Every four years the Summer Olympics get my maximum attention. The athletes, with their stories, their struggles and their triumphs, always inspire and rarely disappoint, even when they fail to win the gold. If you are as addicted to watching the games as I am, I’m wondering if you’ve noticed how many Olympians, when interviewed, will say something like, “This is something I just had to do!”
Fifteen year old Gabby Douglas, the first woman of color to become the individual all-around women’s gymnastics champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics, repeatedly has stated that she has always had the desire to be an inspiration to other young girls. Due to a stellar performance, the dream she has had since age six became reality. She’s overcome injury, hardship, struggle, delayed gratification, feelings of wanting to quit, and a host of other issues that only people who have dedicated their lives to a single purpose can possibly understand. But she did it. Why? Because she had a purpose: to inspire other young girls to work hard and not give up on their dreams – that the life they want is possible.
Champions are typically good at being on purpose. They know what they want to do with their lives and do it because it expresses who they really are. Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Dr. Laura. They’re “on purpose.” They’re living the life they were born to live. It’s hard to imagine them doing anything else. They’re passionate; they love what they do and they’d undoubtedly do it even if they didn’t get paid to do it. No wonder they’re so successful!
If you are a leader, formal or informal, being on purpose is at the core of real success. And it’s not just for a chosen few. It’s for all of us.
You have unique talents, abilities, interests and values that only you can bring to full bloom. You have a destiny that only you can fulfill. Take, for example, the cab driver I met while working in Louisiana.
My plane landed in New Orleans late at night. The limousine service was no longer operating, so I hailed a cab.
Anyone who has ever taken a cab knows what to expect: lumpy seats, a dirty Plexiglas partition separating driver from rider, and the smell of “cab.” The interior of most cabs suggest years of wear with minimal care.
My New Orleans cab was different. It was roomy, with spotless white leather seats and sparkling chrome. The black floor carpet, free of dirt and lint, had been freshly vacuumed. Soft music played, and a sweet smelling fragrance filled the air.
The driver was different, too. His hair was neatly trimmed, his face clean-shaven. His shoes were shined and his clothes were clean, pressed, and properly fitted.
“Wow! Your cab is amazing! This has got to be the nicest, cleanest, most pleasant cab I’ve ever had the privilege of riding in. I’m impressed!”
The driver’s response was heartfelt and simple. “I love New Orleans! I want people who come here to see just how beautiful and exciting it is. My cab is usually the first experience visitors have with this fine city, and if my cab is dirty and uninviting, they might get the impression that New Orleans is that way, too. So it’s up to me, as an ambassador for my city, to make sure that their first impression is a good one.”
The large, soft-spoken, Cajun gentleman’s purpose was clear. He may have been a cab driver, but as with champions or exceptional leaders in any field, his purpose was crystal clear, and it showed up in his work, his manner, and in his behavior. As a result, I perceived him as attractive, trustworthy, and totally credible. He was doing what he was meant to do and he loved doing it! And the impact made was exactly as he had hoped.
Besides convention and conference speaking, I do leadership retreats and work with a number of executive coaching clients. One of the first things I like to discover when coaching a senior level person is the “why” behind the work. Why is the person doing the work he or she is doing? What does the person value? How does that person want to make a difference? How does it fit with the vision of the organization? Given one’s purpose, is it attainable given the work he performs?
Once purpose is clear, the individual develops the motivation required to do the work necessary to succeed OR they discover that they are in the wrong job. Either way, it is ultimately a win for the individual as well as the organization.
Be your own best coach. Ask yourself:
- How would you define your purpose in life?
- What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
- Why type of people will benefit most from the use of your talents and gifts? How will they be affected?
- What are you most passionate about?
- When you leave this world, what do you want people to say about you?
- Are you fulfilling your purpose?