Demystifying Purpose with Laura Berman Fortgang
More than I’d like to admit, hearing people talk about their purpose sometimes makes my skin crawl.
It’s like nails on a blackboard exacerbated by chewing a cheap espresso bean candy. Just bad. And yet who am I to talk? I often help others define their purpose. I just hope I don’t set off people’s “BS“ barometers the way many well-meaning people set off mine.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of figuring out one’s purpose and living it fully.
The part I have a problem with is people who claim to know their purpose and then do not execute it in their daily being.
It’s not that they are lazy or lack integrity. In my opinion, it just means that they have chosen one that does not fit them at ALL.
You see, purpose is not chosen. It’s not a slogan or a bumper sticker that, if you like it, you don it on your car or business card.
Purpose is something you ARE, not something you DO. And that’s where most folks go wrong…they use a WHAT to describe what is really a WHO.
“My purpose is to make a difference.”
“I help other people.”
“My purpose is to make an impact on everyone I meet.”
These are not WHO qualities that are as central to your being as your DNA. These are WHATs or “to-dos” that you think will make you a better person if acted upon.
To set the context for finding yours, let’s define purpose. To do so, I need to describe it in relation to Vision and Mission because many schools of thought use those terms interchangeably, and yet I believe they are distinct.
A vision is a compelling image of an achievable future.* It is what you see as possible that may or may not happen in your lifetime—like Microsoft’s vision of a computer on every desk, in every office, in every home. (Boy, they have come a long way!)
A mission is what you are going to DO to make that vision come to be. In my company, I operate with the vision that everyone on the planet is a coach. Not that they are all professionals, but that the skill set we possess for communication and self-knowing passes on from person to person until it is common knowledge and culture everywhere. To fulfill that purpose, our mission is to create the best tools and publish the results of our work so the skills and insights can be disseminated and spread.
Purpose, then, reflects your life’s blood. The energy that runs through you that is the unique contribution to making that mission and purpose come to be. Really no two are alike. Two people may have similar ones, but no two will express their purpose in exactly the same way. For example, maybe you are a voice for justice, a midwife to ideas or to people’s potential, a bridge to peace or communication, or someone who calls forth smiles, or someone who empowers.
You may be an action, you may be a noun, it doesn’t matter, but it is something you just are and always have been even if you stand still and do nothing.
People will gravitate to you for this.
One of my favorite stories about purpose comes from Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan, which is an account of a woman allegedly living with Aborigines in the Australian outback. One of her observations was that no one in the tribe had a biblical or given name. Their name was their purpose in the tribe. The songstress, the peacemaker, the cook, the medicine woman—they were their function. In this case, they are described in nouns but they were not the to-dos of that function. That function was undeniably who they were. They would not be themselves without fulfilling that function. Interesting to me, as well, was that they only celebrated birthdays when they evolved to a new level of purpose rather than when the lunar calendar came around to the date of their birth.
Imagine the peace you would have if you truly understood your part in the whole in that way. Imagine the focus to your every day. That is the gift of uncovering and living your purpose.
If you are one of the people still not clear about your purpose, keep in mind that there are two criteria that tell you you’ve found it: 1) It’s something you already are, or do, naturally, and 2) it impacts others. No one has a purpose alone in a vacuum.
Here are four questions to purpose** that could help you recognize it within you:
- What have people always naturally come to me for? (It may or may not match your job description.)
- What have people always said I should do or be? (Watch for the hint of your purpose in the essence of these things, not necessarily their exact title or role—so it is not that you should be a comedian, but rather that your humor is important.)
- What is the essence of your dream? (Current or past—and again, not the title or “package” but the natural qualities these roles would allow you to express in the world.)
- What has your whole life been about? (For example, a life of overcoming adversity may be the exact qualification you need to lead others to overcome their own.)
Your purpose is as natural a part of you as the blood coursing through your veins.
It’s not an implant, it is your DNA—your Life Blueprint®. Not being able to name it gives people a lot of distress, but it could simply mean that there is more inner work to be done before you are ready to live your purpose fully.
Many also worry that their purpose needs to be grand or world-changing. I call this the “Mother Theresa Syndrome”—as if one’s purpose is not worthy if it is not on the fast track to sainthood. We can’t measure our actions ourselves as to their grandeur. Small actions can add up to something unexpectedly game-changing but it is rarely premeditated. It’s rather the cumulative result of small, purposeful actions.
When we all give with great care, understanding, respect, and compassion we are fulfilling our reason for being. The ripple effect is initiated and it is not ours to control.
So, please, forget crafting a purpose statement and just get real. When you are fully and undeniably your SELF, you won’t have to ask what your purpose is because you’ll already be it. It is as simple as that and it will have no funny aftertaste. It’ll just be you!
*Excerpted from Take Yourself to the Top by Laura Berman Fortgang
**Excerpted from Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction by Laura Berman Fortgang
Laura Berman Fortgang, MCC, will be teaching Now What?®: Radical Change for New Career Directions at 1440 Multiversity on April 6 – 8, 2018.