The Formerly Secret Formula for Purpose

Instead of searching for it, create a purposeful life by applying this simple, secret, formula

Dr Anna Harrison
7 min readApr 22, 2023

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Source @buildingref

Conventional wisdom, and Simon Sinek, tell us to start with why. To find our purpose, and we will never work another day in our life ever again.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Not Confucius

There are definitely two kinds of people: (1) those that know definitively, at a young age, what their purpose in life is, and (2) the rest. If you are a category (2) person, as I am, and subscribe to conventional wisdom, you have probably spent a lot of time and angst searching for your elusive life purpose. Turns out that instead of searching, you can, if you know the secret formula, simply do.

Your purpose is guaranteed to be found at the end of the doing.

Hostory is written retrospectively

My career has been shaped on the floors of tech startups. One of the biggest challenges for a tech startup is to look beyond the tech and articulate the desire: the why the technology will change lives. Uber is not a taxi, it’s freedom. Uber eats is not a food delivery service, it’s freedom of choice. But in my experience, it’s rare to begin with that end why: that why tends to get written into the pages of history retrospectively.

Similarly, purpose emerges when you are working hard, focussed on something adjacent. Often, understanding your purpose is effective only when you are staring at the answer already — not when you are still exploring the question. Chronologically, there is a strong correlation between people who have already succeeded, and those that are living into their purpose.

Think of all the times that someone famous has spoken of following their purpose: Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Eminem, Greta Thunberg, Michelle Obama… there tends to be a pretty tight correlation between a strength of purpose and success. For the rest of us (category (2) people), we are down in that left hand corner, stumbling about, believing that finding our purpose will lift us into the golden quadrant. But it’s not purpose that lifts you into the upper-right quadrant. It’s action.

We often mistake purpose as the secret to success, when in fact, it is action that leads to success. Purpose is often written
We often mistake purpose as the secret to success, when in fact, it is action that leads to success. Purpose is often written in retrospectively

A story about gold

When panning for gold, you start with a whole lot of dirt in the dish. The dish is a deep circular metal pan with an expanded outer rim sloping down to a narrower smaller diameter bottom. They make plastic ones now. In the Alluvial Gold Universe, the clean up at end of the week is where the magic happens. Magic, as it turns out, requires patience.

Magic also requires unquestionable faith. It usually takes the better part of a Sunday to pan through a third of a 44 gallon drum of end of week concentrate. The yield from the day’s work could recover a handful of teaspoons of gold from a small mountain of sand — it is easy to miss a teaspoon of gold particles if you have poor panning technique. It’s also easy to give up panning, especially if you let doubt occupy space in your head.

Fill, swirl, pan off. And again, and again.

The interesting thing about panning for gold, is that as your day progresses, your concentration of gold in the pan increases. The gold starts to show itself with more frequency, as the ratio of gold to non-gold material increase with each pan out. What starts out as exercise in faith, becomes inevitable success through the application of deliberate, and unwavering action.

You don’t need to become a gold miner

According to Brian Tracy, around 83% of all people don’t have a dream. Of those that do, only 3% write their dream down, and of those, only 1% review their dream and reflect on it. Not surprisingly, there is a direct correlation between the 1% of people and those in the top-right quadrant.

Only 3% of people dream, and only some of those write down their dream, review and reflect on it
Only 3% of people dream, and only some of those write it down, review and reflect on it

Quite often, we let a perceived lack of purpose stop us from setting a goal, or having a dream. But that is a distraction. If you are a category (2) person, even you can be in the 1% of people who achieve their dreams. It’s actually easy… right now, think of one thing that you would do if you had all the cash in the world. One thing. A small thing. Now take out your phone 📲 Text that thing to someone you know. Tweet that one thing to the world. Be accountable. And then take action towards it.

It is the action that guarantees your success, according to the (about to be no longer secret) formula for finding your purpose.

The Formula for Purpose

If you are a category (2) person, or are uncertain about your life purpose, you can live a full and purposeful life by following this formula:

Purpose = Awaken x (Eliminate + Concentrate)*Faith

Awaken

Awakening is the first step. It is the desire to look critically at your own life, and make the decision to take responsibility for its future trajectory. It requires the self-awareness and honesty to recognise that life may not be where you want it to be, or that it is not delivering the fulfilment you need.

Awakening requires commitment and desire. It means being the 1% who not only have a dream, but take the time to write it down and reflect on it.

Eliminate + Concentrate

Elimination begins with identification of elements in your life that are not serving you well. It is a list of all the things that, were you to take a half-time break in your life, your coach would tell you to do differently in the next half of the game to win.

Source @buildingref

It’s hard to do this step for oneself, as often, Elimination causes us to let go of things that we have held on to for a really long time. Some things can be painful to change, and may require re-programming beliefs that stem back to our families of origin. Maybe even further if that rings true for you. For some people, honest exploration here could catalyse a career change, a sea change, a divorce. It may be a good idea to get an objective, professional to help you identify the things in life that go on your Eliminate list — chances are, you intuitively already know what they are, but may need a hand in identifying the habits, practices and behaviours that no longer serve you.

Concentration is the counterpart to Elimination. It is the identification of all the things in your life that serve you well. Perhaps you are a strategic thinker, or super funny, or maybe your ability to think on your feet, or follow a process diligently has served you really well to date. Write down all your positive traits — your task will be to do more of these, with diligence and mindfulness.

Once you have your Eliminate and Concentrate lists complete, you can draw on so many different techniques to keep you on track: daily affirmations, meditation, journalling, regular counselling or coaching sessions… whatever your technique, your job is simply to keep Eliminating and Concentrating with absolute diligence.

Eliminate. Concentrate. Repeat. And again, and again.

Like panning for gold, the results won’t be visible for a while. You simply have to have faith.

Faith

The reason why the 1% of people who dream, and write their dream down, succeed, is that the process of writing and reflecting actively practices Faith. Without this element, when things get tough, most people slip back into the habits that keep them at the bottom of the pit.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

When you are sitting at the bottom of a dark pit, it may be intellectually obvious that Awareness x (Elimination + Concentration) will get you out of the pit. However, you are going to hit moments that shake you. Moments that induce you to slip back into your old habits, keeping you at the bottom of the pit. Faith is the unwavering belief that, if you have Awareness, and create a habit of Eliminating what does not work, and Concentrating on what does, then over time, you can’t help but experience the desired result. To use a technology analogy — Faith scales the Formula for Purpose.

Have a bias towards action

One thing I have learned, is that there is no easier way to get lost than to focus on finding. Life has taught me to favour action over musings. To favour action over ruminating. To favour doing the right thing, even when it’s hard or inconvenient. To get up at 4:44am every day. To set goals and move towards them. To stop worrying about finding my purpose. To have unwavering faith that eliminating the bad, and concentrating on the goood — when applied with mindfulness and diligence each day — will lead to a life filled with purpose.

Talking about how we feel is not usual boardroom banter. Science tells us that this is particularly hard for men… if you have anyone in your circle that is feeling glum, steer them towards Becoming Relevant, the most important book for men in mid-life

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Dr Anna Harrison

Australia’s foremost Consumer Interaction Specialist and ‘Brand Relationship Therapist’. Keynote Speaker | Media Commentator | Published Author