As we rounded the corner from 2019 to 2020, many of us had hoped that this year would be one for the books. A global pandemic wasn’t what we had in mind. COVID-19 is pushing us to our limits: it’s testing what we know about ourselves, what we know about our work, and removing the stable ground we have come accustom to building our lives on.

At Peak, we facilitate week-long Black Belt trainings where we teach participants about process improvement tools and best practices in innovation. One of our teaching points is to always start with the “why” when making your innovation pitch. Drawing from Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, we talk about how you should lead with the “why” before the “what” or the “how”. Sinek outlines for us that the “why” motivates and inspires people to action.  But what if we take that one step further, beyond the bounds of process improvement, and apply it to ourselves? Before we get into the “what” and “how” of our lives, we should all have our own personal “why”.

Aerial photo showing a person's shoes, standing at the base of an arrow painted on the street

I recently read Harvard Business Review’s “From Purpose to Impact: Figure Out Your Passion and Put it to Work” by Nick Craig and Scott Snook. Perhaps it was fate that this six-year-old article found its way into my life just before the current events. In the article, they outline the importance of leaders having a personal purpose statement, walk readers through steps to create their purpose statement, and discuss how to translate this into an actionable personal development plan to make an impact. Though this article is geared towards leaders, it in fact speaks to us all, because at a minimum we are in charge of ourselves, leaders of one.

We know that having purpose behind what we do is best practice (in addition to Start with Why, see also Stephen Covey’s “start with the end in mind” as one of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). However, only 20% of leaders have a strong sense of their purpose. When we don’t have purpose, how can we know if we’re on the right track, if we’re making the impact we want to have? And even more imperative in these times is what we learn from University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth and her research on grit. Her work teaches us that to be successful and persist in the face of challenge, we must have a clear purpose behind what we’re doing.

Woman standing at the edge of a cliff, overlooking mountains, with arms in the air holding peace signs

Purpose and values also drive continuous improvement work. As the current environment necessitates innovation, it can be exciting and inspiring. But it can also require a lot of energy tapping into our need to be persistent, motivated, and tenacious. How do you get through these barriers? Purpose.

Perhaps you are still on your journey of discovering what your driving purpose is and how it might connect with your work. And that’s okay, because it truly is a journey. But in these uncertain times when we are all a bit lost in the figurative woods, now it’s more imperative than ever to look for your own “why” and lean on that as your compass to help guide you through this.

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