One of the toughest questions we can ask ourselves is “What is my PURPOSE in life?” It's an enormous question, and one that goes unanswered for many people. However, if we can discover the answer, our lives will be immeasurably richer for it. And if we lead with our purpose in mind, our families and our workplaces benefit greatly. At home, living our purpose creates family unity, fulfillment, and hope for the future. In business, working from a sense of greater purpose gives meaning to our efforts and improves focus, efficiency, and effectiveness.
Purpose, Not Position
So often, especially in our work lives, we are defined by our “position” — manager, assistant, president. As a president, I am sometimes tempted to let my position define me. But it's important to remember that position is not purpose. Our position is just a role we play, and informs what we do and how we do it, but it doesn't tell us why we do what we do.
Asking the question “What is my PURPOSE in life?” helps us discover why we do what we do. And the answer to that question means the difference between going through the motions and actually investing in and caring about our work. It means the difference between surviving and thriving, maintaining and innovating, being good and being great. My journey as a parent and a businessman is all about being the best father, husband, and leader that I can, and knowing WHY I do what I do is at the heart of that journey.
Discovering Your Why
There's a fantastic and inspirational TED Talk given by a guy named Simon Sinek that perfectly articulates the importance of “Starting With Why.” I encourage you to take the time to watch his whole talk — it's an 18 minute investment with the power to change your life.
Sinek talks about “the golden circle,” with “What” you do on the outside, “How” you do it on the internal ring, and “Why” you do it at the core.
Our impulse when we think about or discuss our work is to start with What we do, then move on to How we do it. But it's rare that we get to Why we do what we do. Sinek argues that a more compelling way to discuss our work is to start at the center. Start with Why and then move outwards to How and What. Sinek explains:
“Every organization on the planet knows what they do… some know how they do it… but very, very few know why they do what they do. And by why I don't mean to make a profit… I mean “what's your purpose”… Why do you get out of bed in the morning?”
Not only is this a smart way to approach selling our services, it's a powerful way to change the way we think about the work that we do. Starting with why means starting with purpose, and it's my belief that living a purpose driven life at work and at home is the most effective way to create happiness and success. In fact, Kidmandment #1 is Life's Purpose — if we clearly define our own purpose and actively pursue it, we will inspire our children to live fulfilling, purposeful lives.
Finding My Why
I know the importance of working with purpose because I have lived this journey myself. I'm President of City Wide Maintenance, which was started by my father in 1961. I grew up cleaning the warehouse on weekends and began working full-time after graduating from college in 1988. I became the President in the late 90s, and in between I worked in every aspect of the business, from manufacturing chemicals to driving trucks to stocking the warehouse, cleaning buildings with my grandpa and working in sales.
I struggled through some of my early years with the company to work with my purpose in mind. I found that I spent all my time coaching, counseling, hiring, and firing entry level employees who didn't care about me or our customers. I tried my best to care for them with patience and support but after a while I felt drained and deeply unhappy in my work. Something wasn't right, and managing these employees wasn't allowing me to connect with my purpose.
I was just starting to consider throwing in the towel when a little bit of divine intervention occurred! A few days after a family meeting in which I had revealed the struggle I was going through and the unhappiness I was feeling, I heard from a man named Mr. Cho who said “I've got a talented workforce of great and well-trained workers. Would you be willing to subcontract your work to me?” We did and it changed everything.
I have always been a people pleaser and cared deeply about making others happy (maybe because I'm a middle child!). With a subcontractor managing our work force, I was suddenly free from the day-to-day and able to focus on the end user of our services. For the first time, I could focus on making my clients happy and providing them world-class service. I was finally able to work from my purpose, to serve others and make not only their lives easier and happier, but our employee's lives as well.
Life's Purpose, Life's Paths
Once we know our purpose, we know the roles we can play to achieve it. Sometimes people go their whole lives waiting for someone to tell them what their purpose is and which path they should take, but the question “What is my purpose?” is something only we can answer for ourselves. Ask yourself this important question, or as Simon Sinek would say, “Start With Why,” and begin your journey to a life filled with purpose!
What's your purpose in life? How did you discover it? Share your story by tweeting @JeffOddo!