Where Purpose Lives


The definition and nature of purpose is often misunderstood.

It does not reside in a founder’s head.

You won’t find it on an organizational chart.

What about a nifty slogan?

And it’s usually not visible on a vision and values poster. Or in your typical mission statement.

Powerful, world-changing purpose lives inside the members of your tribe.

So the issue is not just having a purpose, it’s defining that purpose in a way that resonates with your tribe.

How purpose moves tribes

Purpose is the idea that connects members of the tribe together. It builds the trust of the tribe in you as leader. It provides consistency to all the decisions and activities of the tribe. It inspires them to action.

In fact, it is the single most motivating factor in building a movement.

It’s bigger than you, Sparky

Therefore, you can’t base your purpose only on your desire to change something.

You’ll have to anchor it in three things:

  1. Your passion, or it won’t be authentic.
  2. Something you do well or can learn to do well.
  3. An idea that resonates with your tribe because you share the same worldview.

In other words, you will greatly increase your chances for success if you define your purpose in a way that taps into your tribe’s passion as well as your own.

But wait, there’s more

If you’re really interested in defining your purpose in a way that will connect with your tribe members and drive your movement, I suggest you take a short detour.

Check out what a well-defined purpose really is. And come back to go through a couple of  exercises that will help you define one that connects with your tribe. Then you can move on to making sure your purpose is worth sharing.

But in the meantime, let’s do a little aligning.

Yea, it’s matrix time

Here’s a little matrix that might help you evaluate your passions and your ability to deliver them in a purpose.


Now test your strongest passions (those in upper right quadrant) against the worldview of your tribe.

Place a set of dots for your passions and another set for how the tribe would value each based on their worldview of what is important and what needs to be changed in the world.


It’s inside us

Purpose that inspires and motivates comes from a place deep inside people.

Scientists have found three pretty well-researched, core kinds of purpose that consistently resonate with folks. So let’s look at each one through the personal stories of three different people. Aaron Hurst shares their experience in his excellent book, The Purpose Economy.

Societal purpose. Social purpose. Personal purpose. These are the places where purpose resides inside people.

1. Societal Purpose

When NASCAR’s Kate Atwood agreed to speak at a camp for kids who had lost a parent, she had not idea it would change her life.

But there she was. Standing in front of hundreds of kids telling her story. Describing what it felt like to loose her own mother to cancer when she was twelve years old.

At that moment something shifted

“Until that day, the death of my mom had been about me,” Kate admitted. “After that day, I knew it was bigger than myself.”

Later that evening, a little girl about ten years old tapped Kate on her shoulder and asked, “Are you Kate?” “Yes,” she replied. The girl then continued by telling her the story of losing her own mom and dad in a car accident.

“To this day, that moment stands as the time I first brushed up with the power of purpose,” she explains.

Purpose comes when we know we have done something that we believe matters.

Doing something about it

“Two years later, at the tender age of 22, this thirst [to find purpose in my life] led me to my boss’s office. To let her know I was leaving the company to start a nonprofit for kids who had lost a parent or sibling.”

So Kate left NASCAR to start Kate’s Club.

At Kate’s Club, she learned that your darkest moment can become your biggest gift. That is, if you are able to make it about something beyond yourself.

The source of purpose

The most powerful source of purpose comes from this concept.

Purpose comes when we know we have done something that we believe matters–to others, to society, and to ourselves.

From the small daily choices we make to monumental acts we perform, we strive to contribute to the well-being of the world around us.

We’re all looking for it

Societal purpose isn’t isolated to volunteering and philanthropy.

People also derive purpose through decisions about how we consume things.  All the way from decreasing our carbon footprint to buying local produce at the farmers’ market.

We can also discover meaning through our daily work. If we believe we’re helping the people on our team. And if we are serving someone.

2. Social Purpose

Kristine Ashe’s family was spread out all over the country.

She longed to share her life with them but knew it was unlikely unless she somehow created the opportunity for it to happen.

Stop whining

So Kristine decided to buy a vineyard. Even though she knew nothing about farming or winemaking.

Kristine’s dream was not to make wine, but rather to create a business that would bring her family together and build a community.

What do you know, it worked

Kristine built the vineyard around her family. She created a ranch that allowed her to work with her kids by her side.

Her extended family also got involved in ways she never imagined. Her sister moved to the farm, and her brother-in-law came to lead the vineyard’s operations. Her father even built their website.

It’s about the connections

Kristine explains the results of the vineyard in an interesting way. “It’s the connections between us that bring us the greatest joy,” she says. “They generate the highest passion. And they make for the most authentic satisfaction.”

The work of winemaking was rewarding and pushed her to her limits. But it was the ability to share that work with the people she loved that made it meaningful.

It was the strong emotional connections that gave her such a strong sense of purpose.

Purpose is not a solo act

Michael Steger at Colorado State University has created a Laboratory for the Study of Meaning and Quality of Life. In his study of over 250,000 people, he found evidence that what Kristine had felt applies on a much broader level.

When it comes to meaning in life, relationships matter to humans more than anything else.

That’s why tribes are so powerful. And why connecting tribe members is so important.

They reinforce our sense of value, require us to engage, and, ultimately, help us and our cause grow.

3. Personal Purpose

Warren Brown was one of over a million lawyers in the United States.

“My moment of truth came late on a Friday night when I was still practicing law, he said. “On that particular night, I was making a cake for one of the senior managers in my office, and I was trying to make it look extra nice.”

The law vs. cake

Warren was good at his job, but it was only a job. What he really loved was baking. Baking with people. And baking for people.

Soon, what started as a hobby became a bakery. CakeLove became wildly successful. So Warren eventually left his job as an attorney.

Fast-forward two years

Warren wasn’t happy. Despite doing what he loved, he was, in fact, spending all his time running the bakery.

What he loved most was talking to his customers about cake and creating the kinds of amazing cakes that wowed them.

As it turned out, his passion had been making cakes, not managing a bakery.

We find purpose when we do things we love, attempt new challenges, and express our voice to the world.

A new voice

After recognizing the gap between what he was doing and what he wanted to be doing, Warren hired a manager to run his business.

And Warren refocused his energy on baking and looking for new ways to create cakes.

He loved talking to his customers about what they loved about cakes. In the process, he found that while his customers loved cake, they didn’t love how messy it was to eat.

A new discovery

So after a little trial and error, Warren created Cake Bites: small cakes baked and served in tiny jars.

Cake Bites were an instant hit.

Warren was soon selling them to Whole Foods.

His business boomed.

Navigating with purpose

By following his passion, Warren had not only found a profound sense of purpose but built a great business in the process.

“I live my passion. When I wake up, I’m all go. I’m amped–ready and willing to dive into the satisfaction I get every day from baking.”

So what does all this mean?

There are some common elements to all these stories that might help us understand where purpose lives inside of people.

Identify them. Then apply them to your situation and your tribe. When you do, you’ll be able to define your purpose in a way that reaches people’s hearts and connects with them emotionally.

No other connection is a strong or as compelling.


Some purpose principles

  • Passion is a crucial element of purpose.
  • People’s pursuit of purpose is deeply personal.
  • It begins when they recognize a problem,
  • It is cultivated by the self-awareness to understand what needs to change.
  • It flourishes when they push themselves to make the necessary changes so that they can grow.

Three needs

At its foundation, purpose serves three critical needs for people:

  • To develop themselves
  • To be part of a community
  • To effect something greater than themselves.

So here’s what I’d do with that information if I were you.

I’d figure out a way to incorporate those five principles and three needs into your purpose definition.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?