Last night I spoke at a dinner for a women's group. The topic was "purpose". You could have knocked me and my colleagues at Camille over with a feather when the group's president told us that they'd arranged to have the attendees at each table talk about their thoughts on "purpose" before my presentation even started.
Naturally, I thought this was brilliant! I was completely engrossed in the discussion at our table, as each woman talked about her own ideas around purpose. Each woman's story was like a jewel, a treasure, that they were giving to the rest of us. As much as I loved the slideshow we'd prepared, I felt this discussion could have gone on longer and that this moment of discussion formed the crux of the evening in many ways.
What I discovered from that discussion was that the women around me had been thinking a LOT about purpose. What purpose was. What purpose was not. Where they were in their own journey of finding purpose. Yet, I got the distinct impression that their thoughts had been just that prior to our discussion. THOUGHTS, thoughts never spoken.
Toward the end of my tidy little slideshow, a woman stood and said, "I still don't understand the difference between purpose and goals." I walked to the back of the room to hand her the microphone.
In the corner of my eye, I could see the president of the group stand and I knew I had mere seconds to conclude my presentation. But I didn't want to leave that question hanging in the air, so I chose not to walk back to the front of the room to do our "strong finish" as they say in the world of presentations.
Even though I tried to use those remaining seconds to help her out, I can't say that I adequately answered her question. Therefore, it has been with me all day.
What is the difference between goals and purpose? Do you know, intuitively?
When I think of goals, I think of a list of stuff to get done or achieve. College, check. First real job, check. Buy toilet paper, check. Save money for vacation, check, check, check.
In my slideshow, I had a nice slide that showed a collage of photos of life's typical milestones: young adults in caps and gowns, a mother and child, a young couple, someone wearing a business suit. We'd labeled that slide "Purpose-like milestones".
What I hadn't addressed yet that night were the smaller goals that we carry around with us like a shopping list: loose 20 pounds, make an extra $1,000.00 per month within 6 months, buy an electric bicycle, book a flight for France, clean entire house by Friday, make appointment with orthodontist and so on.
While I can, indeed, see why it might seem like a temporary purpose to "loose 20 pounds" or to complete any of the goals I listed above, the kind of purpose I was talking about - and the kind of purpose I try to help people connect with - goes much deeper. Here's what I wish I had time to say last night to the woman who asked about the difference between goals and purpose:
1) Purpose has nothing to do with goals. Said differently, "Your life's purpose is not a goal." You don't achieve it or win at it.
2) Your life's purpose is more like a path that you are walking on, meandering towards or meandering away from.
3) Your life's purpose is with you the moment you are born.
4) In fact, you were born to be here at this moment in time to express your life's purpose as a way of helping yourself and the rest of us.
5) You don't have to be Mother Theresa to adequately live out your life's purpose. Keep in mind the vision statement (or purpose statement) of Panera, "a loaf of bread in every arm." While I realize that Panera is not a person, most individuals do not publish their purpose statements online, so I cannot find or quote them! But, look at what Panera has done with that brief, yet clear, guiding principle.
6) You can live out your purpose by simply being who you are meant to be and who you are "authentically."
7) Your purpose does not have to impress anyone.
8) Your purpose only needs to feel good to you and make sense to YOU.
9) Your purpose is not something you complete and mark off your list.
10) You are never "done" with your purpose. It exists as long as you are alive.
Goals, on the other hand, are ephemeral. They come and go. Purpose is infinite.
Take Oprah. What might her purpose be? Take a look at what she HAS done for decades to get a clue. To me, Oprah's purpose has something to do with expanding honest and thoughtful conversation about the human condition by using her extraordinary communication skills. I'm sure there's a pithier way to say it, but I will leave that to Oprah.
Likewise, just by way of example, there must be thousands of people living out purposes similar to Oprah's. These unseen (unseen because they aren't famous) people are alive right now, just like Oprah, to expand honest and thoughtful conversation about the human condition, but one of them might be a high school teacher. Another might be a chaplain. Yet another might be someone who creates a dynamic book club that endures and provokes wonderful and deep conversations.
Each of these individuals is doing an amazing job just "being" their purpose. Each one is touching and changing lives. Each one is a jewel, just like each woman in the room last night.