How to find your purpose in life (and work)

How to find your purpose in life (and work)

Karen James is a transformational leader, engineer and entrepreneur. She’s committed to helping others find their true purpose, and that’s why we’ve enlisted her to be one of our PowerPlayer facilitators.

BY Karen James, 7 min READ

Karen James is a transformational leader, engineer, entrepreneur and lead the birth and growth of the Commonwealth Bank’s Women in Focus network – a supportive community of over 10,000 businesswomen.

Her mission is to “ignite just change to build a better world.” Using her principles, she turned a $9M business into a $100M business early on in her career, and set the tone for her future success: have a purpose, build the right culture, and bring in amazing leaders who are, above all, human.

Karen recently shared her wisdom on finding purpose both personally and in business at our recent Movers and Breakers conference, brought to you by Toyota. Lean in and listen to these tips from one of the best motivational speakers in Australia.

1. Define your purpose

Ask yourself, work or personal-wise: is your purpose really clear? Does it have meaning? Does it define your reason to exist? My business purpose is to ignite ‘just change.’ To me, that is all about justice. Whether I’m working on a digital strategy or whether I’m working on strengthening culture in the indigenous community. Igniting change is my core purpose.

2. Be an ‘intrepreneur’

If you work for an organisation and you’re not comfortable with their purpose, no matter what work you’re doing you can always have your own. You can work in an organisation where their whole purpose isn’t something that resonates with you, but you can be a subset of that and have your own clear purpose. You can be an ‘intrapreneur.’ I believe that every organisation on the planet can have an incredible purpose.

3. Ask yourself, ‘what is in the way?’

I describe this as your iceberg. You know how icebergs have the ice on top and then the ice underneath? The underneath part is all the biases we have, all the fears. We are all aware; it’s underneath us. And I like to think everyone has an ‘iceberg.’ And sometimes you share it, at times you know it’s there, but sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you spend a lot of time working on it.

I like to talk about what’s under mine because it helps me to explain myself. So my ‘iceberg’ has a lot of things, like a household with collateral damage, and how that manifests is I malfunction a little bit if I’m around aggressive men. But I just keep this frame of mind. I was in a meeting recently, and every time this man made a point, he hit the table. And he’s a lovely guy, I’ve known him for years! But every time he hit the table, it affected me. He would have done it at least ten times, and I kept thinking ‘why would he do that?’, but knowing what’s in your way and knowing what could be in the way of everybody else helps you get everyone connected with the purpose because you can start to share that.

4. Finding connections

What I try to do, whenever I work with people is to find out what they care about and make sure it’s linked with their company in some way. Whether it’s a project purpose, a program or a realisation. And I think that if you find a way to make that connection, you start to get to the point where you’re living a life with purpose, on a personal level and at a business level. You take what the business cares about and convince them that that’s an interesting thing to do as well. Being an ‘intrapreneur’ in your organisation is quite powerful and never to be underestimated.

5. Define your big goal, the vision

Your vision is where see the goal going. For example, saying to yourself, ‘In five years, when our purpose comes to life it’s going to look like this.’ It’s ideal to attach a meaningful and aspirational metric to this. And with vision, if you have a big goal, it’s a great way to get everyone to understand what that purpose looks like.

So for me, ‘just change,’ and I like to say this in public so I can hold myself accountable; my goal is to reach 25 million people. I know it’s big, but you’ve got to start somewhere. I’m at about 20,000. That’s my focus right now, everything I do is about reach. And so in understanding what it is you’re looking for, you can determine your vision.

6. Meaningful metric

The measures we use internally to measure our performance will always affect behaviour. It’s just human nature. Getting the metrics right is critical to achieving your purpose. Get them wrong, and you have an upside-down purpose (your organisational purpose becomes, ‘to meet my KPIs or performance metrics’).”

“For example, the work that I’m doing right now, we’re building an indigenous language platform. We started working on it, and I said ‘We’re not building an indigenous app, we’re strengthening culture.’ And everyone said ‘No, we’re building the app.’ And I said,’ Of course, we’re building the app, that’s the execution layer, but the vision of what we’re doing is to strengthen culture.’ The indigenous language was taken out of their culture when they weren’t allowed to speak in their own language. So we’re going to revive it and then bring it back.

We’ve collaborated with Toyota to bring you this guide to finding your ‘Key to Success’. Read more here


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