The Holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl wrote, “He who has a why to live for, can bear almost any how.” He was referring to Friedrich Nietzsche’s “If we have our own ‘why’ of life we shall get along with almost any ‘how.” What Nietzche and Frankl were getting at is that navigating life becomes much easier once you’ve figured out what’s really important to you. Once you’re clear about your life purpose, you stop sweating the small stuff.
My own life purpose is to live and die without unnecessary regrets – and to support as many people as I can to do the same. And, of course, as a coach, my work starts with figuring out what your life purpose is. After all, the most common dying regret of human beings, according to palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware in her book, The Top 5 Regrets Of the Dying, is this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
To find your core values, here are a few quick exercises you can do. Leave yourself about five minutes for each exercise. Set a stopwatch.
Each exercise should generate a list of 10 or so values.
1. Imagine you’re in a rocket, headed for a soon-to-be inhabited planet. You’re the first to land, so you get to lay down how people will live there. Write down what you will and will not allow. What’s important to you in shaping this new society?
2. Imagine you’re walking into Time Square, where a short film you’ve made is about to be played (every day at this time, for a year) to the world. This is your personal message to people everywhere. What’s the title of your film? What’s the main message?
3. Think of three people you admire greatly – it could be a family member, a historical figure, a character from fiction, they could be dead or alive. List the qualities about each of them you most admire.
4. Think of someone you would not want to be alone with. List the qualities about them you most deplore or find difficult. Once you’ve listed the negative values, find the opposite value that you hold dear, which perhaps they are transgressing. If they are selfish, is your value generosity or selflessness or serving others?
5. Imagine you’re about to celebrate what you know will be one of your very last birthdays. How old are you? You’re sitting on a comfortable seat, as guests (children, former co-workers, collaborators, friends, and their kids) arrive, and you overhear all the things they’re saying to each other about you. Write down what you hope they’re saying.
6. You’re going back to talk to 16-year-olds at the secondary school you attended. What’s the essence of your message to them? What do you know now that you wished you’d known then?
7. You get to anonymously choose the message for a billboard to go up somewhere in your community. You can have 1 to 20 words. What’s your message?
LIFE PURPOSE STATEMENT
If you get this far, I’d expect you to have listed at least 50 or so values (some may repeat.) Circle or highlight the seven or so values that you cannot live without, going forwards. Seven words that really speak to you.
Finally you may want to use your values to craft your life purpose statement.
Here are some examples:
I am the strong wind of change, reshaping the reality of Black creative leaders
To use my gifts of intelligence, charisma, and serial optimism to cultivate the self-worth and net-worth of working women around the world.
To intelligently cultivate a fairer more creative world.
To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference.
Using compassionate honesty, I empower everyone in my life.
Obviously, your life purpose statement comes from your values. I’ve done this with many clients and no two statements are even close.
You will see that some of the examples, above, include a metaphor ( “I am the strong wind of change”) and some don’t. The Important thing about your life purpose statement is that it feels true (and exciting to you.
It will serve as a powerful filter to what you attract and what you say NO to, going forward.
We are each the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with and having a clear life purpose statement will help you attract others whose values resonate with your own. Let me give you an example.
Imagine I’ve told you there are four female company founders who I’d like you to meet, but you only have time to meet one of them.
Imagine that all four company founders run businesses with the same sector. So it’s a level playing field.
However, the first founder I want you to meet runs a business that champions diverse talent.
The second founder I want to introduce runs an internship for working-class women.
The third founder is a passionate advocate for LGBT leaders.
The fourth founder, well, she just runs her business, I don’t know what she stands for.
So, who do you want to meet? the LGBT leader, the champion of working-class women, the trailblazer for diverse creativity, or the founder without a cause?
I’ll bet you had an instinctive sense of affinity with one of them. And I’m pretty certain it wasn’t the founder without a cause.
A human life span of 83.5 years, equates to 1,000 months or 4,000 weeks, and your life purpose may change or modulate along the way, but knowing why you’re here at any given time will serve as a useful filter for what you say yes to and who you invite in.