The three indispensable pillars of purpose
Jean wasn’t your average data entry clerk.
For data entry roles, the national performance average is 380,000 keystrokes per month, or 19,000 per day.
When Jean was first measured, she averaged 560,000 per month — 50 percent above the average.
If you were the manager of Jean and another employee who typed at the national average, which of them would you guess would be able to improve the most? Which would you devote more time and energy to in order to boost performance?
The intuitive answer, of course, is that the average employee has the most room for improvement and that Jean has maxed out her ability and therefore has little room for improvement.
Turns out, you’d be wrong.
Jean and her manager set some individual goals to help her improve and track her performance. Three months later she hit a million keypunches. A couple weeks later, she hit 112,000 in one day. (Remember, the average is 19,000 per day.)
Jean approached her manager and said, “If I average over 110,000 for the whole month, then I’ll hit the two million mark.”
Six months later, she soared past that goal. Her personal best to date is 3,526,000 keypunches in a month.
Jean’s story is told in the book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, which shatters the misconception that our weaknesses provide the greatest area of improvement. The best managers elicit top performance by focusing on people’s strengths and managing around their weaknesses.
Here’s where it applies to you: Your purpose is revealed by the things you do in which you show immediate, rapid, exponential, and perpetual improvement. Your greatest area of improvement is found not in your weaknesses, but rather in your strengths.
I picked up a guitar and fumbled around with the blasted thing daily for about six months until I realized that it would take me a lifetime to master basic chords.
I wrote my first book in 2006 and have cranked out twenty-seven more since then.
Yes, I believe I have the power within me to master the guitar. But I’d much rather spend my time and energy mastering writing; it comes so much easier and naturally to me, and I’ve improved exponentially faster than I ever could with the guitar.
But finding a natural talent in which you can quickly improve is not enough — you must also enjoy it, and your motivation to pursue and develop it indefinitely must be intrinsic.
I could be the best technical writer in the world, but I would hate every second of it.
Warren Buffet was once speaking to a group of university students and told them,
“I am really no different than any of you. I may have more money than you do, but money doesn’t make the difference…
“If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.”
Buffet doesn’t need to go to motivational seminars to get pumped up about life; going to work every day is what gets him jazzed.
Your purpose is where you find your source of intrinsic motivation, in which you need no boss to prod you, no motivational speaker to excite you, no external rewards to incentivize you; doing the thing is its own reward.
As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:
“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments.
“To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.
Achieving control over experience requires a drastic change in attitude about what is important and what is not.”
Once you’ve discovered your natural talent and intrinsic motivation, one pillar remains to create your purpose: You must find a way to package what you love doing into something that others love.
Value creation, as evidenced by what people will exchange time, energy, and money for, is where it all comes together.
Find and develop your natural talent. Tap into your intrinsic motivation. Then use your gifts to create value for others.
This is how to build your purpose. This is how to create a life of fulfillment and bliss.