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MCLEOD: Why we lose sight of our purpose

Lisa McLeod

Lisa McLeod

How many times have you started a big project with noble intentions, then found yourself descending into frustration or even resentment as the process went on?

Do any of these ring familiar?

-- You decide to spruce up your home because you want a relaxing inviting space for friends and family, but you wind up fighting over carpet colors.

-- You jump into a project at work because you're excited about improving life for your customers or company, but weeks later you wind up just going through the motions to get it done with little thought about the ultimate outcome.

-- You plan a vacation to spend quality time with your loved ones, yet by the third day you find yourself snarling, "We're going to have fun as a family whether you like it or not!"

We may start out with a noble purpose, but as the practicalities of life intrude we quickly descend into a to-do list mentality. All sense of meaning and purpose is lost as we struggle just to get it done.

We become so focused on how to do the task that we forget why we're doing the task. Infusing the practical with a sense of noble purpose is a challenge for individuals and organizations alike.

But here's the hidden secret: Having a larger purpose and being practical about the process aren't two distinctly different things. They're intertwined.

They're the two inter-related linchpins of any satisfying and successful endeavor.

A sense of noble purpose is the emotional aspect that enables you to stay motivated in the face of challenges. Being practical about the process enables you to get enough of the tasks checked off to maintain forward momentum.

Problems arise when we overemphasize the tasks at the expense of the larger purpose.

For example, there's not a parent or boss alive who hasn't forgotten his or her best intentions.

As a parent, I have to continually remind myself that all the challenging, difficult and sometime boring moments of parenting are contributing to something bigger.

My husband and I continue to tell ourselves, "We're raising the future president of the United States and her secretary of state."

It may sound overreaching to some, but to us, it's real. It doesn't mean our daughters actually have to become the leaders of the free world. It simply means that we as parents need to behave as though they might.

That noble purpose helps us bring our "A" game to the more mundane aspects of parenting.

The same strategy applies at work. The more you can remind yourself of your larger purpose -- whether it's helping customers or helping your team grow -- the more motivated you'll be to improve the practical processes.

Purpose and process are self-reinforcing, but it's not a chicken and egg issue. In this case, purpose really does come first.

Generally speaking, improving processes won't improve your sense of purpose. But having a sense of noble purpose will help you improve your processes.

Said another way, when you remind yourself that it's the future president of the United States that you're driving to swim practice, you become more intentional about the conversations you have along the way.

When life and work get hard, it's easy to lose your sense of purpose.

But your life, your work, and the interactions you have with the people around you matter.

Your life has a purpose, and it's bigger than just your tasks. It's about the love, joy and success you bring to others. Remind yourself of that the next time you're having a hard day.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books, including "Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud."