Years ago, Simon Sinek and others wrote a series of books dedicated to helping leaders discover their purpose and make that the focal point for their work in the world. He called one’s purpose the “why” and defined it as “the compelling higher purpose that inspires us and acts as the source of all we do.”
My coaching work is 100% aligned with my purpose, but I did not “discover” this until I was in my 30s. And by the “this” that I discovered, I mean both my purpose and the work that aligns with my purpose. Talking about purpose and inspiration is not at all a new concept, but I know that many leaders have never paused to consider their “why.” If this is you, I invite you to read on and learn how aligning your choices to your purpose can accelerate positive growth in your life and career.
There are hundreds of books that have been written about clarifying your purpose and aligning your life and work with that purpose. Career books, self-help books, spiritual books, business books, and much more. Over the years, I have owned and read many of them including:
Why You Need a Clear “Why”
Think of purpose or “why” like the destination you enter into your GPS. It tells you where you’re headed and gives you guidance for what turns to make along the way. When both you and your coach are clear about your purpose, then the topics you explore and the actions you take coming out of each coaching session will support you in living and working more in alignment with your purpose. You are then more likely to be successful in living a purposeful or purpose-filled life; a life that is meaningful and impactful in a way that tells you that you matter and your contributions to the world make a difference.
The Role of Purpose in Coaching
When working with a coach (or when you are taking a coach approach to people management or parenting), it’s important to first clarify where you are headed: both in the immediate term and in the long term. There are many approaches to defining purpose and I have utilized many of them in my work with clients.
Is there a Difference Between Capital “P” Purpose versus Lowercase “p” purpose?
Ask yourself the coaching question: “What is the purpose of work for you?”
You may respond with a practical response such as “to pay the bills” or a more filial response such as “to live out my parents’ dream.” Or your response may be something more spiritual such as “to fulfill my calling.”
Ask yourself this next coaching question: “What is your purpose in life?”
Your response will likely be a bit different from your response to the first question above. It may be related to your day job or instead have nothing at all to do with work. You may not know exactly what your purpose in life is, or you may be totally clear about it and use it as your guiding star day in and day out.
When the response you give to this second question sparks warmth in your chest or otherwise feels alive in your body, that usually indicates you have discovered your capital “P” purpose – that GPS destination that inspires you to keep going through challenges, that makes life feel more worth living, and that often involves you taking actions that have a positive ripple effect through your family, community, or beyond. If your response feels solid and right in your head, but does not necessarily cause a spark, then your purpose is equally worthy but more likely to be a lowercase “p” purpose. It still gives you direction, anchors your decisions, and makes sense for what is important for you.
Why do I distinguish Capital “P” and lowercase “p” purpose? We could have a long and engaging debate about this topic, and at the end we will likely conclude that we both have valid opinions on this topic. My view is based on my own life experience and what I have been blessed to witness in coaching with my clients these past two decades. With confidence, I believe that the capital “P” purpose is where the real juice is. Once you know it, you feel greater motivation and self-confidence. Clarifying and naming your purpose and then taking actions in support of your purpose can be so powerful that the process can even generate mental, emotional, and physical healing. Before discovering your capital “P” purpose, it’s almost like you had been living your life all along with a missing part. And once you plug in that part, your internal engine kicks in at a higher gear, allowing you to hum along at a higher vibration with greater efficiency and power.
How to Find or Clarify Your Purpose?
Read any of the books above and you’ll find guidance on how to do this. In my experience, it requires three components: reflection + self-awareness + some type of external input and/or confirmation.
Reflection in this context can involve looking back at the key events that have shaped you, noticing which people and what events have been your biggest “teachers”, identifying repeating patterns or challenges, and distilling the lessons learned. The role of self-awareness with purpose involves observing what is happening in your life with curiosity and clarity, recognizing what is and is not working for you, and being willing to change directions (even when it may not seem rational or linear) to move toward your desired GPS destination.
The external piece can be anything from taking a fun old school magazine quiz to “find your purpose” to completing a more robust and formal assessment. It could involve something more spiritual like accessing your Akashic records or discussing your life blueprint with someone trained to interpret your birth date and location using Vedic methods. And more recently, as the topic of psychedelic-assisted therapy has grown in popularity, some people are using plant medicine to explore deeper questions about their life and purpose.
When I teach coaching skills to professionals, I share a set of copyrighted questions that help build self-awareness in the client. Each answer to a question acts like a puzzle piece. Once the pieces are put together in a coaching exchange, the picture of your purpose then becomes clear.
Other ways clients sometimes clarify their purpose cannot be planned. I have coached clients who lived through a near-fatal health crisis, or climbed their way out of a damaging relationship, only to accumulate through the experience some incredible clarity about what they do and don’t want in life and why, leading them to clarify their purpose. Lastly – and much more rare – is the case of people who have a lightning bolt type insight, sometimes called claircognizance (clear knowing), that makes their purpose known to them clear as day in a single moment.
How reflection + self-awareness + some type of external input all come together in coaching is by exploring ideas to clarify what really feels right in your bones and having the coach mirror back to you the emerging thoughts so you can hear them and digest them. Ultimately, you document in writing your purpose statement and use it as your GPS destination to influence your priorities and guide your decisions.
How Aligning Your Choices with Purpose Accelerates Growth
As mentioned earlier, once you clarify your purpose, it’s like plugging in a previously missing piece to your internal engine in a way that kicks you into a higher gear, allowing you to hum along at a higher vibration with greater efficiency and power. You feel more energized, you experience less friction in life, you have greater certainty about what you want to do and not do, your confidence grows, and cumulatively you realize greater satisfaction and well-being in life.
Living and working with purpose is not about ego, nor the material goals of job titles and bank accounts, although new roles and financial means can go hand-in-hand with walking in alignment with purpose. Aligning your choices with your purpose can accelerate positive growth in your life and career in a way that radiates a positive wave of energy and influence through your social, family, and work circles.