Find Your Purpose: The Secret to Your Future is In Your Past

Coach’s Corner

~ A Conversation with ECN Executive Coach Linda ~

How Do You Find Your Purpose?

There are a couple of things you can do and they both fall into the category of self-reflection. Being able to really reflect personally on this is important because sometimes our purpose is connected to other people’s values or other people’s expectations of us. You’ll hear someone say, “Well, I went into the family business because my grandmother wanted me to.” You may or may not have a sense of purpose connected with that if you’re living someone else’s dreams for you.

Finding your purpose is a process that involves sitting down and reflecting. For some people, they can go off and sit on a beach or on a mountain and look out at the scenery and think about “Why am I doing what I’m doing and what kind of contribution do I want to make?” They’re able to just think long and hard about the why of everything and answering these questions brings them to their sense of purpose.

Other people find that difficult and it’s hard for them to land on what the theme is there. The good news is there is a simple process you can follow.

Step 1:  Look and Select

If you look back on your life and you select, let’s say 4 or 5 of the best times of your life. It’s important to write these down. Frankly, the hardest thing for people is just identifying those four or five times. But it’s the times when you felt productive, you felt successful, you felt happy. If you read popular literature these days, they’ll call it being in flow. Everything was working and you really felt fulfilled.

STEP 2:  Dive Deeper

Looking at those 4-5 times in your life, ask yourself, “Who was I with? What was I doing? And why was that so fulfilling? Who was I with? What was I doing? Why was it so fulfilling?  Was the content enthusing me? Was it a function or a certain type of task? What was that the thing that most energized you from all of that?

I always have people write that down because they begin to spot patterns.  “Who was I with?” might reveal you were only helping an individual or a small team or maybe leading a giant initiative.

Purpose kind of has a footprint.  You learn what your sweet spot is, your footprint.

STEP 3:  Find the Patterns

If you look at those 4-5 times of your life, they have something in common. And what we like to say is sometimes the secret to your future is actually in your past. You’ve already lived some of the best times of your life and nine times out of 10, there’s a pattern there.

And then, why did I find that so fulfilling? And if you can look and spot the patterns across those four or five times of your life, very often, you’ll see that there are themes that definitely emerged from that. And most of the time, when people do that kind of thinking in that kind of way and they really go to that more granular level, they go, “Oh my gosh, that’s it. Every time I’ve been happy in my life, I’ve been in these kinds of circumstances and I was making this kind of contribution.”

And that gives me a criteria for making my future decisions.

STEP 4:  Allow the Time

In the times that we’re living in now, most of us have the time. This is valuable thinking to be doing because when you know this, it gives you a sense of clarity that makes a lot of your decisions and a lot of the choices that you are faced with a lot easier to make.

I can give you a quick real-world example. I coached a gentleman who was in management consulting and he wanted to change the world. As a management consultant , he would always take these really big projects like the climate change study for this country, or designing an education system for that country. He just really wanted to make lasting change in the world.Then he fell in love, got married and decided that that kind of lifestyle wasn’t really conducive to a great family life. But when he started looking at all the things he could do (and that’s a big funnel), he narrowed the funnel by saying, “What of these opportunities would enable me to have the kind of impact I want to have?” He ended up going to work for a water company whose mission is everyone in the world should have clean water. But he’s at home at night for his family and he’s still fulfilling that sense of purpose.

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