How To Find Your Purpose



“Strong lives are motivated by dynamic purposes.”  — Kenneth Hildebrand

Now is a great time to find your purpose.  Today, I’ll help you find your purpose in a very simple way.  You can use your purpose to get more out of work and life, every single day.   In this post, I’ll share an exercise you can use to find your purpose with skill.

When you know your purpose, it helps you jump out of bed in the morning.

Your purpose helps you connect your work to the greater good.  When you know your purpose, things feel right.  You fire on all cylinders.  Your get your thoughts, feelings, and actions all going in the same direction.

Nothing beats connecting what you do with why you do it.  That’s purpose in action.

When you know your purpose, you make more impact.  Your purpose also keeps you grounded among the chaos.  It’s your North Star.  It guides you.  It helps you adjust your sails to the winds.   It gives you the strength to fight your good fights.  When you fall off your path, it helps you get back on the saddle again.  Perhaps, most importantly, your purpose helps you find your drive when you need it most.

I’ve been doing more talks on my book, Getting Results the Agile Way.  This past week, I gave two talks – one talk to a group of 20+ small business owners, and another to a team of 70+ at Microsoft.  It was more than a talk, though — it was actually a workshop with a focus on deep skills.

A key exercise in my workshop is finding your purpose.  I know when people find their purpose, they get their groove on.   I like how people flourish when they connect their unique skills and experience with a purpose that inspires them.

The Power of Purpose

Before I take people through, the exercise to find their purpose, I step back and share how I use mine.  My higher-level purpose is to improve the quality of life for as many people as I can, as long as I can.  I use skill as my way, that’s why I focus on principles, patterns, and techniques, but my drive is to help people get more out of life, and to unleash what they’re capable of.

At work, I connect my purpose by helping customers succeed on the platform.  I help my teammates and colleagues bring out their best.  I find ways to share and scale success, up and down the chain.  That’s how I connect my uber purpose to may day to day activities at work.

My Approach to Purpose

I’ve practiced the art and science of purpose for years, with myself and others.  I mentor a lot of people, so I’ve learned how to make purpose a practical tool in my tool belt, and not something to put on a pedestal.  Here are some tools to help you find your purpose, and get your purpose on your side:

  1. One-liner purpose statements.  I’m a fan of one-liner purpose statements.  It keep them simple and sticky so you don’t have to look them up.  For example, Google’s is “Organize the world’s information.”   Starbuck’s is “World’s best coffee.”  Apple’s purpose for ITunes is “World’s best online music store.”   Microsoft’s is “Help people and businesses realize their full potential.”  They’re aspirational and they inspire.  More importantly, they are easy to say, which means they are easy to use.  I wan to be able to say my purpose in the hall, so I use one-liners.
  2. Multiple-purpose statements.  Draw from many versus one.  I draw from multiple purposes.   Some people get hung up if they haven’t found their “super purpose” or their “uber purpose.”  My recommendation is to just start with a few one-liners that inspire you.  I draw from multiple purposes, and I have them at my finger tips.  When I’m mentoring, it’s “make others great.”  When I’m leading a team, it’s “empower people with skill.”
  3. Role + Purpose.  Use your role to find your purpose.  I also use purpose to give meaning to my roles at work.  For example, in one of my last jobs, my purpose was “Shape the story for the Cloud for Enterprise customers.”   It helps guide me each day, but it also helps others quickly understand what I’m focused on.   It also helps attract the right people to help me in my quest.  “I am” statements are powerful here.  For example, one of my favorite examples is an HR rep that said, “I am the truth advocate.”  She used this to get beyond people thinking she’s on the manager’s side or the employee’s side.
  4. Aspirational and tactical purposes.  I also have aspirational purposes, which are more abstract, as well as more tactical purposes that are very concrete.   At work, especially, I drive to a simple purpose for my role that inspires me, but then I always connect it back to my higher-level purpose in life.
  5. “I believe” statements.  A friend of mine got me started using “I believe” statements.  For example, I believe everybody deserves a chance at a better life.  I also believe that life’s better with skill.
  6. “I help” statements.   I saved the best for last.   If you want to find an inspirational purpose in a very practical way, ask yourself, what do you want to help YOUR world with?  Michael Hyatt’s simple “I help” statement is, “I help people lead on purpose.”  Dr. Alex Lickerman’s statement, author of Undefeatable Mind, is “I help people become healthier.”

I share these ideas with the group so that purpose becomes a practical thing and a tangible thing.  I also share the examples to show how purpose can connect your work and life, and give it deeper meaning.  I also share examples to show people that purpose is not “out there” … purpose is more  powerful when it’s right there by your side.

With that in mind, let’s dive in and find you some purpose statements.

Find Your Purpose Exercise

To keep this simple, it’s a three step process.   Here is the process:

  • Step 1.  Write Your One-Liners Down
  • Step 2.  Say Some Out Loud
  • Step 3.  Choose One that Resonates Right Now

Step 1.  Write Your One-Liners Down

Write down a bunch of one-liner purpose statements.  Take five minutes to write down statements that reflect why you do what you do.

Here are some examples:

Tactical Aspirational
  • I’m the bridge builder who connects people.
  • I’m the technical specialist who helps customers succeed on the platform
  • I help protect customer data.
  • I’m the glue who connects the UI to the developers.
  • I’m the researcher who finds the truth.
  • I’m the developer who transforms the world.
  • I improve the quality of life for as many people as I can, as long as I can.

Here are some examples beyond work:

Tactical Aspirational
  • I’m the writer who helps people write their life story.
  • I’m the coach who helps make others great.
  • I’m the poet who makes people think.
  • I’m the musician who makes people feel alive.
  • I’m the mentor who helps people live more, laugh more, learn more, love more.
  • I’m the mother who leaves my world a better place than I found.
  • I’m the explorer who paves the path for others.

Here are some key tips:

  • Dump whatever comes to mind.  Don’t edit yourself.
  • Don’t worry about getting it “right” … worry about getting started.
  • You’ll refine your purpose statements as you use them in work and life.
  • Try out some “I help” or “I am” statements.  “I help” statements are simple and powerful.
  • Capture who you are, what strengths you bring to the table, to the work you do.
  • Figure out in the team you have now how you fit in in a unique way.
  • Describe what is indispensable about you right now.
  • Describe the role that you think you should be playing on your team.
  • Have fun with it!

Keep in mind that the more you play at this, the more you’ll tap into what inspires you.

Step 2.  Say Some Out Loud

Say some out loud to see what resonates.  It’s one thing to say them in your mind, or write them down on paper, but now say them out loud.    Simplify them.  Make them easy to say.

It’s very easy to over-complicate them and make them wordy descriptions or linguistically challenging.  Tune and prune them so they are easier for you to say out lout.  Out loud is the key.

What you might find is that you have one that is so personal that you don’t want to share it, yet.  Even then, make it easy to remember and say, even if only for yourself.   If this is the case, you should still find a few one-liner purposes that you can stand behind and are happy to say.  For example, at work, my job got more clarity and I was able to summon more impact, as soon as I could say that my job was “Shape the Cloud story for the Enterprise.”  It took on new meaning, and I connected more dots, and more people could work with me because they were involved in some way, shape or form.

Step 3.  Choose One

Choose one and use one.   Choose one of your one-liner purpose statements that resonates right now.  Actually use it.   Use it to give purpose to your company or blog.  Use it to give purpose to your resolutions for 2013.  Use it to drive your day and shape your week.  Write it down somewhere so you see it ,and it reminds you, and inspires you.

For example, one of my mentors, a former CIA agent, told me long ago that my gift is that I can help anybody do anything better.  I laughed, but she said she was serious and that I have to appreciate the gift I’ve got.  More importantly, she said I need to use it, whether that’s in taglines or for books, etc.  She said it’s a rare gift and the more that I use it, the more it will grow.

I finally decided to listen to her, so I’ve added the following statement to my About page:

“I help anybody do anything better.”

I like that.  It pulls together my experience of more than ten years of deliberate practice sharing and scaling expertise.  It leverages my experience as a mentor, helping individuals and teams bring out their best.  It integrates my deep experience with principles, patterns, and practices across a variety of subjects.  It taps into my knowledge from thousands of books on personal development, personal development, leadership, productivity, and thinking skills.   It uses my ability to get rapid results and to rapidly learn and distill insight and action for others.   It also leverages my network of skilled people that have their gifts to share with the world.

The big thing to remember when you are finding your purpose is that it will evolve.   The other thing to keep in mind is that it’s already there with you, you just need to articulate it.  It’s been a running theme in your life, but now you need to surface it so you can use it more effectively.  When you have clarity in your purpose, you’ll find you bounce back faster and you have extra energy for going above and beyond.

Have fun with it.   If you’re up for it, share your one-liner purposes in the comments and help inspire others.

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  1. @ Alik — The beauty of purpose is how it scales up and down.

    I walked by a colleague’s office today and noticed he had a mapping on his board: Goal -> Strategy -> Tactic

    I looked at some of the items he had below it, and I noticed that it just as easily could have said: Why -> How -> What

    It reminded me once again how thought frameworks can drive clarity. In turn, this helps us focus and prioritize our actions. Our ability to envision and create reminds me of the power of purpose in action.

  2. One of the things I liked best about this post was your use of examples, JD. It is perhaps one of the easiest ways for me to learn.

    Anyway, I haven’t yet worked through the steps. But,I will. I’m anxious to do so, because I see such value in it.

    Also, I’m sending this info to our whole team and asking each of them to do the exercise. My thinking is that each of us has our own purpose and so does the business we joined together to create.

    It will be interesting to see how each of us puts one piece of the puzzle in to form a whole picture.

  3. This is an interesting approach to finding your purpose in life JD. I have a way for you to expand that into who people really are from a Natal, Developmental, Psychological, Professional, Spiritual, Mystical, and Transitional vision of their purpose…to like you say the deep side or continuum of who each of us uniquely is and our purpose that we came here to fulfill.

    If you are interested in exploring this model of finding your purpose in life, here’s an excerpt from my workbook about the philosophy and way to explore your purpose in depth.

  4. Great exercise! This is what I came up with–I’m the teacher who helps others awaken. Or more simply, I awaken joy in myself and others. I like this last one but my “gift” and “role” is definitely teaching. Hmm, as you said it doesn’t have to start out perfect. I’ll refine this.

    By the way, I absolutely love how your CIA friend identified your gift. How insightful! That is priceless.

  5. @ Yvonne — Thank you. I really wanted to make this purpose exercise something that everybody can roll up their sleeves, get their crayons out, and run with (but no scissors.)

    I like that you’ll be using it as an individual exercise, and a business exercise. In fact, now that I think about it, a great way to find purpose in your business is to create your “We help” statement:

    “We help people …”

    I suspect more businesses that get clear on how they help people will do way better than those that lack that simple clarity.

  6. @ Galen — Beautiful!

    Knowing your book and your work, I might have said you “teach joy to the world.” I do think you help people find more happiness, and that is a powerful thing.

    You do have a way with helping people see things in a brighter way, and in higher resolution.

    My former-CIA friend is scary smart and has given me deep insight in so many ways. If I write the book she told me too, she was convinced it would be a book that changes many lives.

  7. @ Suzanne — That is a great roundup of techniques.

    While I didn’t come across any I hadn’t seen before in some way, shape, or form, I was glad to see your breadth, and the way you connected the dots. I smiled when I saw power animal and wondered what kind of Shamanic journeys you’ve had in your lifetime.

    At the end of the day, there are many ways to find your WHY, your HOW, and your WHAT(s). I think there are a few vital keys:
    1. Know what you want (vs. what others want for you)
    2. Find congruence and be authentic (saying what you mean, meaning what you say and feeling right)
    3. Connect your purpose beyond yourself in a way that lifts you
    4. Take care of your needs, so you can serve others better
    5. Don’t confuse “means” goals with “ends” goals

    Because I’m a collector of techniques, I also appreciate that while all paths may lead to the same town, some paths suit us better than others, and the key here is, “Stay true to you.”

    • Thanks JD, I’m with you – I wanted for people to be able to see their life purpose through a lens or process that seemed logical and connected. I appreciate your validation…

      In terms of part 2 – I wrote a guidebook “Living Purposefully – Awaken to Your Purpose in Life” where I take a wider approach to being purposeful. Looking at life from the many perspectives – mind-body-spirit, quality of life, being heart centered, etc. If you want to check it out it’s available free on my website and it actually guides you through a 7 Step process of purposefulness.

  8. Hi JD,
    Thanks for this insightful article. I am currently reading Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder2.0 to figure out how my strengths could be used to achieve my purpose.
    I find it easy to find your purpose when you’re in a job, but not as straightforward when you’re trying to look for a job.

  9. JD, I remember one of my spiritual directors championing this idea of having a one-liner as a life mission statement. But I really like have you’ve applied it to different areas of life as well.
    The most encouraging line in this whole post was, “it’s already there with you, you just need to articulate it.”
    Thanks again for setting me off on a great path on a Monday morning.

  10. @ Viv — Thank you.

    I find it varies. Knowing your purpose can help you hone in on the right jobs to pursuit. For example, if you know what you want to help people with, it makes it easier to find matching jobs.

    In your case, maybe an “I want to help people with …” statement might help spark ideas.

    Whatever you end up with, be sure to ask yourself “Why”. This will help you gain more clarity on what drives you.

    If the jobs you find don’t match your purpose, not a problem. The reality is, we often have to reshape jobs, and what better way to shape a job, than “on purpose.”

    I’ll have a lot more to say about finding, keeping, shaping, losing, and creating jobs throughout this year.

    @ Aaron — It sounds like you had a smart and pragmatic director that knew how to make things real.

    One-liner reminders and mantras will be increasingly important for us, among the barrage of things coming at us on a daily basis. And, purpose is a powerful protector of what makes us come alive, and what lifts us from the muck, and what makes meaning, among the mundane.

    The beauty is that we are always our most significant meaning maker. We just have to unleash our inner-bard, and pluck the strings that make our soul sing.

  11. Oh, I like your phrasing very much. I teach joy to the world. I’m going to write that down. And please put my name down to pre-order your book! I’m sure your friend will be right!

  12. Wonderful tips J.D. I appreciate these tips and they are wonderful for finding purpose. I see many people that are on purpose that have followed tips that you offer here. Wonderful.

  13. @ Kim — Thank you.

    Purpose is contagious. I like the way it spreads. I also like what people are capable of when they get their purpose on their side.

  14. JD, I took my 5 work vision statements and turned them into one-liners. I was surprised by the clarity they create, and by how easy it was. Thanks again.

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