Podcast #9: Discovering Your Purpose with Ikea, Vice, & Bandido Coffee
As Rick Rubin demonstrates and the Creator’s Formula explains, to discover your purpose and unlock your creative potential, you must connect to your inner self. But Western culture prefers the world you can see and touch: to “be somebody,” you have to look good and have a lot of money. This is an unhelpful message, because your purpose—the factor that has the most impact on your fulfillment—is completely internal. Generally, when someone is unhappy or lacking meaningful sustenance in their life or business, it’s because their internal self isn’t in harmony with their external self. For example, they love to paint or work with their hands, but spend all day working in an office on finance. While this may be an oversimplification, it’s precisely this type of dissonance that causes energy blocks that manifest in people as depression, anxiety, and frustration, and in organizations as poor performance, low engagement, and weak sales. Bottom line, and to quote our friend Mr. West, we “worry ’bout the wrong things, the wrong things.”
In simplest terms, you won’t be able to unlock your creative potential, achieve sustainable success, or even be fundamentally happy unless you align your internal and external worlds—unless you’re true to yourself. Therefore, to begin the journey of discovering your purpose, you must focus on what matters to you internally, not externally. And the first step in this process is to eliminate obstacles that prevent you from hearing the signal above the noise. These obstacles include things such as commercial concerns, financial motivations, comparing yourself to someone else, and other manifestations of ego. Think of the little devils sitting on characters’ shoulders in cartoons—that is the exact function of these obstacles, confusing you by telling you the superficial or selfish thing to do. Your goal is to eliminate those voices and learn to concentrate instead on that small voice in the back of your head expressing your true desires and work to slowly build up its presence in your inner narrative. You must encourage your soul-level wants and needs to bubble up to the surface and take center stage.
Let’s return for a moment to Rick Rubin and his process with artists.
According to Rubin, “One of the main things I always try to do is to create an environment where the artist feels pretty comfortable being naked—that kind of a safety zone where their guard is completely let down and they can truly be themselves and feel open to exposing themselves. It’s very powerful when people do that, when people really open up.” And that’s exactly what you must do to discover your purpose. Create a safety zone for yourself where you can shut off the world for a moment and ask yourself the important questions, exploring what really matters, without any concern for the implications of those thoughts or decisions. Because if you don’t access what exists deep inside you, as Lao Tzu says, you may end up where you are heading without knowing if it’s really where you want to go.
Purpose Exercise #1: The Ultimate Question
Now, let’s do a quick exercise to begin the journey of discovering your purpose. Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths; try for ten, five will suffice.
Now imagine your time on this earth is coming to an end. A doctor is sitting in front of you telling you it’s all over in two weeks, and there’s nothing she can do. Sit with this realization for a moment.
What would matter to you?
What would you want people to know about you?
Take a few minutes to reflect on this question. Then take five more deep breaths and open your eyes.
Now write down the five things that matter to you most.
Let me start by apologizing if I startled you, but death has a powerful way of cutting to the core of things. I’m pretty sure that most of you didn’t think of your car, your clothes, your hair, your bank account, or that you were right in a lot of arguments (unless maybe you’re a lawyer). There’s no right or wrong when you’re dead, and you can’t drive around in your Porsche after you’re gone. For most people, your thoughts settle on the people you love and the things you’ve done or do that you’re really proud of. Those five things are the first clue in the mystery of discovering your purpose.
Now, let’s revisit our definition of purpose: the reason for which something exists. It’s the why behind everything you do, what drives you, what makes you different. It’s your essence, and figuring that out isn’t as easy as performing one quick exercise. Listen to Nick Craig and Scott A. Snook, who wrote “From Purpose to Impact” for the Harvard Business Review:
“We are constantly bombarded by powerful messages (from parents, bosses, management gurus, advertisers, celebrities) about what we should be (smarter, stronger, richer) and about how to lead (empower others, lead from behind, be authentic, distribute power). To figure out who you are in such a world, let alone ‘be nobody but yourself,’ is indeed hard work. However, our experience shows that when you have a clear sense of who you are, everything else follows naturally.”
Purpose Exercise #2: Self-Discovery Q&A
When we introduced purpose in Part Two, I mentioned some questions— it’s finally time to get back to them. These questions are the next step in the process of discovering your purpose and, eventually, refining it into a simple statement.
How would you describe yourself? How would your closest friends and/or family describe you?
How are you different from your peers? What are your defining characteristics?
What motivates you to get out of bed every morning? What do you think about before you go to sleep at night?
When you have nothing else going on, what do you think about? What would you do if money or resources weren’t an issue?
What’s unique about the way you perceive the world? What did you naturally enjoy doing when you were very young, before the world began telling you what you should be doing?
What have been your most challenging life experiences? What did you learn from those experiences? List at least three.
In your life right now, when do you feel most naturally fulfilled? When do you feel the most harmony with the surrounding world?
What do you find easy that many of your friends or colleagues find hard?
Similarly, here’s a list of questions for organizations:
What does your company do? How would you describe your company? How would your most senior employees and/or your competitors describe you?
What makes your company unique? How are you different from your competitors? What’s your defining competitive advantage?
What do you think motivates your employees to get out of bed every morning?
What’s important to your team? List the five most important things to you in priority order.
Why was your company started? What worries you most about the company?
What would you do if resources weren’t an issue?
What’s unique about the way your company sees the world? Speaks to the world?
What have been your most challenging times as an organization?
What did you learn from those experiences? List at least three. In what area of the business do things just work; flow naturally?
When do you feel the most harmony between the company and the consumer?
After you’ve written down your answers to these questions, ask at least two people you trust and respect to answer them for you as well. It is difficult to see who you are fully and completely, so insight from others you trust will help you fill out a more complete picture of yourself.
Principles Of Purpose
While your purpose is yours and yours alone, there are a few simple, universal principles you need to follow in the discovery and formulation of your purpose.
1) The first principle is that your purpose can’t be selfish. We’ve touched on this a couple of times already, and it will continue to be a recurring theme. One of the key elements of the Creator’s Formula is emotional generosity, and when you are chiefly concerned with your own profit or pleasure, you aren’t being generous. Putting the needs of others ahead of your own desires is a first-principle truth. For an example, let’s look at Ikea’s vision statement and extract the purpose:
“At IKEA our vision is to create a better everyday life for many. Our business idea supports this vision by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home-furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
While making inexpensive furniture may be what IKEA does practically, the vision of “creating a better everyday life” for people has emotional resonance we can rally behind. These are the words of a movement, and I would argue that without them, Ikea would be much less successful. Combine commitment to a meaningful purpose with flawless execution and it makes the difference between the world’s largest furniture retailer and a local purveyor of cheap junk. That’s the power of tapping into your creative potential.
2) The second guideline is that your purpose shouldn’t include anything about results. Your purpose is the emotional and spiritual energy that surrounds the commercial aspects of what you do; it can’t be to make a lot of money or sell a lot of widgets. While generating a significant financial return may be a result of pursuing your purpose, it can’t be why you do what you do. Money isn’t what the journey’s about. We aren’t here to survive; we’re here to self-actualize and thrive. Individuals and organizations that unlock their potential are never motivated primarily by financial gain.
With that said, manifesting your purpose often results in more wealth than you could ever have imagined—and that’s great, because material wealth allows you to continue pursuing your purpose.
3) The final guideline is that your purpose must be authentic and honest. While this should be assumed, it’s sometimes difficult to form a consensus purpose, especially in large organizations. Quite often, the discussion of purpose in an organizational setting is diluted by groupthink, as most people don’t feel comfortable giving their honest opinion, especially when doing so could impact their employment or financial status. Therefore, organizations must work to find ways to create safe environments for honest sharing and empower key stakeholders to make decisions that aren’t always popular—because to do something truly special, you must be as honest, defined, and differentiated as possible. As Shane Smith, founder of Vice Media, said, “If something is created in a boardroom, if something is created by consensus, if something is created by a bunch of baby-boomers who say it will be cool, ‘We are going to do skateboarding’ or something, it will not work.”
The Result: Your Defined Purpose Statement
Once you’ve compiled your feedback, you can begin to construct a brief but meaningful statement of purpose. A simple sentence—two sentences max—that distills what makes you different and what’s important to you. This declaration should begin with “My purpose is _______” and should be written in your own words, encapsulating your essence and summoning action. Let’s use mine as an example:
“My purpose is to guide and inspire individuals and organizations in manifesting and sharing their creative potential.” Hence the reason I’ve written this book!
This statement is extremely important, as it will be your north star. Every decision you make will be primarily measured by whether it is bringing you closer to living the purest manifestation of your purpose, which is captured in this statement. As a business you can look to your purpose statement to analyze strategic plans to see if you are remaining focused on your unifying thread, or that which you can be the best in your world at. Even better, it should be a rallying cry for your people, an idea to inspire them and help them make the best decisions when you are not around.
Mentee Zero: Chad Campbell
To illustrate the purpose-discovery process, let’s consider the example of Chad Campbell, one of the first people I mentored. Chad has a huge heart, tons of passion, and, luckily for him, he looks like a combination of Justin Bieber, Brad Pitt, and Grizzly Adams. Born in Kansas City, Chad was rebellious when young, always finding new and different ways to get into trouble and push against authority. Trying to keep him busy, his parents put him to work doing everything from mowing lawns in trailer-parks to fixing cars and laying bricks. They made sure Chad worked hard.
While his upbringing laid the foundation for his humble nature and strong work ethic, it didn’t instantly make him a fan of working. When he graduated college, Chad “felt something was missing.”
He wasn’t excited by traditional career paths and started searching the Internet to find something that spoke to him. After googling “the last great adventure,” Chad came across a site detailing the Pan-American Highway, a 19,000-mile road connecting Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, with Ushuaia, Argentina.
It’s the longest motorable road in the world, according to the people at Guinness World Records, and it piqued Chad’s interest. He set off on a journey to explore the road, to “go where no one he knew had gone before” and to “speak to people no one was speaking to or giving a voice to.” With minimal funds and maximum heart, he embarked on an adventure that would last many months, with experiences far too numerous to recount here. After a couple of years on the road, Chad got a call from a friend asking if he wanted to help open a hotel. That’s how he ended up in the hospitality business, returning to what Americans call “the real world.” His chance opportunity eventually led him to New York City, and into my purview.
When we sat down to explore Chad’s purpose, it was in a group setting in my office. He was chafing at the rules the company was trying to impose upon him. By this time, he’d begun to achieve a level of financial success, but he was feeling less and less connected to his daily life. As we explored his purpose, Chad spoke passionately about his trip. He expressed that he’d felt most in his element when he was on “a journey of discovery.” He wanted to gain knowledge he felt he couldn’t get from teachers, books, or traditional experiences. And he deeply wanted to share these experiences with others, giving voice to overlooked people and places. He wanted to share the beauty he saw, and in the process, transform the thoughts and feelings of people back home, whether that be in New York or Missouri.
All these feelings became the basis for Chad’s purpose statement—“ to shed light on the unseen parts of the world.” These few words connected all the things that drove him internally. They combined his deep desire for discovery, knowledge, and anti-establishment thinking with advocating for those without a voice. He now had a unifying thread, a binding narrative that tied all his life experiences together, and that statement became a beacon in Chad’s decision-making processes, providing him with a light to illuminate the many paths and decisions life put in front of him.
Like Chad, we all have primary motivations that exist beneath the superficial elements of life, making us who we are. The key now will be to manifest your purpose in pursuits that are a reflection of that purpose. Whether in your personal life, through who you pick as your spouse or where you vacation, or through the creation of your own business or a job you take, the closer you come to living your purpose every day, the more fulfilled and successful you’ll be. Your purpose statement is your compass. It’s what will guide you home, except this home isn’t a place but rather a state of being where you feel most in tune with yourself and the universe.