The Path to Possible: Finding your Purpose

The Path to Possible: Finding your Purpose

The importance of your WHY to your flourishing 

Have you ever gotten lost or struggled to find your way? Maybe it was in a large, foreign city or at a crowded festival. You knew where you were trying to go, but you couldn’t figure out the best way to get there.  

Maybe this has happened to you at some point in your life – or perhaps only in a vivid nightmare. But getting lost is a baffling sensation that can make your head spin in this era of Google maps and ETAs that can pinpoint your arrival to the precise minute. 

In this series, we’ll examine some of the common obstacles people face when it comes to their journey of well-being. Today, we’ll look at what happens when you don’t have a clearly defined purpose — and how this effectively takes the map right out of your hands and leaves your compass needle spinning as you search for your destination. 

The Importance of Purpose 

Your purpose — or your WHY — is intrinsically important. 

Purpose is defined loosely in the dictionary as the reason why something exists or why it is done, made, or used. 

Everyone has a purpose. YOU have a purpose.   

Imagine planting a climbing rose or another type of vine. What happens if you forget to plant it near a trellis or something it can use to grow upward? The plant will lay on the ground and likely waste away — its abilities stunted. The trellis in this scenario is like your purpose. It gets you where you need to go. Without a WHY, you can’t move in any direction to propel your life upward. 

This is a problem because purpose allows you to flourish.  

Dr. Martin Seligman, the “founding father” of flourishing, said flourishing is more than just being merely “happy.” It is far more multi-dimensional and encompasses:  

  • Positive Emotions 
  • Engagement 
  • Relationships  
  • Meaning 
  • Accomplishments 

Harvard’s Human Flourishing program also includes similar elements, such as

  • Happiness and life satisfaction 
  • Mental and physical health 
  • Meaning and purpose 
  • Character and virtue 
  • Close Social relationships 

So, as you can see, meaning and purpose are integral to flourishing. This means that if you don’t have a purpose … it becomes impossible to flourish in the way you are fully capable of. 

What This Means for YOU 

Today, research is illuminating various reasons why purpose matters.  

In an article in the American Journal of Health Promotion, Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele (of Harvard’s Flourishing Program) and his associates studied the effects of change of purpose on people’s overall health. The findings were astounding. 

When the group looked at nearly 13,000 participants over age 50 over four years, they found people with the “highest” purpose had

  • 46% reduced mortality 
  • 13% reduced risk of sleep problems 
  • 43% reduced risk of depression 

In another extensive study examining subjects in their 20s, it was found that “A greater sense of mission was associated with greater psychological well-being.”  

In other words, having a purpose — or a WHY — is good for your physical and cognitive well-being. 

It may also be good for your wallet. 

According to Psychology Today, a study in 2016 found that “individuals who feel a sense of purpose make more money than individuals who feel as though their work lacks meaning.  

What This Means for Your Organization 

Having a vision or a WHY is not only good for the individual, it’s good for business. 

A Harvard Business Review study found that companies with a clearly defined sense of purpose — widely cultivated throughout the company — experienced better growth than companies without clear purpose. Specifically, 52% of purpose-driven companies experienced over 10% growth compared with 42% of non-purpose-driven companies.  

People enjoy working for companies that are actively working toward accomplishing something meaningful. It makes them feel like their work matters and that their efforts have a purpose and meaning beyond simply providing a paycheck. 

A Harvard Business Review article states that “If organizations want to inspire their workers, they must clearly communicate why they’re in business and what value they provide. When employees understand and embrace those things, their companies thrive. Survey results show that more than 90% of companies with a well-defined purpose deliver growth and profits at or above the industry average.”

Dream Big or Small – Just Dream 

A WHY is important for everyone. Not just some people, but ALL people.  

An overarching purpose acts as a map or compass, to get you from where you are now, to where you want to be.  

But it’s important to note that your WHY doesn’t have to be “off-the-charts” momentous.  

When you think of people with incredible purpose, the first thing you think of might be someone like Alexander the Great conquering most of the known world or Leonardo Da Vinci painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 

But your WHY doesn’t have to be this grandiose in scale. It can be something as simple as making dinner for your family or volunteering at a shelter on Saturdays. Helping others and being there for your family are two perfect examples of worthy, simple, actionable WHYs. 

A famous Methodist quote by John Wesley says: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” 

However, it’s not always easy to discover your purpose, and it can be extremely helpful to have someone next to you, helping you discover your path to your WHY.  

Elements of the KMO model — knowledge, motivation, and organization — can help you figure out your purpose and propel you forward. Think about what you KNOW. Consider what MOTIVATES you (what do you value in your life). And realize how you are or aren’t supported by this in the organization you serve. Examining these points will bring your vision and purpose into clearer focus — helping you see the elements that both propel and hinder your progress. 

If you’re still struggling with purpose, the experts at Positive Psychology suggest considering the Japanese concept of “ikigai,” in which you examine what gives your life worth or meaning.

Briefly, this concept involves taking into consideration: 

  • What you love 
  • What you are good at 
  • What the world needs 
  • What you can get paid for 

Find a place where all these spheres overlap, and you may start to find your WHY.  

As you continue to look for your WHY, try to lean hard into activities that give you joy and experiment with new possibilities to help you discover potential you might never have considered. Start small, as you attempt to locate your north star and align your compass needle. 

Once you have your bearings and discover your purpose, you’ll find your route to flourishing is clearer than ever before.