Street sweepers are a common sight in Central Asia. They are out every morning before dawn, doing their best to abate the relentless sands of the Gobi Desert without fancy equipment. They’re armed with short-handled, handmade brooms, a small dustpan, and a plastic garbage can. This cleaning battalion is in the city streets every morning, every season. Winters are cold in Central Asia, but those hardworking souls are out on even the coldest days sweeping the streets.
I noticed the street sweepers during my early morning walks. I couldn’t help but feel this must be futile work. You can’t sweep the entire Gobi. The dust and sand will never stop. The job is never finished. Besides the natural phenomenon of sand and dust, I’m also certain these folks are not making a great living. What a terrible existence.
I said something about this to another, older member of my team and he shrugged off my pity. “Hard work is good and provides purpose. With so many jobless in this city they are doing an honorable thing in keeping the city streets clean.”
Of course, there is nuance around the street sweepers of Central Asia. The societal issues of national labor law, just pay, and cyclical poverty aside, this team member was correct about one thing:
*What* you do is not as important as *why* you do it.
I internally struggle when talking about “purpose,” especially knowing what I know and seeing what I’ve seen. The same as most of you. The majority of the world struggles to eat. Poverty and injustice are prevalent and real. “Purpose” feels like the stuff of privilege and maybe not something that’s as a big of a deal as we sometimes make it out to be.
Yet — it remains at the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of human needs. People are people. Human beings everywhere need food and shelter, emotional and mental well-being, and a purpose for living.
Why do you do the work you do? Everyone in the Global Trellis community has important work to do. Some of you have been doing this work for years, maybe decades. Others are brand new to their positions. Some have positions of creativity and leadership they never asked for. But remember — Your what is not as important as your why. Your what will change. Your why remains consistent.
How to discover your *why*
Clarifying your purpose (I use “your why” and “purpose” interchangeably in this article) begins with reflection on your own story. Your life is distinctive. No one has navigated your same road. When I help clients discover their purpose, this is where I begin.
Understand your Story by reflecting on your stories.
What are the key moments in your life?
Can you list five memorable moments when you felt you were making your highest contribution? Moments when you knew you were affecting someone else?
Who are the five key people who have influenced your life?
Next, consider five key people who have most deeply influenced you. These could be people you know or people who you may only know from a distance, but have studied, emulated, and learned from.
What are five important learning experiences?
This includes books, seminars, college courses, or even a Global Trellis Workshop you’ve taken part in! What was the impact on you and on others? What were the contributing factors to this impact?
I put all this together with a tool developed by Growability® Consulting. When we blend your highest contributions with the overall impact your life has on others — this is the makings of purpose.
The power of clarifying your purpose
When I had to leave the dusty streets of Central Asia to land in pristine American suburbia, I blew around like a grain of Gobi sand in a spring dust storm.
Why am I here?
What is my purpose now?
It took time to figure this out. I had to reflect on ways God has used me in the past. With some help from a coach, I found my way forward by discovering my purpose. When I understood my why, I understood why certain activities made my heart happy and why other activities left me empty. Here is my personal purpose statement:
I exist to teach, train, and equip groups of people to know their purpose, celebrate diversity, and experience God.
The shortened version: “My purpose is to facilitate life-giving community.”
This statement provided clarity as I moved forward into a different life and a weird mid-life career change. It helped me see where I am going to make my highest contributions and how I will best serve others. It doesn’t matter what I’m getting paid for anymore. My purpose is apparent whatever my vocation.
Facing challenges with purpose makes a difference. Understanding your purpose provides the clarity you need to lead, no matter where you live and what they have tasked you to do.
Take time this week to reflect on your stories, get clear on your contributions and impact, and develop a clear purpose statement of your own.
Whatever your what may be, knowing your why makes a profound difference.
P.S. Sometimes we are too close and need someone outside to help. This month’s workshop “How to guard a dream” or meeting with a coach at Growability are additional resources for you to figure out your purpose.