True North: Finding and Aligning your Purpose in Business and Life

The shift from purpose as merely motivational cliche to a veritable strategy driver happens somewhere near the bottom line. 

During the spring Future CMO Club Summit event, keynote speaker, Roy Spence, Co-Founder and CEO of the Purpose Institute, shared his thoughts on the matter, reminding us (courtesy of his mother’s advice) to "not spend time becoming average at what you're bad at - but to become great at what you're good at." 

A simple sentiment that speaks to both our common sense and our desire to continually improve as brands, marketers and professionals. 

Jim Stengel observed the phenomenon - documented in his book “Grow" - that companies with a clearly defined ideal regularly outpace the market by factors of ten or more. Roy's advice to get sharp rather than be well-rounded encouraged the marketers in the room to align their talents with their job functions in order to see similar returns on a career level. If you find yourself excitedly thinking about work when you wake up in the morning and as you drift off at night - that's a decent start. If, however, you feel a little rudderless consider kickstarting your search for purpose with an assessment like strengthfinders.

No matter where you are in your personal journey, know that finding “True North” – your true purpose—is a lifelong process that requires a shift in outlook as well as a change in the way we view the meaning of the term “purpose” itself.

Want What You Want

It all begins with ambition. 

Just like your career, finding your purpose as a human starts with acknowledging what you want. What everyone wants — beyond the titles and price tags — is the same thing: abundance. The kind of abundance that has little to do with salary and everything to do with finding your arc of personal fulfillment. When I say arc, I’m implying a rise and an eventual change in pace, one that ultimately repeats itself.  Happiness doesn’t just start and then continue on; we never stop growing, seeking and learning, and we shouldn’t view “purpose” as a destination. That means developing an outlook on career that views your work as an integral part of the meaning of your life, not an addendum. Your passion for living a life aligned with your native purpose can be expressed regardless of the title that you hold in the workplace.  

Here are a few of the steps Spence shared in order to be effective in aligning your purpose in business and life.

Begin Amassing (Spiritual) Wealth

That might sound like a clarion call for conspicuous consumption, or hoarding, but really it means establishing (and then flaunting) your personal abundance as a way of enabling it to grow even more. 

Start by answering this question: What do you have a lot of? The same thing everyone else does: a capacity for kindness. 

Build a mental reservoir of kind acts that you could do for anyone and focus on those whom you feel are the least deserving. Think about those who haven’t earned it, and might not even appreciate it. Why? Because you are stinking rich: rich with the ability to remain true to your compassionate, giving soul and spread good in the world regardless of who (if anyone) will weep with joy at your generosity. Kindness is a muscle, in flexing it you build strength of character and you underscore your faith in your willingness to be a purveyor of goodness in a challenging world. 

One way that may translate to your professional life is when you volunteer for the jobs that others are turning away from. Those unappealing experiences may unlock an aspect of your character (a lack of patience, a sense of entitlement) that needs work or a hidden skill that can help you advance. Ghostwrite the whitepaper, let someone else earn credit on a project. But then, use that knowledge to perfect your own, original work that you present there—or publish elsewhere. Use every experience of unselfish giving as a spotlight to find the challenges that make you feel good about your role in life, and the workplace.

Build a Monopoly (of Meaningful Experiences)

If you played any version of Monopoly as a kid, you know that your purpose as a player is to not only amass wealth but also to spend that wealth in order to control every spot of land that you (and everyone else) places their playing piece on. 

Since we’re talking about wealth as a sense of creating good around you, that means that your role in work and life is to spend your capacity for kindness in the development of meaningful experiences for yourself (and those whom you work with) at every juncture. In order to create this meaningful good, you’ll have to know what is truly needed. Finding your own needs is relatively easy. You need to use your talents in a way that amplifies their positive impact for those around you while challenging yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. That requires a significant investment of your personal generosity (you develop a willingness to support your organization in the areas that are most in need of care, regardless of the “unsexiness” of it) and your time to truly “own” your responsibilities by honing your talents to optimize their impact. 

Ownership (even in Monopoly) means responsibility. You can’t own what you haven’t truly invested in, and that means delivering what is needed and then going above and beyond expectations. That might mean, for example, that after you’ve helped those interns find their way around the office, you offer them a one-sheet “survival guide” to help them adjust to company culture. 

As a leader, you have the opportunity to create an environment where every purposeful interaction that a team member has with you offers them a significant benefit. Ask how you can help, and mean it. Develop a mental list of “talent challenges” that will allow you to use your skills to “solve” a workplace need while making your team’s work experience more positive on a personal level.

Connect the Dots

At the end of every reorientation or every new chapter, there is an enormous amount of pressure to change everything, immediately. 

But that isn’t going to help your quest. 

Instead, look at your journey as a series of processes that ultimately connect with a result that matches your personal KPIs. Don’t just “simplify” or “optimize” the way that you meet your work-life balance goals, look at how you are achieving benchmarks and then assess whether it’s sustainable over time. Your work life isn’t mutually exclusive of your “life life.” By aligning your purpose and finding your True North, you can bring purpose into every aspect of your life.