How to Find Your Purpose and Put It On Paper

The idea of having a purpose at work has gotten a lot of press lately, but the coverage is incomplete (back to this momentarily).

First, a definition.

I like to think of purpose as your Profound Why – Why are you working so hard? For what higher-order reason?  It can’t be just to sell more widgets than you did last year – your work is more than that.  That said, your work doesn’t define you; you define your work and how it serves the purpose you articulate.

Thankfully, a well-crafted purpose integrates what we do with who we are, helping work and purpose serve each other seamlessly.

But therein lies the problem.

The idea of having a purpose stops with many at the loftiest of levels.  As in “Sounds good, but sounds difficult to define.”

I’ll help you bring the concept down to earth; down to the everyday applicable.

I’ll start by sharing a list of introspective power-questions you can ask yourself that can reveal exactly what your purpose is.  Then, I’ll show you how to write a super-tangible purpose statement. The pursuit is worth it as research shows having a strong sense of purpose in one’s work nets meaning and fulfillment and correlates with heightened performance.

So, first, here are 10 power questions to help reveal your purpose:

  1. What are your superpowers? Which of your strengths can you use, like a superhero, to do good for others?
  2. What are your values and beliefs? Our most closely held values and beliefs are often the seeds of a purpose waiting to bloom.
  3. What would you do for free? What are you doing when you lose track of time at work? What do you catch yourself daydreaming about?
  4. What part of you is not showing up at work? We’re living with purpose when we’re bringing our whole selves to the workplace. This question can point to strengths locked within that you’re longing to bring out.
  5. What have been your happiest moments? These can indicate the fundamentals of your purpose.
  6. What have you learned from career misfires–and triumphs? Misfires provide clues about what your purpose isn’t, triumphs help define what it is.
  7. What deed needs doing? What problem needs solving? What does the world need more of that you’re well suited to serve? What’s your cause?
  8. Who would you serve? Who are the beneficiaries of your servitude? Who you find yourself drawn to serving can provide important clues about your potential purpose.
  9. What would coworkers miss if you weren’t there? The delightful ingredients that you bring to the workplace stew can be clues to your purpose.
  10. What would people say you were meant to do? What would others tell you that your second profession should be?

Many of these power-questions have an important thread running through them – when you commit to something greater than yourself, your purpose often reveals itself more clearly and potently.

So, after some introspection you have an idea of your purpose.  Now it’s time to get nitty-gritty by writing a purpose statement.

It’s well known that writing something down increases compliance, so let’s get your purpose down into a crisp sentence or two to keep in front of you every day. (This sharpens your thinking about what you’re committing to as well)

If the purpose statement is written well enough, it can make your pulse race and give you energy when you face barriers in the way of achieving your purpose.

So, who can we turn to for help in crafting such a motivating set of words?

Who better than the motivational masters of inciting behavior change: the advertising agency.

Leo Burnett is one of the most successful ad agencies in the world and a true master at leveraging the power of language (and visualization) to motivate and affect behavioral change. The company clearly believes in the power of purpose. As Leo Burnett EVP and Strategy Director Wells Davis told me, “A purpose is one of the most human of attributes, as most of us struggle if we feel we are without purpose in life. Brands need a purpose so that they do not wander aimlessly.”

Just as important, when a purpose is crisply articulated, it serves to inspire and guide. To illustrate this point, consider the work Leo Burnett led for some clients, household-name brands looking to develop an inspiring purpose to help guide their brand’s activities. Check out the “Before” column for each brand in the table below, which depicts an accurate portrayal of the brand’s reason for existence, and compare it to the “After” column, which is a rousing expression of the brand’s reason for existence–its inspired purpose. If you worked for any of these brands, which statement would inspire you more to bring your absolute best performance to bear?




(Accurate Portrayal)


(Inspired Purpose)

Special K For calorie-conscious women, a system of balanced food products that help achieve weight loss objectives Help women achieve a sense of victory
Purina Pro Plan Balanced nutrition preferred by professional dog trainers and breeders worldwide Unleash the greatness within every dog
Norton Software tools to optimize the performance of your PC Protect digital freedom and fight cybercrime
Invesco Range of investment products to provide growth and manager risk, sold exclusively through financial intermediaries Save people from accidental investing
Hallmark Excelling at ink on paper Help celebrate life’s little moments


No contest, right? In the “After” column the power of a well-articulated purpose statement is evident; it elevates the brand, and you can just imagine the force of conviction and pride engendered.

The accurate portrayal defines the brand’s worth; the inspired purpose defines the brand as worthy.

You too can evolve your draft purpose statement from an accurate portrayal to one that crackles off the page with motivational energy.

Here’s how.

Examine the verb used in each of the inspiring purpose statements in the table above. Help. Unleash. Protect. Save. What’s the verb of your purpose statement? Visualizing yourself in the act of delivering the manifestation of your purpose can help crystallize the purpose statement itself. What are you doing? Are you:

  • Creating a movement of kindness and generosity
  • Unlocking the potential of every willing person you meet
  • Bringing civility and respect back to the world and workplace
  • Helping women succeed by overinvesting in their success
  • Stirring the disengaged into action and into believing in themselves once again

Another question the experts at Leo Burnett use to unlock interesting verbs is, “What would your purpose liberate you from or free you to do?”

The choice of verb ensures your purpose statement is inspiring, action oriented, and actionable–for you. It’s not important that your purpose statement is unique, just that it speaks to the unique you. It should just feel right and convey that what you’ve been doing throughout your life adds up to the purpose you’ve now defined. You share it with friends or loved ones and they say “Of course–that’s you.”

So armed with power questions and a purpose statement, you’re ready to make your Profound Why profoundly real.

Photo Credit: Flickr via Compfight cc