Wherever it is you are right now, reading this, thumbing down your phone, scrolling on your desktop: Do you know why you are really here? What you are doing? Where you are going? And are you satisfied with your answer to each of those questions?
Over the past strange year or so, I have been scrutinising my responses to all the above. My career of twenty years has been spent building global brands; in that world it would be short-sighted to try and lead a modern company of any relevance without having a clear “why” – a higher purpose, the north star everyone is guided by – from the top of the pyramid down. These days we acknowledge purpose is vital for a successful, progressive business – for people to feel motivated and inspired, that they are on a journey towards achieving something meaningful, so they understand the point in showing up every day (beyond just a salary). But as I coached and dissected this topic daily, it dawned on me how few of us ever stop to reflect on our own higher purpose, never mind live by it.
This last year has reminded us that life is unpredictable, we do not know what will happen tomorrow and perhaps the things you used to think were important really aren’t. I believe we are all rapidly changing, morphing still; none of us knows what shape we and the world will be in when the dust of this new normal settles.
I also believe every single person on this planet is here for a reason, none of us is here by chance. Everyone has something that is special and unique, a gift that only they can offer the world – a purpose. Discovering what that is is the holy grail of life, right? But how many of us know how to find it?
During these recent months, though being distanced, in many ways we’ve become closer. We’ve seen inside each other’s homes, accepted kids gatecrashing meetings, embraced less pressure to wear make-up masks and dropped the facade that everything is fine. Things are not fine. We are all trying to manage this – whether it’s work, family or psychologically just getting through it. Somehow with all this, we’re becoming more human. For me, this past year has forced a much needed retreat indoors, to shut off all the noise of the outside world and try to listen to that voice within: What am I doing here?
I’ve always been a serial side-hustler, and a rather secretive night and day one at that. I have habitually tried to separate my professional self from my creative ventures, and my personal self stood somewhere in between. This past year has impelled those divisions to crumble. Perhaps getting older – and the realisation that we may not have all the time we think – has made me show up to everything as myself. All of myself. What a liberation. For the first time, I feel the incongruous parts of my life are converging. And the more I allow this, the more those differing areas of my life seem to go well. Maybe as there is less space and energy left for the things that are not working. I feel I have been Marie Kondo-ing my life – throwing out all the things that no longer serve me and only keeping those that bring joy.
Though what brings me joy is different to what brings you joy, this universal feeling is what serves as our internal compass, our north star, our purpose.
I look at the winding path my life has taken here and there and realise that whenever I’m moving towards my purpose, it feels as though I am gliding through life. That’s not to say there are no challenges, but somehow they seem smaller and easily manageable. Things make sense, random events slot into place, new ideas seem obvious, opportunities start appearing, incredible people just show up. And when I stray away from my purpose, allowing things that no longer fit too much space in my life, it feels as though those misshapen things are creeping up, wrapping themselves around my ankles, pulling me backwards. Every step feels like an effort. Like I am trying to move forwards in a swamp of sludge. Exhaustion ensues.
It sounds too simple a rule to live by – when it feels right, it is right. And if it makes you feel bad, it probably is. Move on, turn away. Life is too short and precious to stay.
There is a quote I’ve come to love by David Bowie: “Ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.” It’s only lately that I understand it and recognise it as my own truth.
I’m afraid this is not a tidy ending, as I don’t have all the answers, or know exactly what comes next. Can any of us ever? But I feel as though I am on a path that is forming itself as I walk. Solid ground appears under my feet, where before there was only air. I am moving towards my truest self; this is my higher purpose.
If you faltered on any of those questions at the beginning, I hope you will allow yourself the time and space to discover yours too.
I’d love you to share your thoughts on what living with purpose means to you – either below or in a message.
Hoping you and your loved ones stay well and safe.
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