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Resiliency Habit #5: Knowing Our Purpose

Posted Dec 7th, 2018

9 Habits of Resilience for Highly Effective Leaders:

  1. Building Commitment to Ourselves
  2. Physical Fitness
  3. Brain Fitness: Stilling the mind, developing patience
  4. Brain Fitness: Focusing the mind
  5. Knowing Our Purpose
  6. Integrative thinking
  7. Daily Reflection
  8. Personal Operating Principles
  9. Building and Maintaining Networks | Coming Soon!

Habit #5: Knowing Our Purpose

When we are living our purpose we “find the best in others, give of ourselves, leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or redeemed social condition; we play and laugh with enthusiasm and sing with exultation; we know that even one life has breathed easier because we have lived.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • What does it mean to live on purpose?
  • How do we discover our life purpose?
  • How do we align our life choices to purpose?
  • How does it make us feel and live better?

I have not posted a blog for the past two months because I have been living on purpose. My purpose is to intuit and illuminate the true potential in others, and adventure travel hones this skill. In August I spent one month travelling through the Southern African countries of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe absorbing the compelling desert landscapes, watching the Big Five and many more animals and birds navigate their natural habitat and interact with one another, and sweeping my internal landscape clean. My passion is to try to suspend my own personal and cultural filters, observe and interact with living beings who are living a life I know nothing about, and come to some new understandings of human possibility. I take very few photographs, preferring instead to embed my experiences in my mind, body and heart.

I remember the leopard who ambled from the bushes towards our jeep and took rest under the vehicle, emerging one foot away from me and looking at me intently for what seemed like a minute. I remember the queen of a Himba village we visited teaching us how they prepare women to run a household. Theirs is a difficult, nomadic life as they herd cattle and goats who somehow survive in the limited offerings of the dry Namibian desert. I remember taking off at first light in a tiny microlight plane and flying over Victoria Falls, down the deep-cut gorges, and amongst the many islands in the wide Zambesi River, to see giraffe, elephant, antelope and hippopotami from above. And I remember how I had to struggle to manage my fear when it felt like the tent was going to implode in a wicked desert sandstorm.

All of these experiences inform how I tap into my own potential and help others to do the same. They broaden my perspective, encourage me not to make assumptions about why people do what they do, and help me help others identify and appreciate their true unique strengths and purpose.Typically, we do not consider the questions about our life purpose until we are at mid life. Until then, we are following the predictable adult social-emotional development path. In our 20s and 30s we are hard-wired to focus on completing our education, building a career, finding a life partner and starting a family.

For most of us, the occupation or profession we select or stumble upon reflects our aptitudes and sometimes our interests. It may however not be at all related to our natural gifts, passion or purpose. For example, if you were good at Math and Science in high school, you probably chose Engineering, Computer Science or Financial Services. Or if you liked to problem solve, you may have chosen Law or ended up in Operations. If you like interacting with people and don’t like much supervision you may have chosen Sales, or a helping profession like medicine. You may have been very successful in your field. However, these choices may not be at all related to your natural gifts, passion, or purpose.

You discover this when in your 40s or 50s you start to notice a growing sense of dissatisfaction or unhappiness. You lose your resilience and are less able to remain composed and manage your reactions to people and situations in your environment. You wonder what’s wrong, and you probably start the quest by examining the externals: marriage, job, the financial load you are carrying. And while it may be useful to examine these parts of your life, the most relevant question is “Who am I and how am I living out my true gifts? Where am I aligned to purpose and what are the gaps”?

A client of mine whom I will call David, graduated from Chemical Engineering and went to work for a global pharmaceutical company. He has a lot of intellectual horsepower and is very ambitious; so set his long term goal as a senior executive within the industry. While raising four children, he did an executive MBA, and secured a series of 3 year global positions to build experience and exposure. Now, at the age of 46, he is a Senior Vice President, and has settled his family back in Canada. Within the past 6 months he has been feeling restless, lost and unhappy and is trying to understand why.

I suggest that his unhappiness stems from a pattern many of us follow. We set and achieve challenging external goals in our career and sometimes our personal lives ( how many of us in our 40s begin to train for marathons or triathalons?) We strive to achieve or acquire, and sometimes once we meet our objective we are surprised by how little satisfaction we feel. We may indeed feel empty. This is because any true accomplishment must have meaning. And meaning comes from purpose.

Habit #2 in Stephen R Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “begin with the end in mind”. He suggests that we create a personal constitution and use it as a basis for making all major life-direction decisions. It is based on our most basic paradigms, and becomes the lens through which we see the world. We can then focus that lens on how we, as unique individuals, will relate to that world and find meaning.

Knowing and pursuing our purpose allows us to live “in the flow”. Similarly, if we are living on purpose, our experiences are harmonious and compelling. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” did extended research to find a path to happiness. He wanted to find out how to live life as a work of art, rather than as a chaotic response to external events. He studied business and state leaders, professional athletes, artists, and students. The state he discovered is one of “being in the flow” and he describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved and you are using your skills to the utmost”. When operating in the flow his subjects reported:

  • a high degree of focus and concentration on the task or conversation at hand
  • no irrelevant thoughts, self-doubts or worries
  • a sense that their abilities were stressed but not overwhelmed by the opportunities for action
  • a sense of serenity and joy
  • great inner clarity
  • no sense of clock time
  • intrinsic motivation; whatever produces “flow” becomes its own reward
  • peak performance

So we are in the flow when we are living our purpose, doing things that we were born to do and then the value of that experience will be reinforced by its unique quality. The mind and body are working together effortlessly and we experience a keen sense of enjoyment as well as peak performance. Flow lifts experience from the ordinary to the optimal, and it is in these moments that we feel truly alive and in tune.

Discovering your life purpose requires some deep thought and trust of your intuition.

Begin at the centre of your Circle of Influence. Think back to when you were a child.

  • What were the activities in which you would get lost for hours at a time?
  • For what did other people come to you for help or information?
  • Before you were “encouraged” to follow in your parent’s footsteps or go to Business School because “that’s where the future lies”, which subjects and projects activated your curiosity?
  • How do you learn best (visually, kinaesthetically, conceptually, empirically)?
  • What are your core principles and paradigms?
  • Where have you made the most difference?

David is in the midst of this process of finding his purpose which will inform his future choices and decisions.

I will be most interested in hearing about how you are currently living on purpose or what you discover as a result of this process.

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