By Dan Martin
December 28, 2016
I hope you were able to take the time to read Embracing the Second Half of Life, an article inspired by the work of Richard Leider, founder of Inventure - The Purpose Company. This article is the second in a series focused on Richard's innovative views on purpose, and how these concepts fit into a transformative discussion on the future of work, retirement and the second half of life.
In a recent blog post, Richard defined a "Life Purpose Statement" as "simply your 'life message' – the message you wish to drive in the world during your short existence on Earth". By design, the two strictures Richard puts on purpose statements is that they must be one sentence in length, and they must be about making a difference in the world. It's a deceivingly simple concept, but one that I believe can be valuable in helping to dictate how we perceive and plan for our future.
In this post, I dig deeper into three reasons why I think that writing a life purpose statement is worth your time.
1. A Default Statement is a Great Starting Point
As you will find as you read through this article, creating a life purpose statement is not necessarily an easy task, and if creating your statement threatens to become yet another stressor in your life, it's actually having the opposite of its desired effect. I love Richard’s remedy for the issue, which is to start with a default life purpose statement:
"And, if you feel stuck, use this 'default purpose' in the meantime. It's comprehensive and universal! 'To Grow and to Give,'" said Leider. "Our growth determines our capacity to give! As we grow, our impact becomes more powerful."1
Starting with a more generic statement, which could be "To Grow and To Give," or one of the other statements Richard calls out on his website, allows you to use the initial sentence as a sort of personal pilot program. As you test out how the statement fits in your daily life, you can adjust and tinker with the wording and message, slowly crafting a more personal statement along the way.
2. A Life Purpose Statement Can Help Us Focus Our Priorities
One of the most interesting lessons I have learned in my career in marketing communications is that it's often much easier to write a lengthy eBook or white paper than it is to come up with a one-sentence mission statement. The reason? There are so many different facets and intricacies that make up an organization, that it's phenomenally difficult to distill the "why" down into a single sentence. Often, the marketer is forced to make a choice as to why they believe the organization exists. Out of the disparate options available, what factors, feelings and priorities best define the company to those both within and outside of its walls?
"One of the most interesting lessons I have
learned in my career in marketing communications
is that it's often much easier to write a lengthy eBook
or white paper than it is to come up with a
one-sentence mission statement."
Writing a life purpose statement introduces the very-same challenges to all of us as we plan for a vital life. If you aren't convinced, find a piece of paper (or open up your note-taking app of choice) and jot down a quick list of the priorities, financially, physically and emotionally, that are important to you now (defined in the context of your own situation). If you're anything like me, you'll be surprised by how quickly and completely you can fill the page.
On a positive note, it's wonderful to know what you want. But it's just as important to know why you want it. You might think of it as the "goal of your goals."
Enter the life purpose statement, designed to assist us in defining why these priorities are truly most important, and in doing so, driving our choices under the banner of purpose. One of the things I find valuable about the concept is that it's both inspirational and tangible. As Richard puts it, a life purpose statement not only helps us clarify why we get up in the morning, but also "provides an organizing framework for your day-to-day priorities and choices."1
For most people (myself included), writing a life purpose statement can be far from a simple exercise, and I think that's OK; above all, you want to take the exercise seriously, as you want your statement to matter. If you're having trouble getting started, don't forget that you have the option to start with "To Grow and to Give" and work from there. Whether or not you choose to go the default route, it's important to remember that a life purpose statement is a truly personal exercise, there is, of course, no single "right way" to do it.
3. The "Napkin Test" Can Help Us Stay on Track
To begin the process of writing a life purpose statement, Richard encourages us to start by writing our thoughts down quickly on a napkin (inspired by Delta Airlines' napkins that encourage travelers to spill both drinks and thoughts). This is important not only to ensure that your purpose statement is tangible and actionable (not just evangelical), but also because living a life of purpose is simple in theory, but can be enormously difficult to sustain in practice.
Regardless of whether one is tasked with saving for the future, breaking a bad habit, attempting to get more exercise or even more ethereal pursuits such as finding happiness or purpose, it is a generally accepted theory that consistent reminders can make an incremental difference in our progress. One specific example is a recent study on how daily text message reminders could assist smokers in quitting the habit. The study tested the effectiveness of text messages specifically urging smokers to quit compared to generic motivational text messages, testing the result of smoking abstinence at 8 weeks, 3 months and 6 months.2
At the 8-week (end of treatment) assessment, 23.3 percent of those receiving tailored text messages were not smoking, compared to only 10.0 percent of those receiving generic motivational texts. I use this example for a few reasons. First, I think the study shows us the value of crafting a life purpose statement that truly defines us, as a customized, well-thought-out statement can carry quite a bit of weight in the long run. Second, I think that a life purpose statement is only valuable if we commit to owning it day in and day out.
"Regardless of whether one is tasked with saving
for the future, breaking a bad habit, attempting
to get more exercise or even more ethereal pursuits
such as finding happiness or purpose, it is a generally
accepted theory that consistent reminders can make an
incremental difference in our progress."
This means displaying it prominently, and finding ways to remind ourselves of our "Why" on a daily basis. One of the beautiful things about these statements is that they are often fairly brief, which makes them perfect for a spot on the refrigerator, a Post-It on our computer screen at the office or a simple Outlook reminder set to pop up as we go through our morning routine.
Of course, the daily reminder concept isn't designed for everyone, and may not work for you. I saw a great headline the other day (in a reputable publication) that read "New Study Says Studies Are Wrong," with the point being that we shouldn't put too much emphasis on the results of one psychological experiment. We are all different, and that extends to how we choose to use our life purpose statements in our daily routine, and how we choose to make these statements sustainable and valuable throughout our lives. To Richard's point, whether the vehicle is an actual napkin or a proverbial one, it's about implementing the simple reminder in a way that works for you.
Like many of Richard's concepts, the idea of a life purpose statement encourages introspection. Looking deep within ourselves may sound a bit too "New Age" or too touchy-feely, but being honest with ourselves about where we stand when it comes to our most important priorities can take immense courage.
Writing a life purpose statement, then, is less about the destination, and more about the internal journey. Living a passionate existence, finding a mission we can believe in and sticking with our calling through life's highs and lows are their own reward.
"Living a passionate existence, finding a mission
we can believe in and sticking with our calling
through life's highs and lows are their own reward."
1Leider, R. (August 4, 2015). Why Write a Life Purpose Statement. RichardLeider.com. Retrieved from RichardLeider.com.
2Brock, Beth. (July 2013). Developing a Text Message Intervention for Smoking Cessation With Peer-to-Peer Support. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from APA.org.