Beginning an Exploration of Purpose

“If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.”
– Henry Kissinger

An ongoing ponder is the role of leadership and purpose in the human experience. A purpose is a desired future state; also known as an objective. Purpose appears to be a very important element of the constellation of things that enable human happiness. Other than the mechanics of perpetuating the species, for humans, happiness appears to be what life is about.

Purpose does not necessarily mean a desire for change. Many have an objective to avoid and inhibit change. They achieve that objective if today is pretty much like yesterday. For those it can’t get any better than what they have today. Purpose does not necessarily mean unique. Many have the objective to make the future in some way similar to the past. This is based on a belief that we have somehow “lost ground” relative to what’s perceived to have been a better state. For the rest, purpose is a belief that there’s a future state that can be achieved that’s in some way better than any that’s been experienced so far. For me, this is the kind of purpose that contributes the most to my happiness.

I’ve moved from believing that people whose purpose is anchored by the past or the present are idiots to recognizing that I just don’t understand. Given that the past and present were at some point in time “the future” how could the future not hold even more promise? They have a point though. There have been some pretty dismal times in human history. The future may also contain more of those.

I believe that the objectives that you choose are a function of your personal strategy. Two extremes are a “strategy of fear” and a “strategy of hope”, otherwise known as pessimism and optimism. The strategic landscape isn’t single dimensional, of course. An important orthogonal axis is idealism vs. pragmatism, which is a trade-off between what you want to be true and what you may know to be true1. For most people their personal strategies are likely set as they exit adolescence. After that it’s largely a sorting exercise.

Most people don’t create their purpose. For many their purpose is default. It’s all they’ve been exposed to. They may not have even been made aware that they can select a purpose. This is the disruptive power of education. It exposes a person to alternative objectives and empowers them to select. For a few it goes even further. It empowers them to create a purpose that is new. These are innovators.

I’m out of time so I’m going to leave this post dangling for now. Some future topics include…

  • Contrasting innovators with iconoclasts.
  • Why leaders are necessary?
  • What’s the job of a leader?
  • Contrasting leaders and followers.
  • The roles of followers; managers and technicians.
  • A bunch of things I haven’t thought about yet.
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