The Power of Purpose


“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” ~ John F. Kennedy

“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”  –  Helen Keller

Portland's Old Steel Bridge  as viewed from the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Photo courtesy of Carlo Delumpa © 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Portland's Old Steel Bridge  as viewed from the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Photo courtesy of Carlo Delumpa © 2017. All Rights Reserved.

I’ll always remember the day my purpose became clear to me. It was the early 90’s. I was living in Japan, and my job involved helping P&G employees from different countries and cultures work well together.  My commute was a one-hour train ride each way, so I had plenty of time to read, reflect, listen to my Walkman (yes, I'm that old) and snooze (and hopefully not drool!). One day, listening to my Michael Jackson's song "Man in the Mirror", I looked out and admired the sunlight dancing on a river near the office.  A series of bridges crossed the river. I had seen them every day, but this day I really saw them.

All of a sudden,  I realized - “I am a bridge. I help people connect to themselves and others.” Warmth radiated from my gut, my heart thumped with excitement, and a certain “knowingness” coursed through me.  I had discovered my purpose!

As human beings, it’s important for us to have a sense of meaning and direction in our lives.  Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, wrote about this in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Frankl found a sense of purpose in the camp by caring about his wife, who was in another section of the camp. He swears that he would not have survived if it he hadn’t had that purpose. Viktor was also a role model – he helped us see that purpose is not about us; it’s about how we serve others. It’s about how we make the world a better place.

Why should we care about having a purpose? Because our time on this planet is short. A purpose provides us with a sense of direction, and it helps us decide where to invest our precious life energy. Purpose gives us grounding; we can come back to it when life throws us a curveball. It also gives us wings - it inspires us to fulfill our potential.

Purposes are very personal and unique. Here are some examples:

“To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference.”
“To help others discover their worth, overcome obstacles, and fulfill their hopes and dreams.”
“To act as an instrument of positive change in my family, my work and my community.”

Have you identified your purpose? If not, you can start by asking yourself some fundamental questions:

  • What’s truly important to me?
  • What would I love to hear others say about me at my 80th birthday?
  • What makes my heart sing?
  • How do I serve others?
  • What are moments in my life when I’ve felt in “flow”, as though things were happening smoothly and naturally? What was I doing during those moments?

I promise that if you invest time in identifying your purpose, will feel more grounded, more intentional, more valuable, and more focused.  And happier! When I go through rough times, I go back to that time on the train, remember those bridges, and remind myself what I am here to do. Doing so inspires me to take action.  I bet your purpose can do that for you too - give it a try!