Imagine you called someone you didn't know and reached an answering machine with this away message:
"Who are you and what do you really want? Leave a message at the beep."
How would you respond? Would you have a ready answer?
"Who are you?" as in "What do you stand for most deeply?"
"What do you really want?" as in "What's your purpose in life?"
Deeply held values define who we aspire to be. They provide an internal compass that helps us navigate the toughest choices we make.
A clearly defined purpose ties our values to concrete intentions and gives us external direction - a reason to get up in the morning and a fuel to stay the course in the face of the inevitable setbacks that arise along the way.
As the puppet Princeton sums it up in the musical Avenue Q: "Purpose. It's that little flame that lights a fire under your ass. Purpose. It keeps you going strong, like a car with a full tank of gas"
We derive a uniquely powerful source of energy - call it spiritual energy - from deeply held values and a clear sense of purpose that we embody in our everyday behaviors.
Multiple studies show that people whose motivation comes from within - variously referred to as intrinsic, self-authored and authentic - are more engaged, focused and persistent at whatever they do.
Less than a year after he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 49, Steve Jobs gave the commencement address to the class of 2005 at Stanford. "Your time is limited," he told them. "Don't waste it living someone else's life.... Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your inner voice."
So what inner voice - what deeply held values and clear sense of purpose - was driving the leaders at Toyota, or BP, or the banks at the center of the sub-prime crisis?
Many of these leaders were motivated instead by external pressures and short-term seductions: maximizing quarterly earnings, raising the stock price and building their own wealth.
Figuring out what you stand for, and how you want to behave as a result, requires a willingness to look inward, delay immediate gratification and think longer term.
One reason so many of us resist slowing down is that we're too busy keeping up with urgent demands and looming deadlines. A second reason is that we fear what we might see - or see is missing - if we stop long enough to really look at the choices we're making.
Think of spiritual energy as what fuels us at our best. Reflecting on our most deeply held values, for example, helps us distinguish between our survival-based impulses and our higher motivations.
It's our higher motivations that prompt us to ask ourselves "What's the right thing to do?" in any given situation, rather than simply doing what's most expedient, or what other people are doing, or what's most immediately gratifying.
How different would leaders behave if their first priority were adding enduring value to the world they live in rather than increasing their own value, or the immediate value of their companies?
How different would most of us behave if we spent more time every day thinking about how to give more and less about how to get more?
That doesn't depend on having a job that is intrinsically purposeful nor does it require grand gestures. As Marian Wright Edelman puts it, "We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to the big differences that we often cannot foresee."
Here's a counter-intuitive way to get started:
Think for a moment about the two or three qualities that you most despise when you see them in others. Next, think of their opposites. For greed, the opposite is generosity. For arrogance, it's humility. For disingenuousness, it's authenticity.
What you can't stand is an unexpectedly powerful window into what you stand for. Once you've identified the three qualities opposite to those you can't stand, ask yourself which one you could better embody in your everyday behavior.
Finally, choose one action you could take every day to better live that quality. You'll be adding value to someone else, and you'll feel better about yourself. It's a win-win, and we need more of those.
For a window into how well you're managing your energy - not just spiritually, but physically, emotionally and mentally, take this Energy Audit.
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