This is the second in a series of 5 blog posts to be released weekly, where I will introduce you to the 5 Components of Purpose to help you identify your own purpose in each key area of your life. If you missed the first post where I outlined the first component of purpose, you can access it HERE.
The second component of an empowering purpose is that it arises out of a ‘belief or cause’; it should have its origins in something you care passionately about or are deeply interested in. That ‘interest’ may have been sparked by a significant event in your life, an experience that you found particularly difficult or rewarding, or is a cause which drives a desire in you for urgent change.
Lee Davidson was one of the ’50 Thrivers’ whom I interviewed during my 3-year long research project to discover the secrets to a life of thriving. Lee was cutting drugs at the age of six, preparing them for sale by her father who was a notorious drug and gun dealer. She had been exposed to extreme acts of violence from a very early age, witnessing her father beat and rape her mother and, on one occasion, see him wrap telephone cable around her neck until she almost suffocated. Her mother frequently threatened to commit suicide and Lee felt it was her job to keep her alive; she became her mum’s carer at the age of eight. When Lee was twelve, a report was made to Social Services about the physical and sexual abuse she was enduring. Even today, Lee doesn’t know who made that report. Social Services ultimately placed her in foster care where she remained until the age of fourteen when her mother declared that she was now fit enough to resume caring for her daughter. The night Lee returned home and her mother allowed her father into the house. Within a few short months Lee had run away from home and finally ended up back in the care system. Lee told me that her purpose is to ‘ensure that no child slips through the social service net, like she did.’ Her belief is that every child deserves to thrive and it’s the responsibility of the care services to ensure their safety and welfare where parents fail to do that. Lee took up the cause by studying to be a social worker so she could personally influence outcomes for vulnerable children.
Bjorn Ihler, another of the ’50 Thrivers’, had returned home to Norway for the summer vacation. On Thursday 21 July 2011, he picked up his backpack and headed out to spend the weekend at the Labour Youth Party summer camp. The Camp was principally a social affair. It was an opportunity for young people from all over Norway to hang out together and enjoy summer in an affordable way because the Labour Party was picking up the tab.
Bjorn stayed up all night catching up with friends and he eventually crawled, exhausted, into his tent around dawn to snatch a few hours of sleep before sitting in on lectures the following morning. He enjoyed waffles for breakfast with friends before heading to a talk on educational policy. It was only moments after that meeting ended that Bjorn learned that the government headquarters, the central library and most of downtown Oslo had been blown up. The camp attendees rushed from every direction towards the lodgers meeting ring for a briefing. They clamoured for details of the bomb attacks, anxious to confirm that family members were safe. The Oslo delegation was told to remain on the island rather than return home because it would be too dangerous on the mainland.
It was then that Bjorn heard loud ‘popping’ sounds, like firecrackers, over the concerned murmurs of his colleagues. It only takes about ten minutes to walk around Utoya Island at a regular pace and it’s shaped like a volcanic crater with an indent in the middle where the camp area was. Bjorn saw a man in dark clothing walk over the ridge. As people ran towards him, he shot them down. Bjorn and his companions ran into the woods and lay facedown in the undergrowth. Bjorn was terrified. He knew he wouldn’t be able to reach the mainland as he was a poor swimmer. He frantically called his father who agreed that his best option was to remain on the island and to try to keep as far away as possible from the killer.
Bjorn had been fighting for his life for over an hour when he came face to face with Breivik. He watched as Breivik raised his gun and took aim. He fired at Bjorn’s head and the bullet whistled past his ear. He fell over in the water with the shock of it. Breivik seemed to think he was dead because he turned to walk away. Bjorn lay still, praying he wouldn’t come back.
Both the Norwegian and international media had given Breivik the name of ‘he who shall not be named’, just like Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter. Bjorn disagreed. He wanted people to acknowledge Breivik, to talk about him and to investigate what had made him commit acts of extreme violence. Breivik was a white, Norwegian Christian. He was ‘one of them’, yet he had turned on his own people. Bjorn wanted to understand why. He felt an acute responsibility for doing all he could to prevent this from happening again. He dedicated himself to understanding why people become radicalised within their own communities and what could be done to prevent it.
Both Lee and Bjorn had a cause borne out of personal experience which spawned their purpose. You don’t need to have faced trauma, though, to hold beliefs that provide the drive and determination that’s the calling card of a meaningful purpose.
As a junior lawyer, I felt unsupported and frequently out of my depth. The dominant leadership approach in those days was ‘yell and tell’ and the learning cycle was a circle of hell comprising one failure after another. When I eventually became ‘the boss’, my leadership cause was to enable my team members to feel supported and fulfilled, rather than stressed and overwhelmed. I believe that great leadership is the single most important factor in creating an empowering culture and enabling team members to fulfil their potential. Your experience shapes what you believe and the beliefs you hold most fervently are the foundation for your cause which informs your purpose. At least, that was true for me – and the 50 Thrivers whom I interviewed.
I have included some questions below which I hope will help you explore this second component of purpose.
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.
Questions to help you explore the second component of purpose.
- What are the things you care passionately about in the ‘purpose context’ you have chosen?
- What experience do you have that might have given rise to your most firmly held beliefs in this area of your life?
- What are the three key beliefs that you hold in this purpose context? Write them down.
- If you were to describe a ‘cause’ in this context, what would be the success measurements that indicate achievement of the cause?
- How can these questions bring more focus and meaning to work you already do? How can they help you see new opportunities for doing other work or adopting an approach that would be more purposeful?