How to Lead a More Meaningful Life

Lead A More Meaningful Life

You don’t create your mission in life – you detect it” – Viktor Frankl

How do you maintain your sense of purpose and stay centred when change and volatility is all around us in the workplace? Is it possible to build our leadership resilience when there are many things that are outside our control?

Andrea* is a young financial planner who was disheartened by several media stories about some rogue financial planners who had provided conflicted advice to clients with devastating consequences.

Even though Andrea found her work very rewarding, because of these tainted articles, she was embarrassed to tell people what she did in social situations.  By asking her a few questions, I could tell how conscientious and sincerely motivated she was to help her clients improve their financial wellbeing.

I then asked her a series of questions (more on this below), where I sought to uncover her deep values and motivators. I then asked her to write her personal purpose statement that reflected these answers. She wrote:

I help people to be worry-free about money, so they can live their ideal life.

 This statement came from her deepest values and it energized her to say it. Now when people ask her what she does this is what she replies. She has since said that saying this to herself on a regular basis helps when she is faced with frustrations, setbacks, and things outside her control.

Research from Gallup published in the book Wellbeing by Tom Rath, showed that our career wellbeing is the biggest predictor of our overall wellbeing and sense of meaning.

So, step 1 to leading a meaningful life is to write the first draft of your career purpose statement. How do we do this?

The path to purpose and meaning

As many of you would know, I crashed and burned 15 years ago and went through a 5 year episode of depression that my psychiatrist described as the worst he had ever treated. There were many factors that caused this, but I truly believe that a root cause factor was that I wasn’t living an authentic life.

As I recovered, I shared this reflection with my psychiatrist, who has a city practice, and treats many distressed and “successful” business people. In his experience, 90% of the people he treats don’t have a mental illness, but are experiencing a crisis of meaning. They are wondering what life is all about.


I had a very long and protracted recovery from my depression but the final part of that being was being able to lead a more meaningful life. I did that by being able to articulate my purpose which is:

I show leaders how to create rituals that build their resilience, mood, and performance.

This is probably the 5th edit of my purpose, and it continues to gain greater focus and clarity. It helps me decide what to focus on, how to plan the week, who to spend time with, and what to learn. It helps keep me on track during rapid change and disruption.

What about you?

Would you like to lead a more meaningful life by understanding your career purpose?

To understand our career purpose we need to answer 3 questions:

  • What do I do?
  • Who do I serve?
  • How do those that I serve benefit from what I do?

So how do you discover your career purpose?

I have found that the question that best predicts this is:

“When you reflect on your whole career, what is the one achievement that you are most proud of?”

Then reflect:

  • Why did I choose this highlight?
  • What were the obstacles in achieving this? How did I overcome these?
  • Who did I work with to achieve this?
  • What benefit did I deliver? Who to?
  • What do I enjoy reading about in my leisure time?
  • Can I identify a broad theme that reflects this greatest achievement?
  • Am I able to convey this in a brief sentence in conversational language?
Writing the first draft of your personal purpose

From the answers you derived from these questions, write the first draft of your personal purpose statement in this format.

I help/show (who you most enjoy serving), by (the benefits your work provides them).

The language should sound like you would speak to a friend or colleague. Say it to someone you trust, and ask for their honest feedback.

Some examples of career purpose statements

Even if people work in similar positions, they can come up with purpose statements that are unique to them. For example, I once worked with consultants that specialized in helping banks improve their processes. These are some of the examples they came up with:

I help people in operations to improve the productivity and wellbeing of bankers, and deliver better service to customers.

I help people and businesses solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.

I provide advice and assistance to continuously improve our business.

Progress is better than perfection

So pursue a more meaningful 2016, by writing your first draft.

Just do it!

This work may help you realize you are in the wrong job currently – and that’s a good thing!!

One the most rewarding things I do in my workshops is to help people define their purpose, so that they can lead a more meaningful and productive life.

RITUAL 7/7: TRUE TO SELF – ask weekly if you like yourself, like what you are doing, and how you are doing – reset

Develop your Leadership Resilience. Sign up for our free 7 Rituals of the Resilient Leader poster and course to learn how to build your resilient, mood, and performance.

Graeme Cowan is Australasia’s #1 Leadership Resilience authority. He is an author and speaker who shows leaders how to create rituals that build their resilience, mood, and performance. To download his speaking brochure click here. If you have questions about his availability or suitability for presenting to your organisation please email or call +61 2 8005 0344

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