Feeling Stuck? Purpose Pivot!

In Bob Lesser’s forthcoming book, The Peak Performance Formula: Achieving Breakthrough Results in Life and Work, he shares how purpose (i.e. what is most meaningful to you) is a key pillar of performance improvement and fulfillment.

But what happens when we can no longer do what is most meaningful to us, at least not in the way we’ve been doing it?

Bob’s latest article “Feeling Stuck? You need a Purpose Pivot” explores how COVID-19 has challenged many of us and how we can get back on track to living our best lives.

Are you feeling stuck?
I think you’ll agree that this past half year has been as challenging as any in our lifetime. The upheaval of the pandemic, divisive politics, hurricanes and wildfires, and the uncertainty of it all is overwhelming. We have been cut off from our communities of support and have less time to think and process it all as the demands of work and caring for our children have multiplied. For many people just getting out of bed in the morning is a major victory. But some people are powerfully moving forward in their lives right now. Here’s how.

How do elite performers stay motivated?
I was really curious to know how athletes were sustaining their motivation levels during this time when the primary focus in their lives, what they spend the majority of their waking hours preparing for, grinds to a halt. So two months into the pandemic when sports were on hold I posed the question to Michael Gervais over Twitter. Gervais is a sports psychologist who works with the Seattle Seahawks football team and other elite performers. “Pretty simple answer” he said, “purpose is clear. And their daily mission supports their purpose. Know your purpose, the rest falls in place”.

I love his answer, and based on my experience as an Executive Coach working with some of the brightest minds in Silicon Valley, I agree. Knowing your purpose is key to navigating life’s challenges. An intentional process to adjust to new challenges and constraints will help the rest fall into place. I call this process a purpose pivot. And if you’re feeling stuck right now, you might need one.

What is purpose?
First off, what is this thing called purpose that Gervais and so many of us interested in human performance and potential keep talking about?

Your purpose is “what is most meaningful to you, who you are at your essence.” Purpose is evergreen, meaning it doesn’t change depending on the circumstances or context. So if you haven’t taken the time to get clear on your purpose, that’s step one. It has to be general enough to always be true, but specific enough that it provides clear guidance and direction in real life. My purpose is all about potential. I “strive to be my best to help others be their best.”

Once you’ve gotten more clear on your purpose it’s time for the Purpose Pivot.

Make a Purpose Pivot.
Those in the start-up world are familiar with the concept of a pivot. In start-up lingo, a pivot is a change of course in a key focus area of the business. There is a second part to purpose which is “how you are expressing what is most meaningful to you and the impact you want to make.” So while your purpose is the same regardless of external circumstances, the way you express it can change. This is where many of us have gotten stuck. We haven’t been able to do the things that are most meaningful to us the way we’ve been doing them. A purpose pivot, then, is a modification of how you express your purpose. This modification happens because of new constraints and new opportunities. A successful pivot, as is true for start-ups, results in our ability to keep doing what is meaningful to us on the way to making an even bigger impact than we were previously.

Here are the steps for a Purpose Pivot:

1) Clarify your purpose. Get clear on what is most meaningful to you and the essence of who you are. Anything that disrupts our routines (like a global pandemic) can be destabilizing. Clarifying your purpose grounds you. A few questions to help you hone in on your purpose include: When you have felt most alive and fulfilled what were you doing? What would people who know you well say is your gift or superpower? What do you want written on your tombstone? Understanding your purpose allows you freedom to choose different ways to express it

2) Re-align your purpose. Before we can make adjustments we need to make sure we are committed to a purpose-centered life in the first place. Reflect on the following questions: Is my life currently aligned to my purpose? If not how far off is it? What changes must I make to be leading a life more aligned with my purpose? In many ways, the pandemic has given us a free pass to make big changes in our lives.

3) Name the constraints. How are the present constraints impacting the expression of your purpose? Are these constraints minor or major? How long do you predict these constraints will last? Answering these questions will help you make the proper adjustments. The bigger and longer lasting the constraints the more significant the changes will need to be. Getting clear on your constraints helps you find the opportunities that exist.

4) Find the opportunities. Perhaps this is a time to have some fun and explore some other aspects to your purpose than what you’ve been doing. Or perhaps this is a chance to go even bigger with the impact you are able to have. Here are some real life examples of people who have impressed me in their ability to find opportunities to amplify their purpose in this crisis.

  • DJ and music producer Mark Ronson produced Love Lockdown, a livestream fundraiser on YouTube to support the World Health Organization where artists made videos of themselves performing their most popular songs. If I had to guess his purpose is something like “to bring joy and well-being to people through music.” (Robyn’s video is my favorite)
  • Tennis player Novak Djokovic, with his ability to compete on hold, launched a series on Instagram called “The Self Mastery Project” in which he interviewed experts in various areas of mental and physical health. If I had to guess, Djokovic’s purpose is around “mastering himself and helping others gain mastery” and not just winning tennis matches.
  • Chef and restaurateur Jose Andres took the World Central Kitchen project, which initially started after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, to the next level feeding hungry people during the pandemic and natural disasters that struck this past year. My bet is Jose Andres’ purpose is something like “healing the world through food.”

5) Inventory your skills and strengths. What are your particular skills that can be most effectively put to use in your purpose right now? Remember purpose is ultimately about impact and the best way to make an impact is to do what you’re best at. Watch out for guru syndrome. Just because you are good at one thing doesn’t mean you’re good at everything. Match your skills and strengths with the opportunities out there. Examples of this are breweries that started making hand sanitizer and clothing companies that began making masks. Both had the capabilities already in place to make and distribute these in demand products.

6) Gauge your capacity. Change the world or change your baby’s diaper? That is the question. The disruption we have experienced has put new and unforeseen demands on us all. No school, limited childcare, and the emotional energy needed to navigate the day-to-day unknown are limiting factors. Understanding your capacity, in time and energy, will help you choose the appropriate scale for the expression of your purpose.

7) Make the pivot. You’ve done the work of clarifying your purpose, named the constraints and identified the opportunities, lined up your skills, and gotten real with yourself about your capacity. Now it’s time to go for it.

Better than before

These are challenging times right now. But we can navigate them in ways that will lead us to greater meaning in our lives and more positive impact on others. The steps above will help you adjust more quickly and effectively any time the world decides to throw a new challenge your way. With the Purpose Pivot in your toolkit, you will get through it, better than before.

Bob Lesser is a founder, psychotherapist, and Executive Coach. In his coaching practice Bob works with high performers across a variety of industries. Bob has taught leadership at the New School for Social Research and has conducted training internationally. He received his Masters Degree from Harvard University where he studied leadership, management, and conflict resolution. Bob lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and three children.

This article was originally published on October 21, 2020.

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