One of the most important mysteries in life is something I refer to as our “Why.” Sure, we all want to know what we’re seeking to accomplish, but we also must know why that’s so. Getting to the “Why” helps us identify a sense of purpose, and once we’re firm on that, the future is wide open to us.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, what do you really want your life to be about? As some would put it, what is the True North of your inner being? The following five areas are designed to help you uncover the answer. Take some time with each of these factors. They probe the mystery of the essential you — the intentional you.
1. Core Values.
Core values determine who we really are, at the core of our personhood. And what determines that? It’s the compilation of our experiences in life, our biology and genetics, our talents, motivators, personality, and strengths — these are the most important beliefs that have created a core set of timeless principles that we hold dear; the nonnegotiables that we don’t just give lip service to, but would defend passionately.
For that reason, our core values set the target for what kind of person we’d like to be. Try to make a list of three to seven prominent values you expect to persevere and to strengthen as you move forward.
Think of words such as trustworthy, compassionate, leadership, courageous, and loyal. Make your own list; don’t model it on anyone else’s or take it from a company website. You might find several core values for your life, but if you list twenty, you’ve gone beyond the essential. Try to get to the very center of your identity. Less is more.
Remember, we’re talking about something you see in yourself that you want to take into the future with you — something that will be at the center of what you do. Spend some time thinking about your core values now and the person you seek to become.
The next consideration is this: what will you prioritize? When all the trappings are removed, all the activities, the pieces of identity, and the things life simply requires of you (as opposed to what you’d rather do) — where will you spend your time, energy, and resources? Who are you when no one else is around and life makes no particular requirements of you?
Sometimes people realize an activity they’ve viewed as merely a hobby is actually their innermost essential passion. That’s their sweet spot — their focus. Others admit they want to enjoy life — no more, no less than that. They figure they’ll go around once in this life, and they want to have fun while they do.
Some are inspired by altruism or politics or some other guiding light. Others want to accumulate wealth. If so, by the way, fine — there’s no judgment in this exercise. This isn’t about what we think we should do; it’s an honest realization of what we want to do. So as you think about your priorities, be honest above all.
Visualize your funeral after a long and productive life. What would you like to hear in the eulogy? How would you like to be remembered? Legacy is all about what we’ve done to make the world a better place. It’s possible there are people who see their true purpose as becoming the richest person in the world, or to live to climb the seven highest peaks on each continent.
As you think through this idea, I challenge you to be specific and personal. It’s not particularly helpful to say, “My legacy is to have been a good husband and father,” or “to be remembered as a kind and helpful human being.” These ideas are far too general. What problem in the world would you like to fix? What kinds of people would you like to help? And then, how are you specially equipped through your gifts, talents, and your core values to do that?
Remember, in life purposes, everything comes together. You wouldn’t have a legacy that didn’t spring from your core values or that you lacked the talent to pursue.
A century from now, what will people say about you? If they look you up on that generation’s version of Wikipedia, what will they find?
There’s also a social factor. Our big ideas and our core values inevitably point to the world around us and the people we care about. Life doesn’t work well outside of the idea of community.
So this fourth factor has to do with what we want to do for others. As we move forward toward our purpose, we find ourselves moving from me to we. Even as we work for our own good, most of us want others to benefit from our efforts as well. We’re not independent agents in this world. We become more and more aware of our context. We want our work to reverberate through the people and the world around us.
There’s another element to the idea of community. We also aspire to enjoy a certain level of relationships with the kind of people we admire. I can speak for my own aspirations: I want to be around the community of positive people who want to continue to grow and learn and change. I can feel pleasure in finding and pursuing purpose in my life, but I can’t feel true, full pleasure unless I see the same thing happening for people I care about. Obviously, those are people I work with, speak to, counsel with, write for. They’re my community, and they’re an essential part of my life purpose — which wouldn’t even have a context or meaning without them.
Think about who “your people” are or would be, if you could spend your time with anyone you chose; if you could attend a convention for one type of person, soak up the wisdom there, and eventually become a member — what community would it be?
Finally, there must be a communique — something you want your community to know. That’s your message. If you were to put one bumper sticker on your car, on any subject, what would it be? What’s the message that’s most important to you? What’s ahead is your opportunity to speak it into existence.
We’re not talking about personal and private reflections here, but that kind of message that makes you ache because everyone else doesn’t yet feel about it the way you do. You find yourself becoming an evangelist of that message, inserting it into conversations, speaking up in places you normally wouldn’t be so assertive. And you speak this message without reservation, without concern about what others may think. You’re as loyal and faithful to this message as you are to a close family member.
Do you have a message like that?
Lay It All Out.
Congratulations! You should now have a good bit of information about who you want to become. Some of your realizations may even have come as a surprise to you.
I mentioned earlier that we’re trying to solve a mystery. In a mystery novel, the detective embarks on an investigation, assembling all the clues and following their implications until they lead to a solution.
After answering these questions, your initial investigation is complete. You should have an abundance of clues — telling suggestions about your life, your activities, your interests, your passions, and your aspirations for the future.
Lay it all out — are you developing a strong idea of what you’re all about? A recurring theme that keeps finding its way into all the categories? The quest for your “Why” begins immediately, so be ready to travel.
For more advice on finding your why, you can find Stop Chasing Squirrels on Amazon.
* adapted from “Stop Chasing Squirrels“
Ted Bradshaw served as an executive with Xerox and IBM, then left the Fortune 500 world to explore the thrills of entrepreneurship. A leading coach of the Entrepreneurial Operating System®, Ted is a speaker, an Expert EOS Implementer™, and the Community Leader for EOS Worldwide. He is author of “Stop Chasing Squirrels“.