Stephen Covey says to write out a mission statement that guides your life. Simon Sinek says to Start with Why, to know your purpose. Business schools teach their MBA students to know their brand. David Allen calls it knowing your purpose on the planet. In thinking about why I do what I do, about what drives and fulfills me, I’ve distilled my purpose into two sentences:
I figure out how things work and then work to make them better.
I engage with wonder, beauty, and adventure.
My first thought is that this seems too short. Can I really summarize the core of my purpose on the planet in twenty-two words? At the same time it seems too wordy, or perhaps too vague, so I’ll explain in more detail.
First, some background on I figure out how things work, and then work to make them better.
The world is full of challenges, problems, pain, and injustice, illustrating a separation between how things are (the Real) and how they should be (the Ideal). Progress comes by analyzing the Real, considering the Ideal, and implementing principles that decrease the gap between those two–principles of leadership, teamwork, creativity, innovation, implementation, communication, and persuasion. This specific problem-solving process doesn’t turn me into a savior who has all the right answers. It enables me to improve things within my sphere of influence.
Second, some more context on I engage with wonder, beauty, and adventure.
In addition to being full of challenges and strife, the world is filled with wonder, beauty, and adventure. There’s a deepness we connect to when we see beautiful art, or perform something perfectly, or create something new. I’ve engaged that deepness through singing in choirs, learning to speak Spanish fluently and learning some Chinese, hiking and trail running, studying my own and others’ religious beliefs, making others smile, and using creativity to craft elegant solutions to complex problems. The earth’s wonders, its history, and its people are the source of my curiosity. They are why I read. There is so, so much to learn, enjoy, and experience in this magical world.
I’ve tried to separate the two ideals. The first seems like it could be my professional purpose and the second more for personal life, but they don’t fall into those categories easily. There is beauty in coming up with elegant solutions to complex problems at work and there is problem-solving in adventure and creating beautiful things.
Also, I recognize these are lofty ideals. Writing about them makes them seem cheesy. Or fluffy. And I’m not perfect at following them. I’ve had enough experience, though, to know these ideals work well as guides for my life. They center my decisions on what’s important to me. I feel driven and fulfilled and most like myself when I follow them.
They are my Why.