In the summer of 2018, I began feeling an increased tension around decision making. Growing up, we learn to decide between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. As adults, there is more gray area and less objectivity. The right answer is rarely obvious. Our choices are less polarized.
If we are fortunate, we have the opportunity to choose between multiple great options too. Without a clear winner, this can lead to indecision or a lack of directed effort.
My intention in pursuing a personal purpose statement was simple. Create a standard to measure future decisions. More than a job description, it’s a declaration of intent and focus. We each have unique skills, interests, and passions. A well crafted purpose statement provides a framework for aligning each decision.
The process for me took months of discussion, reflection, and experimentation. Looking back, I’ve refined the process into a Framework for others to use. This article is the culmination of that effort.
It’s uncommon for people to share their Purpose Statement, . I’ve chosen to share my purpose statement as an example. Hundreds of hours, dozens of conversations, and five revisions led to one statement. Pioneer a more beautiful future for others. It encompasses core values and personal convictions. You can dive deeper into my personal purpose statement.
Now, enjoy the Purpose Statement Framework and your journey of self discovery.
Make space. It’s unlikely that this process will take just a few hours. For me, it was an evolution over many months. To maintain continual momentum, setup a private place to take notes and record your thoughts. I used a private document on my personal computer. I added to it, reorganized it, and ultimately pulled from those sections to make this guide.
Do not share this document. The knowledge of it being visible to others will impede the open and honest flow of thoughts and ideas. You’ll likely discuss the pursuit with others but the notes should remain your own. The journey is for you and your future.
Engage Self-awareness Exercises
Personality assessments provide a great kickoff point. They’re loaded with valuable information and start laying a foundation to being thinking about how your mind works.
There are many types of self assessments. None are perfect, but each reveals something new about yourself that you way not have known. It’s not magic, but it does prompt your mind to focus on patterns and trends. Here are a few I found helpful:
Other’s I have heard of but haven’t tried include:
After each, the following questions should provide helpful time of reflection:
- What affirmed what you already knew?
- What new insights did you gain?
- Which past experiences validate your learning?
- Which past experiences disprove what you might have found that. Why?
Read Resources about Purpose and Values
Humans have been searching for meaning and purpose forever. As far as we can tell, this is a theme unique to our species and a symptom of our mental capabilities. Here are a few modern books that touch on the topic in diverse ways:
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- The Road Back to You by Ian Cron
- Dare to Lead by Brené Brown (contains a Values Exercise)
- The Art of Significance by Dan Clark
- Extreme Ownership by Jacko Willink
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- Principles by Ray Dalio
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- Drive by Daniel Pink
Answer Historical Questions
Looking back throughout your personal history can often illuminate relevant trends and experiences. While we often forget day to day minutia, defining moments have a way of standing out. Some feel like scars but others inspire us. Why our mind anchored to those moments can reveal valuable truths.
- When were 2-3 of your proudest moments?
- When were 2-3 of your most shameful moments?
- Who are 2-3 people you admire or respect? Why?
- Who are 2-3 people you don’t admire or respect? Why?
Reach out to people whose opinion you value in different areas of life. The list should include successful professionals you admire, valued ‘family oriented’ people, and those whose personal discipline you respect. Leaning too heavily in one area of life could produce equally as unbalanced results in your own life.
I’ve found a simple, single question to be the most impactful and garner feedback from every people, “Do you have a person purpose statement?”
Once you’ve gotten their feedback, ask yourself, “Why did I choose these people over anyone else?”
Consolidate your Finding
Assuming you’ve been documenting your thoughts and findings along the way, begin to look for patterns. Which ideas are unique? Which ideas reemerge? Are there certain concepts that seem compelling?
Use the Goldilocks Method.
The goal of the Goldilocks Method is to sort things by too hot or too cold in order to land on something that’s just right. My original draft of a purpose statement was ‘leverage unlikely inputs to produce extraordinary outputs.’ It was revised for a variety of reasons, but the primary red-flag was that it was too sterile. The ‘inputs’ that were most important to me were actually people and the ‘outputs’ were lives changed. Talking about people with words like ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ lacked the emphasis on humanity I was striving for.
As you review the patterns you find, ask yourself:
- Which word or phrases are too intense? Are some not intense enough?
- Which are too rigid? Which are too ‘fluffy’? Why?
- Which are too passive? Which are too assertive? Why?
- Could it be more like this? Less like that?
Draft a Purpose Statement
I overthought this at first. Your first draft will likely be wrong, but just write something. From there, circle back on the Goldilocks Method to refine it. With each attempt, ask yourself:
- Is it clear enough?
- Would this help me decide between two choices?
- Does this point toward a deeper ‘why’?
Share with a Core Group
Whether mentors or close peers, share what you’ve come up with. Resist the urge to defend it too rigorously, but get their perspective. Make sure they understand what you’re trying to accomplish and ask for specific feedback.
- Does this seem like a fair representation
- Does it make sense?
- How would you summarize it?
Don’t let the need for perfection bottleneck progress. Done is better than perfect. The emphasis to make it timeless can often overweight the importance. I decided to just look 10 years out. “Does this phrase give me enough direction and clarity for the next decade?”
If so, it’s time to own it.
Do you use a notebook? Write your new formed Purpose Statement on the first page. Maintain a blog? Perhaps a post that shares it and highlights your key findings. Most importantly, leverage it make your next decision. Big or small, see how it holds up.
Once you’ve clearly defined a purpose statement, seek out a Mantra or Rally Cry. This is a shorter, declarative phrase that points back to your Purpose Statement and can be used to rally your mental focus. While it’s unlikely you’ll be in battle, this call quick prompt can center your mind quickly on the bigger picture purpose.