Good At.
So what do we need to work out in order to actually make these theories implementable in our lives?
The Finding my Purpose Operational Plan
Throughout my career in strategic consulting, I’ve always looked to simplify processes into replicable structures and processes. I love a mind map, I love an excel sheet (when it’s my own. Other people’s excel sheets make me cry).
So how can we use all of these wonderful theories about life values and purpose and turn it into a plan for doing something? How do we implement our personal mission statement in our lives? How can we turn this rambling article into something useful? Welcome to my as yet unnamed theory/plan/process. It’s in alphabetical order and that pleases me.
Who is the audience you want to work with or work for? Use extreme examples to help you narrow down which groups.
What groups of people do you want to serve? Is it adults or children? Rich people or poor? Old or young? Local or national? What language do they speak? What needs do they have?
What is your personal brand? What is it about you and the way that you approach work/life that makes it uniquely you? When we talk about how to find purpose in your life, a lot of that purpose relates to how we do something, not just what it is that we are doing.
What are the positive characteristics that you have that means that when a project/task is completed – we know you had a hand in its success?
What is your personal approach? Do you favour art or science? Quantitive or qualitative? Maybe it’s about getting the balance right of both?
This process works equally well for organisations who are looking to narrow down their brand identity and achieve cut-through in a crowded market. If you have to pick one, which is it – best, biggest, most local, first, cheapest, most premium, most popular?
How can you make money? Don’t confuse profit with money – this question is valid for charities and community groups as much as it is for multinational corporations. If you can’t finance the work then the work ain’t happening – no matter how good your approach to finding purpose in your life is.
Spend some time thinking about ways to directly or indirectly finance your purpose. Look at other people or organisations in the relevant sector. How do they trade? What do they sell in terms of products and services?
Goals: Big, Little, and Daily
I hate goal setting. Maybe it’s because my to-do list never seems to end. But actually, goal-setting is exactly how we achieve our purpose of finding purpose in our lives because there are a million other distractions in this world that want to take our attention and steal our time and no-one else is going to stop it – apart from ourselves.
The easiest way to set a goal is to attach a number and date to your purpose. Start from where you are and pick a point in the future where things will have changed. Now write down what will have changed and by when?
If your purpose is to improve mental health for people – which people? What’s your capacity for the size of your audience? How do you measure mental health improvement? What is their mental health now? How long do you need to make a difference? What do you want the difference to be by that date?
If you work through that process then ‘improving mental health for people’ becomes ‘improving mental health for 500 people of the 200,000 population of South Kent to take them from a below-average WEMWBS score to an average or above score by XYZ date 18 months from now’
Now we have long-term goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. That’s our big goal.
Next we focus on little. How do you keep in line with your long-term goal on a daily basis? My favourite technique is what I call the ESPN card.
Every year at the Disney-owned sports company, the overall company objectives would be printed onto the back of every member of staff’s ID cards. That way whenever a member of staff needs to make a decision, they can simply look at the card and think is this decision in line with our company objectives?
Take your long-term goal/personal mission statement and break it down into milestones or smaller objectives. They might be related to how you will access or acquire your audience/customers/clients, how you will develop them, then how you will retain them, what the emotional environment is that you want them to experience and how they will advocate your product or service? Add numbers and milestone dates to that you and you have yourself a daily objectives cheat-sheet.
Keeping on the right path
Now you’ve identified your what, who, how, where, and when – how do we make sure that we stay on the right path and do not stray into procrastination or mission creep?
Check yourself; there are many successful ways of checking in with yourself to make sure you are on the right path including GTD Weekly Reviews, journalling, or even the annual new years resolution ceremony.
Whichever approach works for you, pick one and stick to it for at least a month. Then review and see if you can improve it or swap it for another process. Whatever happens, just know that both creating a plan and sticking to it are hard.
How to Find Purpose in your Life: Summary
- Identify the things that make you happy be they from your childhood or your adult hobbies and interests
- Take those things or people and identify which audience you want to work for/with
- Identify your values. Nail those adjectives that describe you.
- Take those values and establish your personal brand – your personal approach to the work you do
- Find out how to commercialise the work – how do other people in your desired space make money to do the things they do?
- Join those bits up into your elevator pitch purpose – your one-liner “I work to do X for Y people in a Z way which is funded through…
- Use that purpose to state a long-term goal which has a date by which you should have achieved it.
- Break the long-term goal into milestones.
- Be present in what you do – make sure each decision aligns with the purpose and goal.
- Check yourself to make sure you’re still on the right path.
Maybe that would have looked better as a diagram?