The One Thing That Changes Everything

What’s your purpose? I mean, what are you about? True, much may be expected of you: doing good work, being a good friend, even being successful, but what’s your purpose?

By and large, most of us are living other people’s lives. We try to fulfill others’ expectations. There’s nothing right or wrong with this, it’s a big part of the way organisations – and society – work. But when we are doing nothing more than accomplishing other people’s objectives we aren’t really living our own lives. And we certainly aren’t leading.

So let’s explore purpose, even for a few minutes. Purpose changes everything. Without purpose, lives are meaningless; accidental stories at best. With purpose, everything is possible. Now here’s the thing about purpose: no-one can tell you what it is. If someone says “That is your purpose”, they’ve told their purpose for you! You have to discover it yourself.


The word “discover” may imply your purpose is already there and you have to find it, but we could equally have said “create your purpose”. This might sound like a huge task, but if you take a pen and write the words “My purpose is to …” who knows how the sentence will end. Try it now…


You can draft a professional purpose, a family purpose, a social purpose. A purpose statement isn’t a straight-jacket; it can change. Let it breathe, just start with something. In my 30’s I described my purpose as being to “Help people to improve the way they work”, which was fine. Now it’s “To enable people to lead their lives with more grace and flow”. What difference does this make? It makes a huge difference to what I think about, what I do. In any moment, am I doing this? Suddenly life becomes clear.

You may think you won’t be able to fulfill your purpose in your current work. Maybe you can. Martin Seligman, who has popularized positive psychology, tells the story of cleaners in a hospital who appear to be doing a rather good job. What was their perspective on what they were doing? They were creating safe spaces for patients to heal. And yes they were!

In any situation, a leader may ask herself: “What is this moment calling for?” or if you like “Why am I here?” In this imperfect world, your purposeful presence makes the difference. You can hear me talk about Leading with Purpose here. OK, tell me your purpose again?

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