Purpose, an evolution over 10+ years and why starting with why still works


I love this quote from Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother and used to think of it more often than I currently do. I’ve been paying attention over the last few months to my thought-process after taking on a new stretch assignment in work and so this quote came into my head today.

My role late in 2018 shifted to covering a new business area full of such interesting and intellectually stimulating people: new HR partners, regional and global stakeholders, colleagues from across EMEA, new operations partners and the work I had to do also shifted.

When I’m in my positive and optimal state, I’m unstoppable.

I see things clearly, I build trust and rapport easily with others, I connect different things in such a useful way it surprises me and I can usefully think through and support others in their thought process so they get to a better outcome. I’m energised, I’m powerful, I feel light and I’m not swayed by much. I’m paying attention to what I know and am competent at and it feels good to be building on the competence. I feel curious and excited about learning and sharing my learning.

When I started the stretch assignment, I was in a new area and had no map to build on. It felt a little like this image:

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Some of the things I’ve learned because of this attention I was paying to my experience have been amazing. (The power of reflecting to learn and unlearn!) Only now looking back and reflecting on it, have I noticed how much development it held. Some of the key pieces that come to mind:

  • Make assumptions initially as close to true as you can so you can move. Hone these assumptions closer to true through conversations and evidence.
  • Stay curious and document what you’re learning, both for you but also for others that may benefit from what you’re experiencing. Keep learning new things in and out of work. Follow your curiousity.
  • Build small wins into your week so you see progress, and use this evidence to build your confidence / self-esteem. Use this same approach to build trust with stakeholders and partners by building quick wins and deliveries so you have evidence you can execute on what you hear.
  • Develop strong relationships with those you work with closely – both to help you navigate the stakeholders and priorities, but also to get feedback which can help you avoid the assumptions you made initially when you have no context (first point).
  • Look after yourself – mentally and physically. Don’t let your thinking overshadow the challenge. Exercise, drink more water and less caffeinated drinks. Speak to friends, your children or your parents. Breathing is good too.
  • Keep perspective on challenges and focus on what’s true rather than what your thoughts and feelings at the time may be distorting. Improve your thinking and develop awareness on how what you’re feeling may be making things more overwhelming than they are (Check out this post I shared recently: Snow? How about piqsirpoq, qimuqsuq and qana? Thinking how to think).
  • Let the pot boil when hearing of a need to solve, make sure you understand before you push the wrong solution. We are often convinced of the things we have to mind, and often can misfire and push. Listen a little longer and make sure you’re clear on the need and then explore what’s the most optimal way to solve, and that can scale as much as possible.
  • Ask people who have had this experience what they pay attention to, what questions they ask themselves ( “Who else needs to know about this?” is a great one) and what they would do in your situation. Show them you listen and act based on this.

One of the things I noticed in this ambiguous and uncertain place of learning was that I felt like I was losing a sense of what was important to me. And so I picked up a book I read often and immediately feel energised by: Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. It’s a huge book, but full of such useful, easy to apply tips.

One of the activities in chapter 2 “Be Clear Why You’re Here” helped me focus on my purpose. Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why, explains how companies and individuals benefit greatly from focusing on purpose first, behaviours and actions second, results and outcomes third. (TED Talk here on this topic.)

And so I did the purpose exercise and I also found the previous version of my purpose statement which I created when I was about 15! I’ve shared both below, first is the old one, second is my evolved one:

My previous purpose in life (at 15) was: “To use my passion and positivity, to motivate and inspire other people and myself to follow our dreams and goals, overcoming fears, doubts and insecurities and doing this in a spirit of love and happiness to make this world a better place.”

My latest purpose (at 31) is: “To use my thoughtful and encouraging curiosity to listen and connect with others so that we thoughtfully evolve and develop in a truth-seeking, energising conversation that benefits others around us.”

I thought it was so interesting to see the difference and this has helped me see massive development within these 2 statements that surprised me. It also helped put things in perspective and help me focus on what gives me energy.

Next week I’m delivering a leadership programme in Budapest to a group of managers and realise it aligns perfectly with my purpose. On April 1st 2019 I was one of the 10 speakers at Disrupt HR Belfast and this also aligns with connecting others to benefit the people we come in contact with.

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The exercise I’ve summarised below if you’d like to do it, there are many other versions but this one is nice and simple to start with – I hope you enjoy the exercise!

  1. List 2 of your unique qualities such as enthusiasm and creativity.
  2. List one or two ways you enjoy expressing those qualities when interacting with others, such as to inspire and to support.
  3. Assume the world is perfect right now. What does this world look like? How is everyone interacting with everyone else? What does it feel like? Write your answer in a statement, in the present tense, describing the ultimate condition, the perfect world as you see it and feel it.
  4. Combine the first three into a single statement.

How do you make sense when you’re in a new learning experience? How do you cope with the ambiguity and uncertainty?

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