The purpose of purpose


I have a disclaimer: I may be allergic to Purpose. I’m certainly bored by the word’s ubiquity, and irritated by the notion that Purpose is now yet another thing I need to add to an ever growing list. I’m also deeply averse to the (curiously widespread) notion that, once you’ve got it down in a neat statement, you’re all done.  

But for all the noise about Purpose, and for all that it brings me out in eye-rolling derision, I’m not bored of being purposeful. Or of being clear about what drives you. In fact, I believe clarity of intent is hugely valuable to figure out what you really, deeply care about.

That clarity can help you be more intentional in your decision-making, both personally and within the organisation. Articulating it can help you grasp opportunities – and ally with others to capitalise on your collective agency. Acting on it can bring you greater fulfilment, simply by doing what drives you and gives you energy. And knowing who you are and (broadly) where you’re going builds trust both among others and within yourself. It may not be easy, and you won’t escape messy conversations (you may have even more of them), but you’re more likely to come away feeling you’ve been true to your authentic self. And that in turn can save you energy and build resilience.

Inevitably, I learned this the hard way when things went somewhat awry for me. And I suspect that’s true of many of us. It’s often when we lack, or lose, our sense of purpose that we realise just how handy it is to have.

When I started my business I did so with a clear intention. I wanted to create cultures in which people could show up as adults so they could get stuff done with more clarity, ease, and speed. This was a serious mission. So I sought the opinions of kind people around me. So far, so sensible – had I not then folded their multiple purposes in with my own until Chirp became a muddle of everyone and no one, everything and nothing.

Clearly, that was my error, not theirs. And although all the stuff in the mix was great, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. It wasn’t what I felt passionate about, and driven to deliver even against the odds. Worse still, there was no clarity of intent – which made my job even harder. Happily for me, a series of conversations helped me remember and relocate my own path. And, although stepping back onto it required several sharp intakes of breath, the moment I did so things began to change. Building my business was still hard work, but suddenly my ideas had traction.

So for all of my cynicism about purpose and how it’s endlessly bandied about, having clarity of intent changed everything. Including, luckily, the fortunes of my business. I could now talk about the business, and why it mattered. And connect with others who felt the same. Again, it still wasn't easy. But it was right.

I think that the purpose of purpose is not to develop a beautifully crafted statement. Rather, it’s to locate what really matters to you and then to be clear about that intent. And then to wear that as lightly or flamboyantly as feels right for you. So, however you locate it and however you phrase it, keep the purpose of purpose in mind: to make better decisions with greater ease, speed and clarity. And the purpose of that, of course, is to the live the life that’s right for you.