Mark Twain once wrote, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Writing a life statement is choosing to find out why. Writing a life statement can clarify purpose and fill us with meaning.
Yet writing a life statement is not easy, it requires reflective work. The work includes an important discovery. When we are without clarity of purpose we are shaped by the realities of life, when we have clarity of purpose, we shape the realities of life. Understanding this alters how we write our life purpose.
A student came to visit who had attended one of our workshops on purpose and decided to write a life statement. He had some very thoughtful questions about finding his life purpose. He was particularly concerned about getting his life statement right. He wanted it to be practical. He wanted his statement of purpose to fit the realities and constraints of his life.
When I asked about his realities, he told me he was originally going to go to graduate school in creative writing but decided to go to business school instead. He found that he liked business school and he was good at it. He already secured a job after graduation. He wanted his life statement to be realistic, to be aligned with the realities he would soon face.
I asked what he would write if someone put a gun to his head and forced him to put down a single sentence life statement. He said he would probably write something about wanting to inspire people but he was not sure how practical it would be given the realities that were coming. He would be a junior person in a large company. He would not have much chance to inspire anyone.
As we continued, I returned to his love of creative writing and asked him to tell me what creative writing is. He told me that creative writing is engaging a reader in such a way that their mind opens and it is possible to influence the reader.
Seeking to explore the commonalities between creative writing and leadership, I asked him to tell me what differentiates greatness in creative writing. Again he answered immediately. He told me that great literature is written by a person who writes from the soul. They are not doing it to make money or serve an agenda.
His answer suggests that writers become great when they find their purpose and passion and express them in an authentic voice. They use the discipline, structures or techniques of writing to creatively express the passion they feel.
I suggested that great music also emerges when a musician uses the discipline, structures or techniques of music to authentically express the passion they feel. Likewise, great leadership emerges when a person uses the discipline or structures or techniques of communication to engage the people in ways that open their minds so they can be influenced. In those moments of influence, the great leader creates shared passion for a collective purpose. The organization then comes together and flows like a great novel.
Creative writing and great leadership are thus similar. There is a marriage of discipline and passion. Without discipline or structure or technique, the passion becomes dissipated energy. Without passion the discipline, structure or technique becomes lifeless constraint.
His desire to inspire people was a wonderful purpose that seemed to cut across many aspects of his life. I took some of the previous examples he had given me to illustrate the constraints he would soon experience and I turned them around. I ask him to imagine inspiring his boss, his peers, and his clients. I suggested that he still would be shaped by the realities of his new job but that clarity of purpose would allow him to simultaneously shape reality. Like a great creative writer, he could be a great leader.
The connection seems to open new possibilities. I told him I hoped he would write not from the perspective of the realities he might face but from the perspective of his deepest purpose. As he left he indicated that he had a lot to think about.
Why is it important to recognize the realities and constraints of my life?
Why is it important to know one’s life purpose?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?