Are you at your best professionally? Are you doing your best work ever? If not, then maybe you need to take a look at your purpose, and the premise behind it...
Talking to the leader of a Fortune 100 company several years ago, I asked: when you fall from the tree of life, how would you like to be remembered?
Answer: “That he ran a profitable company.” I then asked him, “Why is that?” An awkward pause, and answer, “To make a profit ... I don’t understand your question.”
As astronaut Jim Lovell said, "Houston, we have a problem."
Being driven by a goal, and absent an underlying purpose, we are sleepwalking through life and work. When that's the case, we're not going to know why we're not fulfilled, nor what to do about it. It makes being at your best a process of trial and error.
To move beyond that, it's important to understand, as my coach recently reminded me, the distinction between a goal and a purpose:
A goal is the daily stuff of work life—it’s on your to do list: deliver on plan / in budget, meet expectations for the quarter, accomplish this promotion, get that project done, deliver that result, etc. It’s something that can be done and measured, and has a beginning, middle, and end to it.
Purpose is the “why” you do what you do. Purpose is the fuel in the tank, whereas goals are where the car is heading today or tomorrow. When you’re aware of it, your purpose informs your goals—and helps you live and work at your best.
And behind purpose is premise—what will be happening if you are operating in tune with your purpose.
For example, for the seven years since leaving the executive suite and doing my leadership coach training at Georgetown, here’s what I’ve decided on my own purpose and premise:
Peck's 2004 Purpose: To make the world a better place, one leader at a time.
Premise: By coaching leaders to understand and leverage their strengths, and tackle head on their unaddressed developmental needs, they enhance the world for themselves and those they lead.
So when I’m wondering if I’m working “on purpose” I ask myself if I’m helping the world be a better place through coaching leaders in the way I do.
Working with my coach, my answer recently has been: I can do much more to make the world a better place—to have a bigger impact. That explains a feeling of restlessness I have, and the sense that I’m ready for something more. Ultimately, it will guide me to make new choices that help me remain doing my best, and being at my best professionally.
Without being awake to my purpose, I might have just sensed something wasn’t right, but not have the language or insight to know what that was, and left any course adjustment to chance. I might later have wished I “got it” sooner.
If you haven’t considered your purpose—why you do what you are doing—and premise—what you notice in the world if you are doing your purpose, then perhaps it’s time to have a heart to heart with yourself and/or someone you trust, and choose one.
While it may not be exact at first, you are welcome to revise it over time, until your purpose and premise are guiding and informing your goals, helping you be at your best, and inspiring others to do the same.