Walk into the boardrooms of most companies and ask the board members what the purpose of their organization is and you are likely to receive as many different answers as there are people in the room. Perceptions of purpose often range from the survival of the organization in a rampantly competitive world to just making a healthy profit, from providing employment to becoming the biggest player in their industry sector, from serving the customer to creating new and innovative products. With different and often unarticulated perceptions of purpose it’s no wonder that it’s sometimes hard to build mutual understanding and why conflict can arise so easily over the precise direction of the organization.
Purpose is essentially ‘what we are here to do’ which is obviously vital in order to ‘focus’ energy. A group of people pulling in different directions, with different perspectives of what is important, have not sat down and clarified their collective purpose. This is often because individuals have not done it for themselves because they have not fully understood the importance of living purposefully.
Vagueness around purpose is usually due to an absence of clarity around its meaning. Most often purpose is confused with missions and visions, aims and goals. But purpose is not vision, and it is not many directions, it is one direction, with the possibility of aims and goals along the way. Purpose is not bound by timescales but transcends time. Purpose is what we are here to do and when we try to have many purposes it’s as if we are trying to do too many things at the same time. Confusion, conflict and exhaustion will eventually set in.
A clear sense of purpose is also one of our most powerful sources of motivation. For many people the first thought on awakening in the morning is often, “Oh God not another day… I have to get up and go to work”. Some people awaken with a different energy, more of a “YES fantastic, another day, another adventure”. One is a ‘have to’ attitude and the other is a ‘want to’ attitude. But for everyone there is usually at least one day a year which is a definite YES day, and our energy is filled with enthusiasm. It’s the day we go on holiday. For the next two weeks we have consciously chosen the direction of our life. We have made a major commitment to ourselves to go and have fun, so the focus for our energy is absolutely pin point. And of course this is the day/week we are most highly motivated. Purpose is one of our deepest motivators.
It is not so difficult to generate and use a short term purpose to motivate ourselves for a few days or even weeks. But an overarching purpose for all the days of our life is not quite so simple to create, or to see, or to detect, or to discern! Earlier this week we reflected on four life purpose possibilities – to breed, to achieve, to grow or to survive. Here are four further possibilities for consideration, contemplation and rumination.
5. To Win
There are some who seem to live almost every waking moment of their life in a competitive mode. Somewhere along the line of their life they have learned to believe life is simply about winning or losing. They see life literally as a competitive exercise, and no matter where they are or who they are with they turn everything into a competition. Perhaps it was a parent too obsessed with trying to teach a winning mentality, or maybe too much sport at school, but an obsession with winning, driven by the fear of losing, can easily become a ‘default purpose’ in life, spilling into every area including personal relationships. In a world where the competitive spirit seems to have gone way beyond sport and into politics, education, business and even religion, it’s not difficult to live the competitive life. And yet, even in sport, the top sportsmen and women are able to transcend competitiveness and see another meaning, a higher dimension, to winning. While Nadal may have lost to Murray in the recent semi final of the US Open Tennis he openly and gracefully conceded how much better his opponent had played on the day. By honoring his opponent and accepting defeat with such grace he was, for many, the real winner on that occasion. Winning can clearly be much more than just… winning!
6. To Serve
In contrast to a purpose that says life has to be survived (last post) comes the idea that we are here to serve. In comparing the two we start to see what could be called a higher purpose. If you were to write down your purpose today it would probably fall into one of those two categories i.e. survival or service. And if your written purpose doesn’t clearly indicate which side of this divide you favour, then your behavior will reveal in which direction you are inclined. When you make survival your purpose you will find yourself wanting, taking and keeping, whereas when you make service your purpose you will likely be giving and sharing. When survival is your underlying purpose you will generate the emotion of fear, whereas when you decide you are here to be of service you will come from the energy and intention of love. In survival mode you will compete and contend. Whereas in service mode you will co-operate and the first question you ask others will be ‘how can I help you’? In survival mode you grasp and attach whereas, with the intention to be off service, letting go and detachment come easily because you realize that whatever comes to you is not for you alone, but for you to use in the service of others. In the survival mindset you frequently find yourself in a state of resistance because you perceive people and situations as a threat, whereas in the service mindset you accept whatever comes, whoever is present, and you are able to go with the flow. While survival versus service could appear to be on the same continuum, and while it may seem there is the possibility of a balance between the two, ultimately ‘being of service’ is the higher purpose which, when lived, ensures that survival takes care of itself.
7. To Create
If we stop for a few moments and reflect on the last few moments we may see exactly what we have been doing during not only these moments but almost all the moments of our waking life. We have been thinking, which means we have been creating. To think is to be creative, which means we are all creative, we are all artists. All that we create seems to begin with our thoughts, at least that’s where we first become conscious of our creation. When we see this clearly, and we see that everything in life begins with a thought, we notice our responsibility for the ‘quality’ of our creation and a sense of purpose in life becomes much easier. It is a purpose that says pay attention to the quality of your thoughts which means the quality of your intention. The creation of our life, which means the path we carve through life around us, then becomes a question of awareness of responsibility and quality. When this level of purpose is realized, it will naturally ‘focus’ our attention inwards where the direction of our life begins. It reminds us that the context of life, which is relationship, is a context in which we receive the opportunity to ‘be creative’ as we respond to people, situations and events. And as our response reflects back to us in the mirror of our relationships we come to know the quality of our creation. When our creative capacity is clearly seen in this light it lifts us out of a material purpose, it takes us above an achievement purpose, and its way beyond a survival purpose. It carries us towards a purpose that is deeply rooted and already built into the very fabric of our being.
8. To Live
When we contemplate nature and watch it birthing, growing, blooming, decaying and then dying into another cycle, we see the most uncomplicated purpose in action. Nature simply lives according to its nature. And nature’s nature is simple. The flowers purpose is to do exactly what it is designed to do – grow, open itself, absorb light and heat, give out fragrance and nectar, and reflect the light. That is all it will do. It is being nothing other than itself. It expresses nothing other than its nature. It has no doubts. No questions. No hesitation. Are these clues on how to live for us to follow? When we doubt our purpose, when we question our purpose and when we hesitate to live on purpose, could that just be because we do not know who we are? Could that be because we are confused about the nature of our true nature. Is our nature to be sweetness, peave and love or is it to be angry, grumpy and scared. We obviously don’t enjoy the second three. And yet even while many write books, while many teach and coach others out of being angry scared and sad, still many of those many can be heard to say ‘well they are just our…nature’!
And so we encounter the possibility of a double purpose. One is in the world of action and the second is in the universe of our consciousness. In the world of action we intuitively sense our highest purpose in likely to be somewhere around the territory of service to others. The form that it could take being unique to each individual. In the universe of our consciousness our purpose is more likely to simply ‘be our self’. It sounds easy but it is the hardest thing in the world for someone who does not know who they are and is not fully aware of the nature of their true nature. The two are of course intimately linked. If we are angry and fearful, if we are grasping and keeping, it will be difficult to be of service to others simply because our fear and anger are signs that we are in a ‘wanting’ state. Whereas if we are by nature peaceful and joyful, free of neediness in our relationships, then we have the natural capacity to create and give what we sense will serve the needs of others in the moment.
To achieve and maintain the alignment of being and doing, the alignment of our true inner state with our action and behavior, is no small challenge in a world that tends to teach us we are humans doing before we are human beings. Hence the necessity to focus inwards, for a while at least, to see exactly what lies within our consciousness, what sits within our hearts. Only when we see and know what lies within, will we realize and understand exactly what we are here to do.
Question: What is the most common purpose that see people living in the world today and why do you think that is?
Reflection: What is the true nature of a human being?
Action: Start a conversation and mutual investigation around the subject of purpose with one or two other people this week? Allow the conversation to develop as you both become more deeply aware of all the factors that may influence your sense of purpose.
Written by Mike George