It’s rare that we find ourselves instantaneously in love with an idea, concept, or new occupation and this is where finding what we’re passionate about is key. Our passion is what allows us to open those doors we otherwise wouldn’t touch and test new ideas or challenge our preconceived notions.
While it’s a good practice to set out short-term goals to help determine your progress and effectiveness, it’s equally important that we have a clear understanding of what it is we want to accomplish through these efforts. This is a critical point to distinguishing the short-term, frenetic energy we often associate with our passions, from that steeled and unwavering determination we see in those who have a clear sense of what the purpose is behind what they do.
Let’s face it – no one achieves success by going at it on their own. While we tend to associate the accomplishments of athletes and inventors like Thomas Edison to a single individual, the reality is that their accomplishments were the result of having a supportive network of people helping them to not only succeed, but to keep them on track toward what it is they want to accomplish.
In our drive to find success in our professional and personal lives, it’s only natural that we look to where our passion lies to help us find some direction. However, while we might rely on our passions to light the way, it’s important that we not forget that our passion can only provide us with the kick start we need to get going. It’s only when we make the effort to develop our passions into a sense of purpose that we can create something that is truly enduring and meaningful, and subsequently attain that feeling of success we all aim to reach.
For years, I’ve sifted through the existing literature on discovering, uncovering, or creating your life mission, trying things out in my life and wondering why I wasn’t as fulfilled as I believed possible. However, along the way, I’ve made four critical distinctions that have led me to explore deeper levels of meaning, purpose, and satisfaction.
Many people already know what their gifts are – those things in your life that come naturally to you, without any undue personal effort or struggle. However, in a society which places a premium on hard work, it’s easy to overlook and underestimate the value of what you were “born with”. A good way of identifying your gifts is to think of those skills, abilities, or personality traits you exhibit which are so much a part of that you can’t remember learning them and can’t imagine not having them. If you’re still not sure, grit your teeth, ask those people closest to you, and if you’re like most of us, prepare to be embarrassed!
In the old days, it was the most natural thing in the world to hear someone talk about being “called to the priesthood” or “called to be a doctor”. (As with reincarnation, where no-one ever seems to recall a past life where they were “third guy on the left in ancient Egypt”, people never seem to talk about being “called to be a garbage collector”, but I’m sure it happens!) Your calling is what you are continually drawn to, no matter how impractical or impossible it seems to “make a living at it”. In the same way as you choose your work, your calling chooses you, and for many people it is difficult to remember a time when they did not want to do something related to their calling, even if they never have (yet!).
There is a great deal of contention about whether your mission in life is something you create or something you discover. As you’ve probably guessed, I weigh in on the side of creation. In it’s simplest form, you create your mission by deciding how you want to use your gifts in the service of your calling. Do you need to have a mission? Absolutely not, but if you don’t, you are probably missing out on some of the joy, energy, and fulfillment that comes with clarity of purpose and surrender to a higher goal.
If you’re lucky, your work, i.e. what you do for a living, is merely an extension of your mission and you spend each day joyfully using your gifts in the service of your calling. On the off-chance this doesn’t describe you :-), you now have a clear set of criteria for choosing meaningful work.
1. Take a few moments to identify your gifts and clarify your calling. If you’re not sure, simply set the intention to become aware of your gifts and calling and prepare to be amazed as life conveniently drops daily hints and reminders into your life.
(If you already have a mission statement, think about re-evaluating it in the light of what you now know about your gifts and your calling).
I love seeing teams focused on the mission, committed to the big picture and loving what they are doing. When the “team” is flowing, not just “working.” There’s PASSION and MOVEMENT. That’s when leadership is fun and life-giving.
But I’ve been on the other end, when I was sick of being leader, tempted to leverage authority rather than influence, and was ready to punch someone if they complained about another petty issue.
Good leaders understand that influence is power and that how they handle power will affect their impact and results. The more you understand influence, the better you are able to maximize it for the benefit of those you lead—which in turn benefits you as well.
- Aim high. If your team thinks that the goal of your organization is to make money so that you can buy a second home, they will not do their best work. People want to work for larger visions than bank accounts—especially your bank account. Instead, aim high and aspire to make the world a better place to energize everyone.
- Be for others. People want to know you have their best interests at heart, too. The problem is that many leaders are primarily for themselves. Or, at least that is what they show. Employees ask themselves if you are for them or only for yourself. Once they think that you’re only looking out for No. 1, they will label you and changing that label is difficult.
- Lead yourself. The starting point of effective leadership is to lead yourself; it is called self-awareness. To lead yourself you must know yourself—your tendencies, capacity constraints, strengths and weaknesses. When people see that you can lead yourself, then they will trust that you have the ability to lead them.
- Be intentional. Accidental leadership is not a good strategy. Being intentional means that you have a plan to achieve the organization’s goals. In particular, being intentional with relationships takes time, so think about how you want key employees to grow. Think about what you want the team to be focused on at the next meeting. Make intentionality a part of your culture.
- Look at the big picture. When we teach ourselves to think big, we enable ourselves to gain perspective. Then we can look at the big picture and make decisions that benefit the entire team. If we only look at one issue at a time, then we miss the benefit of seeing things from a different perspective. When we think bigger, we benefit ourselves and others.
Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Edison to name a few – all experienced major setbacks that proceeded their very public success.
In my experience, I’ve observed four common ‘Practices’ of those who succeed in transcending challenges.
- Manager, with a focus on projects, budgets and assets.
- Company advocate, with a focus on clearly conveying executive leadership’s vision — without saying, “Don’t blame me; I don’t make the rules.”
- Employee advocate, with a focus on accurately delivering employee feedback upstream to help decision-makers make informed choices.
- Share information in a variety of formats — print, online, verbal — to the large group.
- Generate understanding by answering questions, speaking with small groups and individuals, and addressing the “what’s-in-it-for-me” factor.
- Reinforce applications so that you follow up with people to see what other questions they have and you offer thanks and recognition when you see them doing as you want.