Clarity of purpose is critical if you want to thrive in your career, as a parent, partner or friend. In fact, research now tells us that without clarity of purpose, we are unlikely to flourish or fulfil our personal potential.

I used to think of purpose as a vague, esoteric concept. Discovering my true purpose seemed as likely as walking on water. However, I now know that purpose is a practical idea that is readily discoverable by any and all of us.

I uncovered what purpose really means when I spent three years researching resilience. That project took me on a 35,000-mile journey to interview 50 ‘Thrivers’ from around the world who had flourished in the face of adversity. I wanted to understand if these ‘Thrivers’ had used similar resilience strategies to overcome and grow through trauma. It turns out they had – and you and I can also apply those same strategies to thrive through everyday difficulties as well as great adversity. You can find out more in my book, ‘9 Secrets to Thriving’ HERE.

The ’Thrivers’ each attribute their ability to flourish through adversity to (among other things) having a clear purpose. I also found that there are 5 distinctive components to purpose, and I developed a questionnaire based on those components to enable you to discover yours. 

This is the first in a series of 5 blog posts to be released weekly, where I will introduce you to each of the 5 Components of Purpose to help you identify your own purpose in each key area of your life. 

‘Purpose’ is defined as ‘why you do something or why something exists’. Becoming clear about your ‘purpose’ will do two things. Firstly, it enables you to make those small adjustments in your current lifestyle and relationships to find greater meaning and connection on a daily basis. Secondly, it provides a roadmap to create far more significant changes to achieve meaning and fulfilment in all areas of your life. 

Having a purpose is good for your health, too. A study published in 2012 had volunteers undergo cognitive and neurological testing once a year for ten years. Each person was asked to clearly define his or her purpose in life. After each participant’s death, brain autopsies were performed on them. The researchers found that people who did not have a clear purpose in life had significantly faster rates of mental decline. This study also linked not having a purpose in life to decreased longevity and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Having a clear purpose serves as your ‘North Star’. It brings clarity to decision-making and provides a profound sense of direction. In essence, once you have purpose in each area of your life, all your actions, goals, relationships and decisions become infinitely easier. 

As long as we’re striving to understand our ‘why’ and we keep pushing towards that clarity, then we can stay in the sunlight of thriving. When we stop asking ourselves that question – that is when we start to just survive.” –Scott Mann, 50 Thriver 

The First Component of Purpose; Your Purpose is Closely Connected to Your Core Values

Chrisfino Kenyatta Leal was one of the ’50 Thrivers’ who pointed to the importance of purpose in enabling him to thrive through adversity. He was twenty-five years old when he was sentenced to life imprisonment for possession of a firearm. He hadn’t been using the gun. It had been found in the boot of his car. But that was enough to attract a life sentence under the Californian 3-strike rule because he already had a criminal record. 

Kenyatta didn’t know how he was going to make it through a lifetime in prison. He was petrified. Out of desperation, he turned to an older prisoner who was respected by the younger inmates because of his positive attitude and sound advice. Kenyatta approached him in the exercise yard one day. The advice he was given changed the trajectory of his life. He was told to devote his life to what he valued most.

From that point, Kenyatta set goals aligned to those values and identified a clear purpose for his education, links to his family and his role as a mentor in prison. That gave him a renewed focus and a sense of meaning despite living his life behind bars. 

Mike Haines was another of the ’50 Thrivers’ who found meaning through adversity by becoming clear about his purpose. Mike’s brother, David Haines, had found his own purpose when he began doing humanitarian work as a young man. He had been working with peace keeping forces in the Balkans, gathering evidence to bring war criminals to justice. Then after he started to work with refugees, he decided to quit the Air Force and commit wholeheartedly to humanitarian work. Mike knew that decision was right for his little brother because David had never been more enthused.

David’s work took him to Syria where he served with an aid agency, Acted. On 11 March 2013, he was travelling to a refugee camp to ascertain how safe it would be to transport aid there. On the return trip the convoy was ambushed. David and his friend, Frederico, were dragged at gunpoint from the vehicle, badly beaten and thrown into a van. Islamic State militants had captured them. Acted contacted Mike immediately to let them know that David had been captured. He had to break the news to their mother and father, and to David’s wife and daughters. Mike worked as the liaison between Acted, the Government, various agencies and staff, and his family for the period of David’s captivity. 

Saturday 13 September 2014 was a beautiful day. Mike and his partner, Vanessa had been at a food festival, his parents were shopping in Perth and his sons had been go-karting. At 11.03pm the phone rang. Mike answered it. The Islamic State militants had murdered David and had released film footage of his beheading. 

As Mike shared the news with his family, he was full of hatred for those who had murdered his brother. But even in the midst of his grief and anger, he understood that David’s murderers wanted him to spout anti-Muslim rhetoric. He told the BBC that David’s life hadn’t been about hatred; it had been about love for mankind. In honour of his memory, Mike did not want to fight with hate or fists or weapons, he wanted to fight with his heart and his humanity. Mike put the values of love and connection at the heart of his message to others about David’s murder.

Mike wanted to make it clear that hatred is a choice. He began to speak in schools all over the UK so that young people could understand that they can choose not to hate. He has spoken to young men and women intent on going to Syria to fight for ISIS, who have been touched by his message and abandoned their plans. A young student heard him speak at a school in Portsmouth and from that point onwards his truancy ended. A young man destined for a life of crime as a gang member told Mike that hearing his story inspired him to choose humanity instead. 

If you want to identify your purpose in any area of your life, start first by identifying what you value most. A practical way to do so is to take a list of values, like the one below, and choose ten that resonate most deeply with you. Then edit that list to seven, and finally, to five. The editing process can be quite tough as you are forced to choose one value over another, even though both might be important to you. But it’s vital to be able to easily recall your values, and five is a perfect number to allow you to do that.

I’d encourage you to do the exercise now. Once you have your five core values, consciously apply them to your decision making. Will saying ‘yes’ to an opportunity enable you to live in alignment to your values? If not, that may explain why you feel uneasy about an opportunity – and give you clarity about why and how to say ‘no, thank you’. Your values will shed light on why you might struggle in some relationships, whilst feeling right at home in others. Finally, if your life feels out of balance or unfulfilling, you could choose a value to aspire to. Simply ask yourself each day how you could act in alignment with this new ‘aspirational’ value. What decisions might you make, what actions might you take, what changes might you implement? You can access the Values Exercise Workbook below.

If you would like to learn about the 5 Components of Purpose, and identify your Purpose by completing the ‘Purpose Questionnaire’, then join my 2-hour Find Your Purpose Masterclass at 4.30pm on 8 March 2022. It’s free and you can register HERE.

Click HERE to download the Values Exercise Workbook.