The taxi driver who took me to the airport was retired, perhaps pushing 80. So when he told me he had three jobs and I inquired why, he said: “Purpose.” He said “I love to work.” Every day I wake up with a purpose, he explained. For him, that’s driving to the airport or helping with luggage at the airport carousels. Purpose.
Each and every one of us has a purpose. Perhaps it’s caring for an aging parent, a child or a spouse. Perhaps it’s the work we do. Maybe it’s a charity we support. For a friend of mine who was laid off, it actually took breast cancer to bring purpose back to her life.
Thought breast cancer is hardly a coveted purpose, after being laid off years earlier, my friend lost energy and self-esteem. She checked out of many daily activities and struggled to get out of bed every day. She had no purpose.
Once diagnosed, she had a reason to get up. She had to be at the radiologist at a certain time. Purpose. She had to check in with the therapist at a certain time. Purpose. She had two great children who she realized needed her more than ever. Purpose. In all the years I’ve known her; it took cancer to put purpose back in her life. She wanted to live. Purpose.
When I ask my audiences to define their purpose before a speech or presentation, they often struggle because they don’t fully understand the word. The dictionary defines purpose as “one’s intention or objective.”
But I believe purpose is more than an objective. Like my friend or taxi driver, purpose was driven by outcomes. The taxi driver needed a reason to get up in the morning. His purpose became serving others. My friend said she didn’t want to die because she wanted to be here for her children.
Outcomes are also required when speaking. For listeners and audiences I believe purpose must be connected to outcomes. Purpose should not be what we want for ourselves, but what we want for our listener. How can they benefit from what we’re saying?
If we tell a colleague we need that proposal by five o’clock because we need time to review it, it’s about us. But if we explain that our team risks losing project funding if the proposal is not reviewed and submitted first thing in the morning, they have a clearer understanding of what it means to them.
Consider this. I recently worked with a woman who had to explain to management why a new expense log-in system was needed at her company. When I asked her to deliver her presentation to me, she talked about drop down boxes, system confusion, reimbursements, green boxes, active reports and delegates. Don’t worry. I didn’t understand it either. After insisting that her audience would know what she’s talking about, I asked her if they’d care. She said of course. So I asked why. Likely thinking I was a bit dense, she said “Because they will save money!” To which I replied, “You didn’t say that. “
We reworked her remarks starting with purpose. Her purpose was to secure funding to put a new system in place. But without connecting that purpose to outcomes important to them, her success was unlikely.
A rework of her remarks went something like this. Each one of our employees spends about four hours per month logging expenses. With 500 employees, that’s 2,000 hours of time. The average employee earns $20 per hour so that means we are losing $40,000 per month, which equals nearly half-a-million dollars each year. Now they’re listening.
So the next time you have to speak at a meeting, deliver a presentation or consider doing something differently, think about connecting your objective to what someone else cares about. You may discover a renewed sense of purpose.
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