Setting A Vector: What is Your Purpose?

We all know what goals are.  Some are short term, like getting to the end of a meeting.  Some are mid-term, such as passing the PE exam.  Others are long-term, like retiring with adequate net worth to support you and your family post-work.  In each case, the goal is an objective.  A target.  Some object or end-state that we focus on obtaining.

Throughout our professional development we learn tools for setting goals.  Concepts like:

Categorizing goals into target-sets, such as career, education, financial, family, physical or public service.

Segmenting these goals into to-do lists in order to “eat the elephant” one bite at a time.  Our to-do lists make large goals more manageable.

Applying management techniques, such as “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound), to assess movement towards goal accomplishment.

We use maps or GPS to get to the right exit when traveling. In life, knowing your purpose is the GPS that get's you to the right goals.

Goal setting and goal management are important skills for an engineer-leader in their own right.  To be a successful leader, you’ve got to have this ability and need to do it routinely…like daily.  However, without a well-defined purpose, goals are left without a vector.

Although closely linked, “goal” and “purpose” are not the same.  While the goal is an objective, target, or end-state, a purpose is the reason for why something is an objective, target or end-state in the first place. It’s not only the foundation for goals and our intent for why we’re undertaking action towards a set of goals, it’s what gives power to our actions to achieve out goals.  No purpose, then no vector and the goals we set become random acts of accomplishment.

Recognizing key differences between purpose and goals will better arm you for creating each.

  1. A goal is a target, a static point in time or material.  A purpose is the vector established to achieve the goal(s) and it implies motion through initiative and self-motivation.
  2. Goals are measurable, time-bound, and sometimes tangible.  A purpose is not in any case…it can’t be quantified, it’s time-less and you can’t frame it and hang it on the wall.  Unless, of course, you’ve written it on paper.
  3. Goals are never developed without purpose.  In every action you take, there’s a purpose.

To be truly successful in your leadership endeavors, professional career, and family life, you need to know your underlying purpose.  This is not a task that will be accomplished in five minutes, and it may take several hours depending on how much direct thought you invest in it.  As with most processes, there are several that exist for finding one’s purpose.  This is one that I found that worked:

  1. Use a blank sheet of paper or use your favorite word processor so you can type.
  2. Write at the top, “What is my purpose in life?”
  3. Write an answer, any answer, that comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. A short phrase is fine.
  4. Repeat step 3 until you write the answer that you feel – physically, emotionally, whichever. This is your purpose.

It took me to somewhere in the 95-range and nearly 45 minutes to get the simple stuff and preconceived notions out of my cranium.  Glimpses of purpose began in the upper 50’s and I began to see repeating patterns that ultimately led to my purpose.

To some this may seem like a waste of time.  However, as engineers, we don’t undertake a design without knowing the standards to be used and the intent of the end product.  And those financing the project don’t undertake the investment unless there’s a purpose, market, or need for the project.  We are used to defining the purpose of endeavors in our work, so identifying the purpose of our life shouldn’t be a major leap.  Doing so allows us to set our goals with the knowledge that they are in-sync with where we want to be in life.

A purpose is always more compelling than a goal.  Whenever you keep your higher purpose in mind, you will choose an ideal that is worthy of you. James Arthur Ray


What Is Your Ultimate Career Goal?

Did you ever take the time to stop and think, “What is my ultimate career goal?” It’s an open-ended question with tons of possible answers, but it will certainly force you to think about your career and where you are headed.

I am writing this post in response to a question that an engineer asked at one of my career advancement seminars.  The question was something to the effect of, “How does my role fit into the big picture of the world?”  What a great question!  Unfortunately, the only person that can truly answer this question is the person that asked it, however I thought I would share how I would answer this question.

In attempting to answer this question, I would start by brainstorming on the first question I mentioned above, “What is my ultimate career goal?”  Do you want to make a lot of money, be president of a company, work as little as possible and enjoy life outside of work as much as you can, own your own business, travel around the world during your career? [Read more…]