“If you have a strong purpose in life, you don’t have to be pushed…” – Toy T. Bennett
One of the reasons many people fail to achieve anything meaningful in their careers and lives is because they failed to identify their true career and life purpose. Even when they can boast of what might seem to be reasonable outwardly achievements, they may still lack full internal satisfaction. Lack of purpose costs us resources such as our time, finances, efforts, relationships, etc. In the long run, we realise that it has deprived us of true meaning in the various spheres of our lives and the contentment that comes with it. Without a purpose or with a weak one, an individual can easily be swayed away from the path to their objectives.
Whilst our life itself must have a purpose (call it ‘major’), each sub-endeavor we are embarking on must also have a purpose (call it ‘minor’) on which it is built. Purpose is the foundation on which everything must be built on. The right purposes that are derived from our within are not only the strongest justifications we can have, they also give us several benefits and advantages such as:
• They make easy even the most difficult things we do,
• They are the northern stars that gives us clarity, focus and direction,
• They determine our motivational levels and make us persevere against challenges and adversities,
• They are the basis of truly value-based actions,
• They make our actions integrity-based thereby giving us grace and flow,
• The right purposes give us contentment making it possible for us to live above ourselves.
‘Minor’ purposes must dovetail into the ‘major’ one for full flow in our lives. The principles that guide our family lives should be congruent with those that guide our careers. Those that guide our careers must not be incongruent with those that guide our participation in community services.
How do you discover your purpose? Our purpose gives us the ultimate meaning and satisfaction in any specific endeavor and/or generally in life. Discovering your true purpose can be a very tricky exercise. Sometimes we are carried away by our very superficial desires or outcomes but do not wish to handle or an unprepared to provide the required input! For instance, every entrepreneur, not only aspires but actually expects to make money. But just setting out to make money as the ‘purpose’ of going into entrepreneurship may be unwise. There are many people who have worked really hard, made money but realized that it wasn’t what they truly wanted! The world-renowned comedian and actor, Jim Carrey, said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it is not the answer.”
Our purpose, defined here as the motivations that give us ultimate meaning, are not always apparent. In most cases, we have to search quite deep into the inner recesses of our minds to find it. Sometimes others observe us better and advise us. In any case, how do we find or ‘confirm’ what our purposes are? First the cautions.
It is not entirely about being happy: Most of us look out for what makes us ‘happy’ without the complications of the details. For instance, making a million dollars as entrepreneurs will make us happy. But what about handling the risks and the hard work involved in making the money? The deals and disappointments? The failures? Can we handle them? There are other legitimate ways you can make a million dollars without necessarily being an ‘entrepreneur’ in the specific definition of the term. What gives us a sense of purpose and makes us ‘truly’ happy might be much deeper. We have to observe, introspect, reflect and sometimes it is by outright trial and error.
It is not necessarily about passion either: Again, sometimes we think our purpose is in our passions. If, for instance, our passions do not add any value, how does that help anyone? Besides, sometimes the most important things we do, that give us purpose are not borne out of passion but meaning. Think of the Nelson Mandela and the ANC. Their sacrifices were not out of ‘passion’ for freedom fights, but out the meaning the fight for freedom gave them.
Now the questions.
What can you do for ‘free’? Assume that you have a rich uncle who is ready to settle each and every bill of yours. And don’t worry about his death, Uncle Generous has already set aside an endowment to continue taking care of you and your family even after his passing to the great beyond: Your children’s school fees, vacations, mortgage payments, etc. Just send the bill and you have nothing to worry about. What will you spend your time doing?
What would you want people to say about you and your life as they prepare to bury you? Depending on cultures, people get buried from with a few hours of their death to a few days or weeks. What would you want people to say about you in the hours and days after your death, and into the annals of history? That you were the richest woman in your community or country? Or as the great philanthropist that helped breast cancer patients from all over the continent? Or as one person that helped enroll hundreds of thousands on African children into schools?
How would you want to help the world? Look around your local community, country, the continent or the world. There are problems and opportunities all over. From the educational to health, the economy, communities, etc. List as many problems and opportunities as you can under each sector. Which one would you want to seize, help reduce or eradicate? Of the many options, which one really ‘excites’ you in a way none else does? How can you go about it? Which one can keep you awake at night as you ‘happily’ think through solutions? Which one will take you out of your bed early in the morning? Which one would you gladly spend the weekend working on?
In many cases, people find their purpose from opportunities. Bill Gates found his purpose when he ‘discovered’ software programming in school. He realized what computer programing could do to help make individuals and organisations more productive. He has since gone on to achieve more than he ever imagined in all the years that passed since then. The money he made and still makes was and is a consequence of and not the motivation for his initial decisions. Other times, we discover our purposes from difficulties. Abdul Sattar Edhi of Pakistan and very poor background, got into philanthropy as a result of the difficulties his mother went through when he was an adolescent and young adult. He went on to provide so much healthcare and orphanage services to the needy in Pakistan and disaster relief in other countries. By the time died at the age of eighty-six in 2016, he got a state a funeral and the then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Shariff said of Edhi, “if anyone deserves to be wrapped in the flag of the nation he served, it is him.”
Listen to your heart: In most cases, we look to our heads to find out what our purpose is. I think, our purposes are found mostly in our hearts. Our heads should just help us fine-tune how we can go about achieving them legitimately. So, eliminate all the noise within and outside and listen to your heart. Do you, for instance, tear up when you see northern Nigerian children out of school and begging in the streets? Or perhaps you get really excited on a visit to a manufacturing plant employing thousands? Listen to your heart and let your head handle the technicalities.
Read, travel, and talk to others: Reading and travelling exposes us to new experiences and knowledge. Discussing with others helps in discovering ourselves in ways we may not have been able to on our own. In any case, we have to be open to possibilities known and unknown to us. We also have to be sincere and truthful to ourselves. We have to be wise in discerning what will keep us running in the marathon of life without loss of enthusiasm.
As the country singer Dolly Parton said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” If you find your purpose, you will be passionate and happy. When Mandela and his comrades got theirs, they found it easy to live through a three decade imprisonment and went on to gain freedom for their people.