Discover Your Transcendent Purpose

Dr Ivan Joseph
October 5, 2020

Discover Your Transcendent Purpose

You are now equipped with an understanding of the five mental skills that combine to create self-confidence: positive thought, team building, grit, higher expectations and focus. And you have a framework for developing them going forward. So it’s time to talk about purpose.

I want everyone I work with to have confidence in themselves. That’s why I do what I do. It’s also why I have always loved working with student-athletes. Only a small number of them will ever play professionally. Most of them will have a life and a job like everyone else, which is why they need to know who they are and how to succeed. 

My purpose is my North Star—it guides me in everything I do. It is there for me when I face difficult decisions and don’t know how to proceed. My purpose is also the source of the energy that inspires me every single day.

What is your North Star? Whatever the answer, that’s the reason you are alive. I’m not talking about what you do—that’s a side effect. I’m talking about why you do it. 

This is what best-selling author Daniel Pink calls “transcendent purpose”—a connection to some meaning greater than ourselves. It can be genuinely difficult to find. You have to really know who you are and avoid being distracted or disoriented by what others think you should be. 

Here are three simple suggestions about how to find your purpose.

Purpose Finder #1: Forget about the Money

Daniel Pink makes a convincing case that the profit motive is nowhere near as powerful as the purpose motive. What he means is that we are not motivated by money to do great things. Our purpose isn’t connected to our paycheck. 

Pink has learned through his research that three factors lead to better work performance and greater satisfaction in life: autonomy, mastery and purpose. 

Being autonomous means being self-directed and trusted to do our work without being micromanaged. Mastery is achievement that follows a lengthy and gradual progression. It’s that charge you feel when you can finally play the saxophone with pizzazz or paint the corners with your fastball. And purpose, as we know, is a sense of being connected to a cause greater than ourselves. 

Pink identifies purpose as the greatest motivator in our lives because it’s the one that goes deepest.

Why are these three motivations much more powerful than money? Because they all come from within us. They are all what researchers call intrinsic motivations—achieving them is the reward itself. We feel strong, capable and confident when we direct our own lives, master a skill, and live with purpose. And money just can’t do that. 

No matter how much of it you want or dream of having, money is by definition an extrinsic reward, like praise and fame. It won’t build your confidence. And it can’t be your transcendent purpose because it’s something other people give you (or don’t give you). It comes from the outside, and that’s not where purpose comes from. 

Purpose comes from the heart and the guts. And people who live to chase the buck, confusing purpose with wealth, do not achieve the deep satisfaction of being connected to a greater cause.

Purpose Finder #2: Start with Why

When you go to figure out what your purpose is, make sure you don’t get hung up on what you do as opposed to why you do it. That’s the premise behind Simon Sinek’s best-selling book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

You may have seen Sinek’s TED Talk and remember the image he draws of a series of concentric circles resembling a target. Using a company as an example, he explains that the outside circle is what a company does, the middle circle in is how they do it, and the center is why they do it. Sinek’s research illustrates that companies that begin with a clear emphasis on why they do what they do are far more successful than those that don’t. They also have the happiest employees.

Most of us only have a vague sense of why we do what we do because we have never really made an attempt to express it. We tend to focus on the what.

Phrases like “I am an excellent landscape designer” or “I practice law” or “I am a loving parent” are what statements. That’s not your transcendent purpose. Neither are how statements, such as “I listen carefully to my clients” or “I study hard and work long hours” or “I pay attention to what my children need.” Purpose is about why you do what you do. 

If you’re not sure, look back on your life and see the trends. Ask other people what they think motivates you. Then try writing a statement about your why. You might end up with phrases like “Creating beauty in the world brings others joy” or “I believe in protecting people’s rights and fighting injustice” or “I want my children to become confident and caring adults.” 

Once you have your phrase, it will always be with you as a guide.

Purpose Finder #3: Choose Work that Suits Your Talents

There is nothing worse than shoehorning yourself into a job or a life that isn’t you. It just won’t work. So you need to figure out what tasks fit your talent and fulfill your purpose.

In my life, a good example of this came when I was a director at Gunsolley Hall. My partner in running the residence was a highly capable woman who was very different from me. I was creative, fluid, constantly engaged with lots of people and often clueless about what time it was or that there was even a thing called time. She was detailed, organized, budget-conscious and needed a push to smile and let loose. 

She was a wonderful, careful, conscientious person. I loved working with her, and we had a lot of fun. But when I started the job, it was upside-down world. I was assigned to do the scheduling and the budgets and she was responsible for the training and presentations to students. 

For the first little while, we muddled through it all, but stress levels started to increase as her sessions fell flat and I regularly messed up the details.

Eventually, I got up the gumption to suggest to her that we flip our jobs. Her face lit up at the idea. I took over the people and presentation stuff and she got down and dirty with the details. Pow! It was the change we both needed. She was happy. I was happy. Our work was more alive and enjoyable. 

Knowing what you are good at—and finding your place so you can do your thing and be surrounded by others who complement what you offer—is key to finding your purpose and living and working with confidence. 

Don’t worry about what you’re supposed to be good at or fixate on talents you have that don’t fill you with energy. Maybe you’re a spectacular insurance adjuster, really top-notch at your job, but that gift doesn’t make your heart sing. Maybe you feel most yourself on the weekends, working on your car and fixing your neighbors’ various machines and devices. Maybe you’re a mechanical genius and that’s the talent that fills you with purpose. In which case, you may want to do something like that full-time. 

Finding a way to use the talent you most enjoy is part of a well-lived life.

Somewhere underneath your interest in developing self-confidence is your transcendent purpose. Articulating that purpose for yourself is one of the most powerful and inspirational things you can do to motivate your continual growth and energize your life. If you can arrive at each stage of your growth with a clear sense of purpose, you will find that everything, including your belief in yourself, will come easier.

RECAP: Discovering Transcendent Purpose

Purpose Finder #1: Forget about the Money

Design your life around autonomy, mastery, and purpose instead of how much you earn and spend.

Purpose Finder #2: Start with Why

Figure out who you are, what you believe in, and why you do what you do—not just what you do and
how you do it.

Purpose Finder #3: Choose Work that Suits Your Talents

Find the perfect match between what you are
good at and what you love to do.

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