“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Despite the craziness, this year can be a life-changing one. You can convert moments that otherwise would act upon you into moments of action—where you’re determining your destiny by putting full focus into the moment. How? First, stop setting goals. Set Themes. Here’s why:
Themes outlast goals. Goals have an end date. They expire. Themes continually challenge you to do better and be better. They keep you focused on Why you’re winning, not just What it takes to win.
Themes inspire. Goals are tied to results (i.e. lose 10 pounds, read 50 books, etc.), while Themes are tied to the inspired input (i.e. Make Crossfit a lifestyle, Stay in learning mode daily, etc.).
Themes leave no room for drama. Goals are so easy to fight against, and so hard to stop thinking about (“dang, if I’d only NOT eaten that last donut, I’d be that much closer to my goal). Themes force a higher level of living. I know a friend who’s theme last year was to Define the Situation in his life. This meant that he’d act on his life instead of being acted upon. By focusing on it all year, he was able to reposition his leadership and earn a higher bonus, connect more with his wife and family, and build two new businesses that are already taking off.
Define your theme.
It’s yours. The whole thing. You get to choose. How big. Or how small. What inspires you? Life, is here for us to act on. Yet, why do we not always feel engaged? Why do we get stuck? How can we break free from our nagging thoughts? At times why do we feel that we’re not enough? When our relationships seem broken, or when we fail to reach our full potential. How do we lose hope? Pretty soon, it can stack up and feel overwhelming. What do we do then?
Most people hate change. But everyone loves progress. And yet, sometimes we don’t feel like we’re progressing in the right direction, or at the pace we’d like. If we fast forward our minds into the future, we can see it’s actually up to us to decide who we want to be. Based on experiences from nurses, the number one most common thing people on their deathbed say they regret is: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
It’s sad to think about... Imagine if this deathbed experience was flipped the other way?
“I’m so glad I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
What kind of life would that be like if we were awake at the wheel?
When we were kids, life was lived fully. No holding back. Worries were at a minimum. It was glorious. A popular book series was “Choose Your Own Adventure”. They offered a main character, and a storyline that would change depending on your choices. You could be climbing a mountain one minute, and choosing whether to enter a spaceship filled with aliens the next. Then be dead by falling into a pit of spikes one page later. Or the next page would have you save the galaxy. Anything was possible. You could choose.
What will your next page be?
Decisions. They determine our destiny. Life is filled with them. Some are hard, some are easy. But they’re always there. Always present. Ready to kick us to the curb one minute or lift us to the clouds the next, depending on our choice. Here is a concept that takes many people a lifetime to figure out: Life is meant to be lived for others. There’s nothing that changes the world more than a decisive person filled with unlimited character, writing their own inspiring storyline, and directing every scene with optimism and resilience. This is at the core of the Searching Character. Martin Luther King, Jr, Viktor Frankl, Abraham Lincoln. They all stuck with it, believing and then becoming their message. Because it mattered more than anything else. Plus it was more than an idea or ideal, it was an inspired mission meant to be lived moment by moment.
Studies show that the most powerful, highest-performance goals are connected to meaning. When Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker examined experiences of people who described their lives as happy and others who described their lives as meaningful, she found that being happy and finding life meaningful overlap, but that there are important differences. Satisfying one’s needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness. Those who considered their lives happy focused on what was happening in the present moment and were “takers”, and those who considered their lives meaningful found insights exploring and integrating their past, present, and future were “givers”. Givers go beyond a balanced life and create a life connected to their core.
Here are some radically simple examples of living with Themes:
- “I speak not for myself but for those without voice...those who have fought for their rights…their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.” – Malala Yousafzai
- “I like happy endings in movies. I think life has a happy ending. When it’s all said and done, it’s all something worthwhile, and I want it to reflect that.” - John Favreau
- “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” –Maya Angelou
When we set themes tied to serving others, themes become meaningful. Like when a father is with his young sons at the carnival and he challenges them to hit the plates with the ball so they could win a big stuffed animal for their little sister. Whenever they played this kind of game before, they would never win but when they were now focused on winning for someone else, they each broke a plate on three of three attempts, and won a big prize. An inspiring theme like that keeps you connected to work, life, and the world.
Have an Endless Purpose.
Most people live in a small box or they wake up each day to check off small boxes. They limit themselves. Those with an endless purpose don’t accept that. They reject that approach. And they change things. They embrace possibilities, expanding into the universe to shape it into something greater than anyone imagined before and to change the world. Live that way, and you won’t accept the status quo, because you’ll be shaping the new future.
An endless purpose is about being involved in things that will change the world and thinking way beyond immediate business impacts. It's about boldly connecting with new dreams that inspire everyone. Not being afraid to look crazy in the short term because you've built a beautiful future in your mind that carries you forward with power.
Those who have an endless purpose don’t rely on the static mission statement, they embody their mission. Watch people like this, and you’ll see they just are what they aspire to be—they don’t need to stare at a self-proclaimed prescription in order to act. It’s already a part of them, and everyone around them knows it, because they see it, they feel it and they are influenced by these living dreamers.
Experiment with experience.
Understanding your purpose is about having a bold vision that is reflected in our daily actions. It welcomes different views to refine thinking in pursuit of big solutions, connecting silos rather than building more of them. It’s about emphasizing the human experience and creating a culture of prototyping—exploring the art and science of anything: a relationship, a multi-million dollar deal, or an early morning run. It’s about getting grounded in power-producing ideas, to dream the future and then create it. And it’s about constantly putting the Why first and taking risks to be original, even when other people may aimlessly imitate. Far from being ego-driven, it’s about linking to something bigger than ourselves.
When we make goals about achieving something tied to serving others, our themes become timeless.
An endless purpose keeps you connected to work, life, and the world. Here are some characteristics of an endless purpose:
- One line that captures everyday inspiration
- Like a life teaser trailer that offers the best of you for those you love and respect most
- The future is the focus. How can your current thoughts and actions shape today, tomorrow, and decades to come?
- Powered by inspiring concepts (kindness, courage, connection, etc.) that speak to your core
Creating an endless purpose means experiencing life in a way that is so engaging that it puts you “in the zone”, where time slows down, where we find real joy. Where we feel an alignment to what we actually do each day as it connects to deep meaning within us. People who understand how important this is to growth will win the future as they inspire success all around them.
The world needs people who have an endless purpose.