...THE PURPOSE PANDEMIC
There came a day
The earth did say
I've had enough
of this fault's fray
So up it lift
A Christchurch rift
A Seven Point One
Of rattle and tip
Still here we are
Too strong to split.
Christchurch's Way by Jason Kelly
04:35, September the 4th 2010 will be forever etched in my memory not just as the first of 100’s of earthquakes shook Ōtautahi/Christchurch. But because it was also the beginning of the crisis that led me to connect to purpose in my life and business.
Times of crisis aren’t the best time to connect to purpose, they are the only time. For it is in the suffering, in the trials and tough times that we get stripped back to who we really are. Our base, survival level of humanity.
And it’s these existential shocks that force us to pause from the reality that has been created for us. They re-humanise us. They connect us. They make us question what is really important in life.
Ultimately, they lead us to wonder about what we are doing with our lives and how we can better contribute.
WHAT IS PURPOSE?
Before we go much further, we should probably get to the essence of what this purpose stuff is, because when you first bump into the idea it can be a tricky topic to grapple with. In many ways, it’s like trying to explain the taste and smell of the number 3.
When we want to get a definition of something the dictionary is a good place to go and it describes purpose as:
The reason for which something is done or created;
So, the best way to think about purpose is as “what’s your contribution?”.
I also like to think about it as planting trees that you won’t see grow.
As American philosopher William James said:
"The best use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.”
For those lucky enough to be on purpose it’s great! As life on purpose is like living as a mini superhero every day. You get massive amounts of meaning by doing things bigger than you, for others, for shared good.
It’s also because purpose is the essence of humanity. We are all driven at a biological level to serve and contribute.
PANDEMIC PURPOSE AND YOU?
At the level of the individual the most authentic, truest version of you is you on purpose. And the reason most people are not on purpose is because they haven’t stripped back the layers that have been added to them by life.
If you can strip away the stressors many of us are under or if you are in a position to not be in pure survival mode, this crisis provides some useful opportunities for connecting to that true version of you and more purposeful you.
Specifically, you will be experiencing 3 of the 7 ways of unbundling the social conditioning that has stopped you being fully on purpose to date and 1 of the 3 core components of purpose.
And they are:
Look I get it that right now is SUPER stressful for many of us. I’m currently lead parent (as my wife’s business fared better than mine in weeks 1 and 2 of lockdown) and a primary school teacher and trying to keep my business going.
I’m also not ignorant of the pressures of being confined in a house with your family 24/7, and I’m clearly not the best primary school teacher (my daughter will be returning to school with some fruity vocab for sure :-o).
But on the flip side, I have had the opportunity for some amazing quality time with my wee minion that I’ll remember forever.
I’ve also had some deeper and more vulnerable conversations with mates than ever before on zoom and the good old dog and bone as we all try and navigate this crazy time.
I’ve been working from home for years, but for many without the commute and the distractions of the office you might be finding increased space for self-reflection.
The massive increase in numbers of people taking their dog for a walk in the middle of the day is proof of this!
The key is to be using some of this reflection time to think about are you on purpose? How could you be using your skills for the greater good in the post-COVID world? There are gonna be so many people that do need help.
Off The Treadmill
You’ll certainly have realised that you can get by without rampant consumerism, having gone cold turkey for the last few weeks.
Who cares what the Jones’s are up to right now!? It’s probably felt pretty good to get off the hedonic treadmill of the if then lifestyle. (If I get this, then I’ll be happy).
This connects nicely to the idea of organisational purpose. How do we rebuild an economy that rids itself of bull&#%@ jobs that provide no meaning to the employee, maybe destroy the planet and are a part of this consumerist treadmill?
Connecting to Purpose
Above all, though you’ve been experiencing the deepest levels of purpose through that c-word again.
Because there are 3 ways to connect to your purpose:
As Gandhi said,
“the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.
And right now, that’s what pretty much what every human is doing. The collective sacrifice we are all making by isolating has been the ultimate, connected collaboration and contribution for the greater good.
PANDEMIC PURPOSE AT WORK?
The concept of organisational purpose has been trending for a few years, but what actually is it?
Well, unsurprisingly, it’s very aligned to the idea of individual purpose. And Aristotle kind of nailed it when he said:
“At the intersection where your gifts, talents and abilities meet a human need; therein you will discover your purpose.”
The easiest way to think about it then is about doing things you are great at that does good for you and others (whilst minimising and ultimately eliminating any damage caused in doing that).
And that’s why crisis helps organisations connect to purpose.
About 6 weeks ago it became very apparent which businesses are essential for humans. And that is the heart of purpose-driven business.
Because truly purpose-driven business is about meeting real human needs rather than convincing us to buy things that are non-essential and that in the process of manufacturing and consumption destroy the planet.
For the last 6 weeks pretty much every business in the world has been attempting to connect to purpose as they all ask how can we help? How can we serve? How do we contribute to making things better? What do our customers REALLY NEED right now?
What if every business was built on the question of “How can we make a meaningful contribution that will positively benefit humanity and the planet?”.
PANDEMIC PURPOSE IN ACTION!
Beyond the example of your isobubble, to help you make the connection to purpose as tangible as possible I thought it would be beneficial to show you some specific examples from the business world.
The pharmaceutical industry is one that garners mixed opinions about ethics at the best of times. Looking at the crisis purely through the lens of capitalist ideals the pandemic offers a great opportunity for one company to make significant amounts of money for getting the vaccine nailed.
How cool is it though to see Sanofi and GSK are combining forces in an unprecedented manner to try and find a vaccine? Collaboration to take on something bigger than yourself, whilst contributing to the greater good – that is purpose in action.
The second great example of which there have been many has been the executives and senior leaders taking a self-imposed pay cut to ensure their staff get paid and can survive.
LET’S NOT F@?# THIS UP!
Doing good and contributing is contagious. Think of the good old times when you were commuting and stuck in traffic. You let someone into the flow. They give a wave, you give a wave, you both feel a bit warm and fuzzy. And then they pass it on to the next car…
So, let’s make purpose the new pandemic. Let’s infect everyone with a dose of meaning found through service and contribution.
Let’s collaborate as individuals, communities and organisations to solve the other BIG challenges facing humanity and the planet.
And we can do that if we chose to. In this period of humanity, we are living in where we are the most connected and technologically advanced we have ever been.
This is the biggest opportunity that we have had to make a significant change in how we operate. Humans are amazing and when we put our minds to it we can do phenomenal things. Like the group of Japanese scientists who landed a robot on an asteroid flying in outer space in 2018. I mean if we can do that..!?
I don’t think we can even imagine just how great the world could be if every human used all their abilities for the benefit of humanity.
But why don’t we give it a bloody good nudge?