One of the most transformative moments for me in my Art of Leadership training was when I was asked a simple question.
It was during an exercise where everyone chooses a partner and talks about one change they want to make in their life.
I was talking about wanting to write more, going around in circles about how I couldn’t seem to get motivated to do it. Week after week, I’d set a goal to write, but was never actually did it. And week after week, it made me unhappy.
My training partner stopped me and asked, “Why do you want to write?”
It seemed so obvious, and yet… I’d never asked myself that question before. Instead, I kept trying to force myself to do it, going through the same stress every time.
That moment encapsulates the meaning of Purpose for me – it’s the answer to the question “Why?”
Why Ask “Why”?
Social change is hard, emotionally-trying work, often done in the face of what feels like overwhelming odds. This is one of the biggest reasons nonprofit employees experience burnout at higher rates than those in other sectors.
In order to sustain ourselves through that work that can often put us on the front lines of suffering, sadness, and stress, we need fuel.
That’s where Purpose comes in.
Purpose With A Big “P”
Here at Rockwood, when we talk about purpose, we’re talking about Purpose with a big “P”. It’s a little different than, say, a long-term goal or something you aspire to do. Purpose with a big “P” isn’t an endpoint – it’s the inspiration for why we do what we do.
I sometimes think of Purpose as gas in a car. It’s the fuel that keeps me going no matter where I’m headed or how long the journey might be. Without it, I’d be standing still on the side of the road because when I know why I do what I do, I can stay focused, energized, and powerful.
Purpose isn’t just about work, either. It can connect to our families, our friendships, our hobbies – our whole lives. In many ways, that’s what makes it such a useful tool. Because Purpose is not the destination, but rather, the fuel that gets us wherever we want to go, it grows as we grow, deepening and evolving over time.
That’s why it’s useful to reflect on it every so often, to see where our path might have shifted… or if we’ve shifted and lost sight of our path. This massive list of questions is one way to reflect on Purpose, and provide insights on what fuels you.
How To Use These Questions
Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer 132 questions! These questions are designed to be jumping off points to help you uncover, rediscover, or increase focus on your Purpose. Choose one or two to reflect on, or keep this post bookmarked and come back to it any time you’re facing a transition or feel a little “off track.”
Set aside 10-15 distraction-free minutes, and then choose one or two of these questions to answer. Write down whatever comes to mind, and feel free to be honest – you’re the only person who will see your responses. If you get stuck, find a different question; there are definitely enough to choose from!
If you’ve been through the Art of Leadership, you can revisit the Purpose section of your workbook and see what, if anything, has changed for you regarding your Purpose.
We recommend starting with these four questions, used during the Purpose exercise in the Art of Leadership:
- What gives your life meaning?
- What brings you joy?
- What gifts do you bring?
- How is life calling you? From there, you can try any of the following questions:
- Why does the world need the gifts you bring?
- How do you want to make others feel?
- What’s memorable about you?
- Who needs the gifts you bring?
- What’s missing from your life? From the world?
- If money wasn’t an issue, what would you do with your time?
- What verb best describes you?
- What would you do if no one needed [insert your job here] anymore?
- What problem do you want to solve?
- What movie character would you most want to be like?
- What book title best describes the life you’d like to lead?
- What was your favorite thing to do as a kid?
- Why are you doing what you’re currently doing?
- What do you wish you had more time to do?
- What kind of person do you want to be in 5 years?
- What did your 15 year-old self imagine you’d be doing right now?
- When was the last time you felt “lit up”?
- When do you feel the most like yourself?
- How do you know when you’re being completely authentic? When did you last feel that way?
- What’s something you want to do that’s impossible? What would need to change to make it possible?
- What makes you lose track of time?
- What do other people always thank you for?
- If you had to teach something, what would you teach?
- If you could invent something, what would you invent (even if it’s not real, like a time machine or a magic wand)?
- What do people ask for your help with?
- What makes you smile?
- What are you drawn to?
- Who inspires you most? What qualities do they possess that inspire you?
- What makes you feel great about yourself?
- What would you regret not doing, being, or having in your life?
- What are your deepest values?
- What are some challenges, difficulties, and hardships you’ve overcome or are working to overcome? How can what you learned help others?
- If you could send a message to a large group of people, who would those people be? What would your message say?
- What is something you accomplished in the past that you’re proud of?
- What’s something about yourself or your life that might surprise others to learn?
- What’s your theme song? Why?
- What are you willing to struggle for?
- If you knew the world was going to end in a year, what would you do?
- What desires keep tugging at your heart?
- What motivates you when you’re most productive?
- What kinds of conversations do you have with your closest friends?
- What’s on your bucket list?
- What’s something you’ll spend time doing, no matter what?
- What do you want your epitaph to be?
- What would you like your grandchildren to say about you?
- Over the last 6 months, when have you felt the most alive and electrified?
- If you had to leave your house all day, every day, where would you go and what would you do?
- If you were a superhero, what would your power be? Why?
- If you could be a different person, who would you be? Why?
- Why do you value what you value?
- Why do you do what you do?
- What job other than your own would you like to have?
- What gives you strength?
- What kind of “shower ideas” do you get?
- What do you do in your spare time?
- What do you enjoy reading about?
- What abilities did you have as a child?
- Walk around your home. What clues does it reveal about what you love?
- What did you want to be when you were a kid?
- What would you go back to school for?
- What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
- What do you secretly love about yourself?
- What would you do if you did not care what others thought?
- A stylist notices a complicated hairstyle, a singer notices a talented vocalist… what do you notice?
- What do you love to learn about?
- What’s your “tennis ball”?
- What sparks your creativity, makes the wheels in your head start turning?
- What do people compliment you on?
- Who is your idol? Why?
- If you became president, what would be the first law you’d pass?
- What could you do all day and not consider it a waste of time?
- What one thing would you find a way to do, no matter what?
- You’re in an elevator with your hero. You have 90 seconds to tell them about yourself. What do you say?
- You’re given one wish… but you can’t use it on yourself. What would you wish for?
- If you got to create your own job, what would it look like?
- If you could receive an unrestricted, unlimited grant to complete one project, what would that project be?
- What do you really love?
- If you could follow someone around for a day, who would you follow around and why?
- What’s a job you’d never want to do? Why?
- What’s something you’d do even if you never made any money?
- What would you write a book about?
- What would you build if you had unlimited resources?
- What’s a quote that inspires you and why?
- What do you love to do for others?
- If you could make a documentary about anything, what would you make it about?
- What’s the best gift anyone’s ever given you? Why was it “the best”?
- The President needs you for a special project. What expertise did they come to you for?
- If you could open a store, what would you sell or provide?
- What are you bored of?
- What were you born to do?
- What do you want more of in your life?
- What are you devoted to?
- What would give you peace of mind?
- What’s the best compliment you ever received?
- What industry, company, or organization would you leave your current job for? Why?
- What would your job title be if the words you currently use to describe your job no longer existed?
- What’s one thing you’re never afraid to do?
- What moment from your childhood are you most proud of?
- What’s your perfect day, from the moment you wake up until you head to bed at night?
- If you could start your career over, what would you do differently?
- What does “success” look like for you?
- Are you a hummingbird, flitting from passion to passion, or a woodpecker, who drills down into one passion?
- What do you geek out about?
- Why are you alive right now?
- If you were a completely superficial, selfish person, what would you really want? Fame, money, respect, a pony?
- If your name was on a product, what would that product be?
- If you had a full year off with pay, what would you spend your time doing?
- If you could make one change in your life, no matter how impossible it seems, what would that change be?
- What are you building?
- Think of someone who cares deeply for you. What would they say your Purpose is?
- What are you avoiding doing because it’s hard or scary?
- What’s been the best part of your day so far?
- Complete this sentence with anything other than your job title: I am a __________.
- Why are you here in this moment?
- Why are you here in this lifetime?
- Think back to a time that you felt transformed. How did you change and why?
- What are you pretending not to know?
- What are your values and are you being true to them?
- If you achieved all of your life goals tomorrow, what would you do next?
- If you had no deadlines, what project or task would you focus on right now?
- What do you want to be the best in the world at?
- What are you most grateful for?
- What do you stand for?
- What are the biggest things you’ve learned in life thus far?
- What advice would you give yourself 3 years ago? 3 years from now?
- What’s on your to do list that’s important, but not urgent?
- What’s something you keep telling yourself you’ll do when you retire, or when you “have the time”?
- If you could trade jobs with someone you know, who would you trade with and why?
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