by Paul Bernabei
In most areas of my life, I lack purpose. Seldom do I do things with a clear sense of purpose. But not when I play basketball. Since the time I was a little boy playing by myself in the backyard, I knew that my purpose was to put the ball through the hoop. Many years later that purpose has remained clear whenever I play basketball.
Michael Jordan, a pretty good basketball player in his own right, once said, “I visualized where I wanted to be, what kind of player I wanted to become. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.” Michael had a clear and well-defined sense of purpose.
Why is knowing our purpose so important? As Jordan suggests, purpose is our first visualization…of our dream, our hope, what we want to achieve or become. Purpose provides the power to activate unrealized potential.
Van Gogh once wrote: “The thing has already taken form in my mind before I start it…if you see something worthwhile in what I am doing, it is not by accident but because of real direction and purpose.”
Purpose makes clear the direction we need to take.
It keeps us moving towards what is possible.
A way that I am trying to maintain clarity of purpose is to ask myself the following before I do something: What is my purpose?
– Why do I want to watch this show on TV?
– Why do I want to play with my grandkids?
– Why am I choosing to eat this for dinner?
– Why am I saving these old shirts?
I not only want a sense of purpose regarding specific choices or activities, but also for big matters:
– What’s the purpose of my life?
– What’s the purpose of my work?
Years ago, our Top 20 team identified a purpose or mission statement. In addition, we have also identified our individual professional purpose. My purpose is to activate hope in people by helping them become aware of their power of choice regarding how they think, learn, and communicate in order to fulfill their purpose.
Think of your purpose as your North Star. No matter how dark the night or stormy the weather, we won’t get lost if we keep our eye fixed on our North Star.
The last few years were difficult for everyone. It’s as if we were in a boat lost at sea. The winds took us one way and then another. Although challenging for everyone, people who had a clear sense of purpose were able to manage these turbulent days more effectively.
Take a few minutes this week to identify your professional purpose. What matters most to you? Why do you do what you do professionally?
You can create a simple purpose statement by filling in the blanks of the following sentence.
On the A line, write what you do: I teach/coach/drive a bus/lead/etc.
On the B line, write who benefits from what you do.
On the C line, write how they benefit from what you do.
I _____________________ so that _____________________ _____________________.
A B C
Once we know our purpose, we can count on life sending us two things. First, people and opportunities will come into our life to support our purpose. Our purpose cannot be achieved by operating alone. We need to join with others if our purpose is to become a reality.
Second, people and ‘hits’ will come into our life that will block our purpose from becoming a reality. Hits are conditions that come up in our life that try to knock us off course from achieving our purpose. Now what? In these moments countless purposes are laid to eternal rest in purpose cemeteries unless…
Once we have passion for our purpose, our purpose will not succumb to the hits but will overcome the roadblocks. Why? Because we are then willing to sacrifice. Passion means we give our time, energy, resources…our life…in order to achieve our purpose.
Dr. Martin Luther King is an example of someone who lived a purpose driven life. Dr. King had a clear purpose that was supported by people of all ages, colors, and creeds. But his purpose was also met by countless overwhelming hits and roadblocks…death threats, bombings, arrests, and ultimately assassination. Even after enduring the greatest sacrifice of all, Dr. King’s purpose is not buried in a cemetery. Rather, his passion for his purpose placed it on our national mountaintop where it continues to shine brightly and inspire today.
It’s unlikely that our purpose will draw the hits Dr. King experienced, but there will be roadblocks. How can we stay focused on and locked into our purpose during these times? We can use five Purpose Keepers.
Practice the Pause: When hits come and threaten our purpose, we have two choices.
- Hits > React
– A common choice is simply to react to the hit with anger, frustration, conflict, or withdrawal.
- Hits > Pause (Insert Purpose/Value) > Respond
– A less common but more effective choice when the hit comes is to pause. In that moment of pause we can insert our purpose. Our response then comes out of our purpose, not out of the hit.
If you put a pause between the Hit and the Response, which of your core values would you insert?
Phrase It — Fix it in your seat before you take it to the street: This is a Purpose Keeper practiced by Dr. King. Before he arrived at a place where he knew there were going to be hits, he locked into his purpose. Through various spiritual exercises, he grounded himself in the principle of non-violent resistance and love of enemy.
Once you get to school each day, hits are going to track you down. Therefore, lock into your purpose before you get to school. Get clarity on your purpose as soon as you wake up, while you are in the shower, or on your way to school.
Peer Partners: We need to link arms with others who know and support our purpose. They can even remind us when we begin to waver on our purpose. Identify someone who knows your purpose and can support you in staying focused on your purpose.
Physical Objects: Have a physical object that reminds you of your purpose. This could be a picture, bracelet, or necklace that has special meaning related to your purpose. I wear my father’s dog tags from World War II. When I am losing a sense of my purpose or when my purpose is being challenged, the dog tags remind me of the incredible difficulties my father faced as he lived in fox holes for weeks at a time.
What physical object might you use as a reminder of your purpose?
Pupils and Colleagues: Make sure your students and colleagues know your purpose. Have it posted in your work area. At times, ask your students or team, “What’s my purpose?” As a chorus, they yell it out to you.
Identify a purpose keeper you want to use so your purpose is not just written in a notebook but obvious to others when you walk into a room. Like Dr. King, let’s put our purpose on the mountaintop.
Where are we going in 2022? We’ll end up wherever our passionate purposes take us.