The On-Purpose Person: Making Your Life Make Sense

A Different Path

“So, what”— the Professor strategically paused—“ is the purpose of your call? And why did you call me for help if you’re so obviously successful?”

The Professor

Enter to grow in wisdom, Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.—Charles William Eliot (1834– 1926)

“The light switch turned on is the symbol of an On- Purpose Person. It’s a reminder that we are either off- or on- purpose— nothing in between. Every time you use a light switch, think to yourself, Am I off- purpose or am I on- purpose? And then correct or congratulate yourself accordingly. “Purpose is the energy of your spirit,” the Professor went on. “Discover your purpose, be on- purpose, and the significance and meaning of your life will shine like a bulb connected to the power source.”

“Yes, it is that simple. You’re wired to shine. We all are. Living it out,” the Professor said, smiling, “now, that’s the challenging part. Being on- purpose requires commitment and effort, but it creates freedom and opportunity. Sliding through life unfocused leaves you caught between chaos and confusion. Despite your ‘success,’ isn’t that where you find yourself today— off- purpose?”

But it is 100 percent your responsibility to discover your purpose. Anything less is just people- pleasing. That’s the pattern that got you here in the first place. My promise is to show you an approach to discovery, not the destination. I haven’t said it would be easy.”

A Single Step

“Your want list is the first step of the On- Purpose Process to help you create order as you step toward clarity. It’s a comprehensive inventory of what you want, broken down into seven primary life accounts and one extra, optional account. The headings are simply prompters, an aid, to stimulate your thinking and cluster like wants together. This is the beginning of the On- Purpose Process, so it’s important that you wholeheartedly dig into this step.”

The Tournaments

Every want on your list competes for your resources, time, energy, and talent. You need a simple system for discerning what’s really important so you can let go of lesser priorities and commit yourself to what matters most. Finally, the system must be flexible enough to incorporate new challenges and opportunities that come your way every day.

“Take one of your life accounts, sequentially number the wants as they are now on the list. I hope you remembered to alternate writing your wants top to bottom to break up your stream of thinking. In the tournament, we don’t want similar wants seated next to each other.”

“Okay, put want four on to the next round. If you get to a pairing with a bye, then that want automatically advances to the next round. Continue through the entire tournament, making decisions for each bracket until you get to the most important want in each life account. Each of these is called a core want.

“Yes,” he agreed. It dawned on him: “I can use this as an everyday organizing tool for my to- do list. Any time I’m confused or perplexed, I could jot down the conflicting wants and use this process to reach clarity about what is really important. It would work on the job or at home for big or little decisions. Writing projects, hiring decisions, restaurant decisions. It would also help with big decisions. When I need to make a sound decision quickly, I can write the wants and then run a tournament. Bingo! I’ve sorted to what matters most.” “You’ve got the idea,” she declared, cheering him on. “Now, go through your remaining life accounts, want by want, using a tournament to identify the core want for each.”

A New Order

He had identified his single most important top want— the number- one want. Tournaments were a tool for maintaining a steady course— a personal gyroscope amid the chaos. Knowing what truly matters is a powerful position. He recalled a conversation he had had with his father when he was a teen. His father had said, “Son, if I were forced to make a choice between being a good father to you or being a good businessman, you win.”

It dawned on him that his own definition of success had emerged through the On- Purpose Process— a clear identification of his wants and dreams emerged. So this is what an On- Purpose Person is all about, he thought.

Effective and Efficient

Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.

‘Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.’ On- Purpose Persons do things efficiently and effectively. That way, we have ample margin for the inevitable times when we’re caught off- purpose.”

“To answer your question, though,” she went on, “first, it’s critical to be aware of being on- purpose or off- purpose. That’s why On- Purpose Persons have the light switch as an anchoring device. Every time I use the light switch, it reminds me to check whether I’m off- or on- purpose. By assessing myself, I discover room for improvement. In baseball terms, I’m striving to improve my batting average— the percentage of the time I’m on- purpose.

“Being on- purpose requires me to make consistent course corrections with what is most important at the appropriate time. It requires determination, assertiveness, judgment, and honest assessment.

“Let’s get back to your On- Purpose Plan briefly. Here’s an interesting idea for you. Take your core wants and run a tournament in reverse. Do this by asking yourself, What are two things I could be doing to realize this core want? Keep branching out by twos until you get to SMART actions. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Recorded, and Time sensitive. Simply, each SMART action is a small step you can do in an hour or less. You make an appointment on your calendar with yourself or the appropriate persons and you act on it. Do this and schedule your next SMART action. Through one action at a time, you’ll make consistent progress. For example, our meeting today is a SMART action.”


If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

Many things will press or feel good or seem important, but weigh them against what truly matters. Focus on the activities that are compellingly aligned with your purpose. Then, do them. Intentionally invest more time in the essential few and avoid the distracting many. It is so easy to get derailed, but why waste time on the nonessentials?” The man nodded his understanding.

Perry explained, “Investing is tied to a future return. Spending, however, is present consumption. Why spend time when it can be invested?” The man understood. “Investing time, especially in on- purpose activity, holds more promise and returns for the future. Spending time is wasting time.”

Being on- purpose is about investing your time in what’s important even in the face of challenges. Your front- end effort and focus pay dividends for life— real returns on your time invested wisely.”

“Yes. There’s good news, however. Your core wants and values provide solid direction and personal standards. Not acting in alignment with your true self will drag on your spirit.

“You begin by renegotiating relationships, delegating tasks, and outsourcing projects in order to reclaim space and time for yourself. Shoot straight with the people involved. Ask for their help. Tell them why and what you’re doing. Most people will rally with you. Some might breathe a sigh of relief that you’re finally letting go.”

Somehow, however, being on- purpose was remarkably different. It had many of the characteristics of a program but was really a lifestyle, a manner of living with high intention and standards. It was a call to a different approach to life . . . to live to the beat of one’s unique drum. But one thought kept creeping into his mind, What is my purpose?

Who Am I?

“Your capacity to reach the depth of who you are determines the height to which you might rise.”

• Purpose is being.• Vision is seeing.• Missions are doing.• Values are choosing. “To be on- purpose, we begin with your being (purpose). It sparks your seeing (vision) which you then put into action or doing (mission). This linkage of purpose, vision, and mission is governed by your choosing (values) how to think, act, and respond. When your ‘being, seeing, doing, and choosing’ are aligned and integrated, then you are on your purpose, or being on- purpose. Break the circuit and it is lights out.”

“Mission— doing— is next. Mission is outer directed and deals with the matter at hand. Missions are specific, external, and action- oriented.

Missions get confused with purpose. Because we repeat our missions to become more efficient and effective, we begin identifying ourselves by what we do instead of who we are. Avoid this natural tendency to interchange your missions for your purpose.”

“The structure of the mission question is best expressed like this: What do I do to advance my vision that’s anchored in my purpose? Avoid the use of the word ‘should.’ It implies someone else’s approval. It can carry a sense of guilt as well.”

Being On-Purpose!

I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.

“Every slight improvement in action, attitude, and choices compounds over time. Improving one’s batting average, in other words, being more consistently on- purpose, is a solid measure. Being 100 percent on- purpose is impossible; so release the grip of perfection and go for steady improvement year after year. This is the realistically achievable path to Reverend Brooks’s ‘greatness.’”

It’s relative to where I am today and where I’ll be tomorrow. Still, there are people who need me— in fact, count on me. I’m not my own man anymore. I’m committed to so many people and projects.” “No,” said Bob, “that’s an excuse for not exercising personal leadership. Be more intentional with your time, choices, and commitments. Also, be kind to yourself. Your batting average is meant to help you. Turn it against yourself and your glass is half- empty instead of half- full. That craziness will make anyone feel depressed or inadequate. Focus positively on who you are being, seeing, doing, and choosing.

Move boldly in the direction of your purpose and wants. Be expectant and keep exploring. Fresh insights will emerge.

The Seasons of Life

“It is a matter of making right fits— aligning the person and the position. My team members are ‘gift- wrapped.’ Each person comes with a package of skills, temperament, strengths, and interests— his or her giftedness, if you will. For example, let’s take our receptionist, whom you met upon your arrival today. Friendliness is an essential quality for the reception position here. Can we teach or legislate such hospitality? No. Instead, a naturally friendly person is hired for the job because it is part of the gift and strength requirements for the position to be on- purpose. We make sure the person aligns with the position. Even great training can’t make the wrong person a right fit.”

“Here it is. We know our purpose and we communicate it clearly and constantly. We hire with that in mind, and we encourage each team member to become an On- Purpose Person through training and ongoing weekly gatherings. Instead of job descriptions, we have on- purpose position descriptions that link purpose and performance and every layer in between. It’s a potent and fulfilling linkage when the purpose of the person is aligned with the purpose of the organization. That’s called the On- Purpose Principle.

The river exists, but its flow is indifferent to your presence. The harsh reality of ‘the real world’ inevitably hits us. How we deal with it matters. I’ve given the responses nicknames: floaters, fighters, fleers, flitters, and navigators.

“Floaters are people who passively resign themselves to accept the river in its present condition. They are co- conspiring ‘victims’ aimlessly going along for the ride, unwilling to accept responsibility for altering their experience.”

They fight the forces of nature. These people are often high achievers who glory in ‘victories’ from time to time while touting the virtues of perseverance and commitment. Yet, they fail to realize how little control they possess and how the tides of time wash away their short- lived victories. Their futile fighting strategy to battle the uncontrollable causes burnout, stress, and exhaustion.”

“Then there are fleers— people who check out of all responsibility and flee the flow of society. These escapees fall into self- indulgent behaviors. Some, such as excessive TV watching or video game playing, seem less immediately harmful. Others are more obviously destructive, such as addictions to alcohol or drugs. The point, the real danger, is that fleers are retreating from society in order to cope with their fear.

“Flitters jump from job to job, person to person, or place to place, always searching but rarely finding what they’re looking for in life. They’re masters at starting over but rarely take root. Being busy feels productive, but never gaining traction takes its toll over time.”

Choices and Risks

A time will come, however, when your sense of who you are is so strong that you will suffer, even die, rather than compromise the conviction of your purpose. Then you will be richly blessed, for you will have found your true self.

The On-Purpose Person in Creation

The man who succeeds above his fellows is the one who early in life clearly discerns his object, and towards that object habitually directs his powers. Even genius itself is but fine observation strengthened by fixity of purpose. Every man who observes vigilantly and resolves steadfastly grows unconsciously into genius.

“By fully accepting personal responsibility, you render other people powerless to impose their agendas and expectations on you unless you allow or choose it. Freedom to choose and the pure power of your purpose means your light switch is ON and surging through every life account. Sorting on- purpose opportunities from the off- purpose distractions just got a whole lot easier.”


“Of course you have. That’s why your first gift is giving 10 percent of your income to those in need. You make your second gift to yourself and your family by saving.” “That’s daunting. I’m barely managing my expenses now.” “You’re not alone. That’s why giving must be intentional— in other words, a committed priority.”

“You integrate it into your daily routine. Create an Ideal On- Purpose Day with giving. You get up, you exercise, you go to work, you come home, you eat, and you go to bed. Pretty basic stuff, wouldn’t you say?”

True Success

When he stopped chasing worldly success and reordered his life to be on- purpose, his wants were plentifully met.

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