By Emily Johnston
Can you imagine if someone back in January had described our current reality to you? Would you have believed that things could change so quickly and that – weirdest of all – it would actually start to feel normal.
It’s certainly been quite a ride over the last few months. For some of us, time has been speeding up, while we snap into action to respond to the crisis. For others, corona has given us no choice but to slow right down, while everything is put on hold. Whichever end of the spectrum you fall on, one thing is for sure – nothing has been normal for anyone. And this gives us an extremely precious moment to think about how we actually want our normal to be. Suddenly our old and familiar frame has been lifted and we can look at the world a little differently – or maybe entirely differently.
Whether you’ve been trying to find ways to keep yourself sane from the couch, or frantically trying to keep up with an increased workload, this crisis has asked all of us to rethink our priorities.
How do we want to spend our time?
How can we stay connected?
How can we look after ourselves and look out for each other?
What’s really important to us?
What can we actually let go of? Asking ourselves these kinds of questions is a perfect starting point for exploring our values and our purpose.
So now you might be thinking, you are right, nothing is normal right now, and therefore this is not a good time to think about my purpose in life. I just want to take one step at a time and wait for a bit of clarity and stability to be restored before I could even begin to think about such things. Which is understandable. Yet connecting to your purpose can actually support you to regain a sense of clarity and stability – within yourself.
Let’s face it, we live in a complex world. Even before the crisis, things have always been somewhat uncertain. Now we are just seeing and experiencing it on a whole new level. Plans don’t work out, projects have unintended consequences, new technologies cause disruptions and we have a million one options in the supermarket aisle of life choices.
The more uncertainty and complexity we have in the outside world, the more helpful it is to have clarity within us. Finding our purpose is a good place to start.
What is a purpose?
Let’s start by clearing up some purpose myths.
Defining your purpose does not mean (necessarily) that there is only one thing that you should be doing for the rest of your life. In fact, it’s not so much about the ‘doing’ at all.
Our purpose is the thing that drives us, that gets us up in the morning, our ‘why’ for doing what we do. It is actually more of a feeling than a specific action or thing.
What does it feel like to be on purpose? Of course for everyone it’s different, yet often it feels like: being lit up on the inside, inspiration, passion, excitement. And being connected to something beyond ourselves, whether that’s to a broader community, a certain cause, the environment, or whatever we feel called to contribute to.
There are many paths we can take in life, and there are many, many ways we can fulfill our purpose. Yet some paths we choose give us more energy, inspiration and drive. When we follow those paths we can be more effective at using our natural strengths and unique potential to create impact. And we inspire others around us too. Just ask yourself: how does it make you feel when you are around someone who is totally lit up? Inspiration has a way of rubbing off and that can create a pretty spectacular ripple effect.
Using your purpose to pivot
So as we said, purpose is not just one thing, and can be fulfilled in many ways. And this works on an organisation level as well as a personal level (see our online course on self-organised teams for more on purpose-driven organisations).
At Unity Effect, we have developed our services and make our strategic decisions based on our purpose of ‘leading change from the inside out’. Up until COVID19 hit, the way we were fulfilling our purpose was by working with changemakers, leaders, teams and communities to move from inner clarity to meaningful action – in other words, to lead change from the inside out. One of the core ways we do this is through our online programs and workshops, where, if you boil it down, what we do is to create spaces where people can connect, reflect and learn tools and methods to empower them in their work.
Once everyone started working from home and the world moved online, we realised we had developed a skill which we could share with others to support them through the transition – facilitating online workshops and meetings. And so we created our digital facilitation trainings, and started to offer both free mini trainings and a longer training program.
On the surface, this could appear to be a Corona-inspired pivot, and indeed we saw an opportunity and a way we could support others, and sprang into action without overthinking our long term strategy too much. And yet, we’ve discovered in running our trainings that it’s very much still connected with our purpose. Yes, the content is different, yet at its essence it’s still about creating space for connection – which is especially important when we’re physically isolated – and empowering people to create those online spaces themselves. We were able to pivot and stay on purpose. And of course we are still running the rest of our programs on personal, team and leadership development as well.
Getting started on finding your purpose
So coming back to us as individuals: how do we go about finding – or rediscovering – our purpose?
Well of course there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Yet you can start by reflecting on your life over the last years and see if you can bring to mind moments where you felt really lit up, inspired, energised, in flow. These moments might be ‘big’ moments, where you achieved something significant or reached a goal, or they might be ‘small’ moments such as a certain conversation. Looking at those moments, is there something that connects them?
Another approach comes from Simon Sinek, who wrote the book ‘Start with Why’. In a recent podcast interview, he shared an exercise to find your personal ‘Why’: simply ask a few of your close friends (not your partner or family!) why they are friends with you. This might feel like a strange question to casually pose – though as many of us have been reconnecting with old friends throughout the crisis, it might be a good time to ask. Once you’ve asked a few people, you might notice some patterns emerging. This can give a sense of your unique strengths and how you are already making an impact on those around you.
With both of these approaches, the intention is to guide you towards capturing the essence of your inspiration, your strengths, your potential. You might like to create a purpose statement based on this – something you can use to remind you of how it feels when you are on-purpose. And then you can start to look for more opportunities to live into your purpose. This might mean letting go of something that no longer fits. It might mean finding a path you never considered before. Or it might mean finding pockets of purpose within your current life.
In any case, COVID19 has already asked us to let go of many things and to look for new paths. So looking back over the last months, you can ask yourself:
What are you sad to let go?
What did you need to let go of that you might be secretly relieved about?
And what has been giving you hope and energy in this time of crisis?
This is an unprecedented moment in many ways. Let us also use it as an opportunity to get to know ourselves a little better, to rethink our priorities and to be proactive in choosing our next steps and our new normal and to find more meaning and purpose in our lives.
If you would like to dive deeper into your purpose, values, resilience and finding your next steps, we have a 6 week guided online program: Purpose Journey. The Journey towards discovering your purpose is highly personal, yet there is a huge power in exploring this together in a small group (maximum 12 participants) where we can support and learn from one another. Learn more here.