Articulating Personal Purpose

Written by

Ashley Grice Chief Executive Officer |

Jul 20, 2020 · 5-minute read

While companies are increasingly inviting Purpose into the corporate realm, many executives don’t grasp how their personal purpose relates to their work life. After decades of advising CEOs and corporate boards on Purpose, BrightHouse believes that no matter your professional role, articulating personal Purpose will help you better unlock your full potential.

Why does finding your personal Purpose matter?

The journey of finding your Purpose helps you recognize your authentic strengths. Most young professionals strive to build skills, broaden and deepen intrinsic strengths, and minimize their weaknesses through study and practical application. As you reach new heights in your career, you discover that leaning into strengths brings more value than shoring up every weakness. Having a clear sense of what you do well relative to others is both a powerful motivator and a powerful career tool. It’s also at the core of articulating Purpose. Honestly exploring weaknesses and past behaviors that didn’t help you succeed may feel like removing your own appendix, but it’s a powerful step if that information is both embraced and used as a learning tool.

In addition to maximizing potential, there’s a correlation between having Purpose and experiencing wellness. Specifically, finding meaning through Purpose has been linked to preventative health benefits, such as reducing pain, developing resilience, and even better sleep. Dr. Dhruv Kuller, a research physician who explores the intersection of medicine, health policy, and economics, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in 2018 that outlines this connection simply and clearly. He writes that “research increasingly suggests … the key to a deeper, healthier life, it seems, isn’t knowing the meaning of life — it’s building meaning into your life.”1 Meaning is fundamental to who we are as human beings. Purpose helps us focus on things that are meaningful to us as individuals, enabling us to be fully functioning, healthy humans.

1. Khullar, Dhruv, Finding Purpose for a Good Life. But Also a Healthy One, The New York Times, January 1, 2018.

Approach to Finding Personal Purpose

BrightHouse’s framework for articulating Purpose, both corporate and personal, is derived from the teachings of Aristotle. The inventor of deductive reasoning, Aristotle said that your Purpose lies at the intersection of your unique talents and the role in the world these talents can address. He referred to this as your vocare – your calling.

This sense of calling applies both to companies and to individuals. Yet, corporate Purpose must assess the reason for being of the collective, from the virtual corner office to the front line, to adequately understand the role the organization plays; whereas a personal Purpose is just that – personal, focusing on a single individual’s strengths, drive, and desires. As such, the approach for finding corporate and personal Purpose is similar, but the breadth and depth of steps in articulating them differ.

The first step in defining personal Purpose is to understand your unique strengths, what you do especially well. Super strengths aren’t things you are somewhat good at doing, these are things you are amazing at doing – the type of things about which a friend might ask you for advice or for assistance. Using Aristotle’s formula, super strengths help us understand what talents we can apply to make the world a better place as individuals, what fuels our contributions. So it’s important to understand them truthfully and authentically.

A second important input to articulating personal Purpose is determining the role in the world you are passionate about playing. An effective Purpose should be so inspiring it launches you out of the bed in the morning. And this level of inspiration doesn’t usually come from the strengths side of Aristotle’s formula, it comes from tapping into a need in the world. Understanding the broad impact you can have helps you focus when you’re having a bad day with the kids, or your company is going through significant change and you are juggling the workload of two jobs, that all of that effort goes towards a higher cause, that the work you do matters.

Once you have explored both your strengths and a need in the world you care about, you’re ready for the final step – articulation. It’s time to, in one sentence, capture the essence of that intersection between your strengths and the world’s needs. If you play with the wording enough, you’ll come to understand that capturing who you are and your role in the universe in a pithy, motivating phrase is incredibly hard work. To get the phrase exactly right takes eloquence. This is why BrightHouse employs writers and artists, in addition to strategists, to do this synthesis – they represent a mix of super strengths.

Creating an inauthentic or small personal Purpose is easy. Creating a truly compelling one, even for a single human being, where you are the absolute expert on yourself, is difficult. So you’re unlikely to land on the right phrase the first time you try. But with continued effort you’ll succeed, then it’s up to you and only you to approve it and act on it.

Finding an Authentic Purpose is Rewarding

Finding personal Purpose takes honesty, reflection, and time to think – and we all know that thinking time versus doing time can be elusive. So, make your mindset one of reflection before you begin the exercise – because self-truth telling takes both effort and the right attitude.

All this effort is worth the investment because in finding personal Purpose, you can also find your joy, you can move mountains. Find your personal Purpose and calibrate your work-life and your home-life against it. Understand what makes you unique and exercise it – unabashedly – against the things you care about. And you can move your world, and the world, in unimaginable ways.

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