What’s it all for? Getting clear on your own purpose and vision

By Posted in - Coaching on May 11th, 2020 0 Comments A question mark painted onto a tree. Text reads "What's it all for? Getting clear on your own purpose and vision".

Why do you get out of bed and start work every day? Is it because you have to? Because you have nothing better to be doing? Or… because it lights your fire and fulfils your purpose in life?

When I look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, my heart sinks to see that employment is in the “safety” layer of needs. We believe we need our job to meet our physiological needs, our safety needs, and sometimes our social needs too. Going any further is a nice to have, a luxury or a dream. But it doesn’t have to be.

If your role only serves to fulfil those basic needs, it’s not exactly going to make you leap up every day. And those of us who work in the education sector probably need a bit of that leaping-out-of-bed magic to really power through the complexity and challenge of the world in which we work.

So, this blog post is all about the importance of aligning your work to self-esteem and self-actualisation needs. And we’re going to consider that by looking into your own personal purpose or mission statement: your “why”.

We’re not talking about the purpose of your school, college or university here. Sure, you want to be sure that your own values align to this, and that your own purpose fits with theirs, but this is about being really clear about what drives you.

Your work life takes up a substantial part of your working day and life, so you really should be clear about why you do it.

So, here’s mine:

My purpose is inspire curiosity, helping people to believe that the impossible is possible.

Notice that this isn’t a statement about my skills, or a job description. It’s a statement about what I see as my mission. I can apply that same statement to the different roles I carry out professionally, and those in my personal life too. Let’s see:

– As a content strategist who supports the education sector, I help my clients imagine, plan and create content that inspires people to want to learn, to want to research, and to want to support universities. By creating content that makes them interested in education and research we can help them to believe that anything is possible.
– As a trainer and public speaker, I help people see new ways of doing things, and come up with new ideas. In other words, I get to encourage and create space for their creativity so they can try out whole new possibilities
– As a leader and CEO, I seek to inspire my team to see new solutions and play with new ideas, leaning into possibility and creating the clearing for them to do that with – and for – our clients and for themselves.
– As a coach, I’m totally in the business of getting curious with my coaching clients and supporting their creativity in a partnership that removes the barriers to them living the lives of their dreams and make what may seem impossible become possible.
– As an aunt, I stand for supporting my nephews and niece so they see that they can become anything they want to become. 

Notice that the purpose statement isn’t about my skills and abilities, experiences or qualifications. I might draw on those things to make my purpose a reality, but they don’t define what my purpose is.

I find being a great speaker, a good content strategist, a good writer and so on useful to have, but none of those things alone want to make me jump out of bed in the morning. But if my purpose is to inspire curiosity and see possibility through the impossible, well that’s too darn exciting to stay in bed and ignore. 

But purpose is just the foundation of a building process that goes:

– Declare what you’re committed to (purpose)
– Articulate the vision (strategy)
– Do the things to make it a reality (action)

If we simply try to start at strategy or – worse still – just start at action, then we’re not really in touch with the “why” of what we’re doing, or “why the hell we should put our time, heart, sweat and tears into that thing”. Simon Sinek’s work speaks to this too, but instead of just thinking about the organisational “why”, think also about your own.

So what’s your purpose? What’s your “why”? What’s your “what for”?

Keep it close. When you arrive at a “why” that really speaks to your soul, your commitment can move mountains. And if your current role doesn’t speak to your “why”, then it might be time to move on, because creating commitment and action without purpose is always gonna feel like climbing that mountain in bare feet, not effortlessly moving it. 

And then, think about creating a shared purpose amongst you and your colleagues in every content, communications or marketing project that you undertake. Because when you share the “why”, you get to work as one team and stay committed to overcoming the obstacles that projects and stakeholders will throw at you. 

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The importance of shared vision and purpose is one of the topics we cover in my online course, Working powerfully with internal stakeholders, available now over on ContentEd online courses.

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