This month, I’m moving back to more classic coaching territory, with one of the coaching challenges that often comes up for clients, which is “I’m not sure what my purpose is.”
What is Purpose?
The Cambridge Dictionary describes purpose as why you do something. Your purpose in life influences your choices in life, one of which may be your choice of work and how it supports your purpose in life.
Our purpose in life is totally individual and can be quite hard to put a finger on; is it to be happy, to give back to society, to be a leading light in astrophysics or just to make the best life for our children?
What complicates this question further is that it probably changes over time as we mature, and is influenced by many other factors; for example, parents, leaving home, illness, becoming a parent, spirituality, work, friends etc.
We are all unique and whilst people who know us will have insights into who we are and what makes us tick, only we really hold all the jigsaw pieces and can put them together to work out the picture they make, who we are and what our purpose is.
Therein lies the challenge. It is a journey of self-reflection and discovery as to what makes us tick, makes us happy and is our true north - the focus that we can use to guide our life choices when times are good and bad.
In a previous blog, I looked at strategic thinking and how many people in life avoid it because it’s too amorphous and requires future-gazing. I suspect finding purpose is similar. It is a little intangible and people can easily be distracted from working on it by being wrapped up in the here and now.
Like strategic planning, time spent on purpose can give you something to aim for. That helps with the here and now choices as it provides a target that weeds many issues out and makes choosing simpler.
As I reflect on my career and how it influenced my purpose, it has clarified it for me, as the roles I have had either nurtured it or irritated it. One role I had suggested that the organisation’s purpose was to make money at any cost and not necessarily in the best interests of the customer. The role jarred with my work purpose to delight the customer. It left me demotivated, disengaged and fed up. I left that role and went on to explore further roles, some private sector, some charity, some public sector, some of which were better than others in nurturing my purpose. I was getting closer to understanding what my work purpose might be.
A redundancy and a bereavement later prompted me to ask myself, what do I actually want to do? There wasn’t a quick answer to this question, but rather a combination of an idea that I might enjoy coaching, a realisation that much of the work I had done in my career was facilitating people to achieve their goals and some encouragement from friends and colleagues forged a new career direction in Executive Coaching.
This was great in that it is very aligned with my life purpose which to a large degree is about being there for others (whilst also enjoying life).
Prompted by Marshall Goldsmith (the bestselling leadership coach) I recently captured my work purpose as, “An executive coach working with individuals and teams to unlock their inherent potential” so that it is clear to me what I aim to achieve, as it is to the people I interact with.
It has been quite a journey getting this far and I’m sure this journey will continue to develop. But it feels as though I now have my work purpose finally captured. In some ways, my work purpose has shaped my life purpose and vice versa (which is probably not surprising as work plays such a large part in our lives and hence all the more reason to make sure the two spheres are aligned).
My work with clients on purpose is focused on facilitating them to spend time thinking about their purpose, possibly stepping back and looking at their career to date, what they enjoyed, what they didn’t enjoy and what they might enjoy.
I apply creative techniques to get a new perspective in these situations, using visual image cards to explore what images resonate with my clients and why, as well as possibly exploring future career options and allowing my clients to imagine themselves in new roles and how they might feel and meet their needs. They are all techniques that offer some structure to the client's thinking, as well as suggestions as to how they might approach putting the jigsaw pieces together.
When this is successful, the client goes away with a much clearer view of what they want to do and be, and the coach can take pride in helping a client solve one of the toughest jigsaws in life - the one where you only see the picture on the top of the box once you have worked out yourself how all the pieces fit together.
As always if you have any comments or questions about this blog post, feel free to get in touch.
From the author:
As coaching is not an advice-giving service, these blogs are not written with the intention of proposing solutions to common leadership challenges. Instead, they are thought pieces with the aim of prompting the reader to think more deeply about the topic and reflect on whether it warrants further exploration, with or without a coach.
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