I’ve talked of purpose many times over the years. Today, I want to return to it and offer a different perspective. For many of us, the purpose provides us with a map to navigate life. Along with our set of values, it gives direction and meaning when making decisions and establishing objectives.
But more importantly, my purpose focuses my attention from “me” to “we”, providing a bigger picture of what’s needed.
When I first saw the movie “Life is Beautiful,” I was overwhelmed. It tells the story of an Italian Jewish man living in Nazi-occupied Northern Italy during World War II. He and his family were sent to a concentration camp, and he decided to hide all the suffering from his young son by inventing a game to keep him occupied and motivated, so he could survive.
However, it was not the bittersweet ending that struck me the most, but the wisdom of this father, driven by his purpose, that impacted not only his child, but the people around him.
This shift between “me” and “we” is what makes the bigger difference in how we approach challenges.
When we are me-centered, we are reactive to circumstances and the thoughts and behaviors of others, focusing on the short term. We are driven by our need to control, please, or feel superior to others. We tend to take fewer risks and force a rapid closure to what is happening to protect our self-image.
In this mode, we are more concerned with what others think of us than with what we really are or what we really want. All in all, we become more self-centered, less open to the feelings or thoughts of others, and less flexible.
When we become we-centered, we can see things from a different perspective. It is with enough distance that we can see things completely and consider the long-term consequences. In this sense, purpose gives us more wisdom because we are less driven by circumstances and more by our will.
This wisdom includes greater generosity, compassion, flexibility, and understanding, allowing us to access different resources in responding to the same circumstances.
Let me give you an example.
Several years ago, I decided to work pro bono to help a small company that was experiencing many management problems. This company was run by three young women, and after more than 5 years of operation, they were struggling to make it profitable. They needed help, but couldn’t pay for it. Helping them was in line with my purpose.
In addition to the management issues, one of the partners eventually left the company, causing a loss of confidence among employees and customers, as well as some financial problems. It became even more difficult. The amount of time I spent on this was enormous. At times, my me-centered voice told me that I was wasting my time and that I should be working on something that would make me some money. I didn’t.
I realized that I really wanted to help, and that shaped my contribution. It was not about how much I knew about running a business; it was about what I could do to help. My listening skills, flexibility, patience, and empathy peaked. So did my ability to find creative solutions to difficult situations.
Years later, the company is successful, and they don’t need me anymore. They learned a lot.
I didn’t make any money, but I gained knowledge, gratitude, and respect. Most of all, they gave me the opportunity to know myself better. By forgetting my profit, I got much more.
This is the gift of being driven by purpose.