What do you really, really want? (It’s not about you)

A classic coaching question that gets people thinking more deeply is “what do you really, really want?” It often trips people up because when I ask this question, I’m not talking about your personal goals. I’m talking about Purpose.

By Purpose I mean the deep-seated purpose that is the source of your passion, inspiration and fulfilment. To explain what Purpose is, Simon Sinek has popularised the concept of finding your “why”.

So as you dive into exploring your own why, it’s important to remember it’s not about you!

Purpose is often described as your North Star.  The North Star is Polaris, the star that shines more brightly than any other star in the night sky. It is anchored in the same spot on the northern horizon all night so it is a beacon that helps those who follow it find their way. It glows so brightly and constantly, it will guide you towards your true purpose.

If like me, you’re in the southern hemisphere, you can’t actually see the North Star. But we do have the Southern Cross, which points due south. So if you want to find your purpose, gaze at the Southern Cross then turn 180° for true north.


Finding true north

Your purpose is the thing that gives you fulfilment – not just happiness. I find this distinction useful because although we all want to be happy, the reality is that happiness is impermanent. The bliss of a happy experience never lasts.  By contrast, fulfilment comes when you are doing something that is connected directly to your purpose, so it is an enduring experience.

Happiness comes from what we do.
Fulfilment comes from why we do it.

– Simon Sinek, 2017

When I reflect on some of the things I’ve done in my career that made me happy, I remember times when I presented to important stakeholders I was trying to influence. It made me happy to see them smiling with appreciation and agreement. Happy days! Of course by the next day, it was back to reality with too many emails to deal with, and a pile of problems.

The times I have felt most fulfilled were when I was coaching, counselling or mentoring some-one to help them grow and make lasting changes. I discovered this purpose only after a long and winding path (and six different careers). Finally, I think I can articulate the purpose that gives me fulfilment, not just happiness:

Helping people live and lead courageously – from the inside out – for impact that really matters.

My emphasis on fulfillment is not meant to suggest that we shouldn’t pursue happiness. We certainly should. Current research in neuroscience affirms the importance of happiness for our mental health and wellbeing. Happy experiences help wire the brain for resilience and counteract the brain’s natural negativity bias.

This negativity bias is based on reality because the truth is, bad things happen and every-one eventually dies. For a person to grow and thrive through the adversity that life is going to throw at us, we need to access positive resources.  Purpose is a really important positive resource. With Purpose, we can choose to rewire our brains for resilience and wellbeing.

It goes without saying that finding and living your purpose will engage the whole of your being, especially your emotions. What is it that really arouses your passion and your love?

The process requires you to explore deeply all of the lessons of your life. If you pay attention, the themes of your life will speak to you about why you are here and the things that really matter. You just need to listen.

Continuity of purpose

Let’s jump forward in time. You’ve clarified your purpose. It’s the thing that motivates you and excites your passion and love. It not only makes you happy but fulfills you.  It’s the difference you’re meant to make in the world.

You now have the opportunity to put this into practice in your work. Perhaps you are a leader and your purpose drives your vision for your organisation. You know what you need to do to bring your vision for the organisation into being. You have a purposeful vision.

Is it hard to keep going? Do you manage to keep your purpose in sight when you have a bad day? Or a bad couple of years when a pandemic hits? Do you lose your way?

In the complex and uncertain world that we live in, it’s important to maintain focus on your purpose. I call this continuity of purpose. It’s a key aspect of my approach to mindful leadership which I articulate in my article on mindfulness.

Continuity of purpose means you make intentional choices. Living and leading with purpose is something you do on purpose. In every moment, hold your purpose in your heart. Never lose sight of your north star.

But I close with this gentle reminder – it’s not about you. An organisation’s purpose won’t be achieved by the leader alone. People at all levels of the organisation need to engage with the organisation’s purpose – to be able to see the north star. When the purpose is put into practice by the whole organisation, each individual can see how they are contributing to that purpose, and how together, they can have an impact that really matters in the world.

Maria Brett
The Growing Edge

Maria Brett is a former CEO who has been a practitioner of mindfulness for more than 25 years. Maria’s Transforming Resilience Program helps participants make deep and lasting changes by learning what resilience really is and how to put it into practice.  To find out more, contact Maria.

Sinek, S., Mead, D., & Docker, P.  (2017). Find your Why. Penguin USA.

© Maria Brett, 2021