I was about to go on stage before a hundred of my peers, presenting a workshop idea to them. Many people had lined up to present their ideas, and only a few of those ideas would be chosen by popular vote.
As I was listening to the people on stage, I started feeling more and more nervous and regretted my decision to take part in this idea pitch.
I had just recently left a highly paid and prestigious job (and my entire legal career along with it), moved to another continent, and started a business from scratch. Half a year after these drastic changes, I was still finding my sea legs in my new life as a career and life purpose coach and it showed.
One of the presenters before me wanted to build a better medical system in a place that desperately needed it. I don’t recall all the other ideas that were being presented as this was a few years ago. What I vividly recall is the increasing sense of dread I felt about sharing my suggestion with the crowd.
My workshop idea just felt so… small in comparison to some of the world-changing stuff I heard from other people. My suggestion wasn’t trying to end systemic racism. Or improve the health care system. It didn’t even do anything to reduce waste.
What made this worse is that I just left a profession— law — that focused on systemic issues and replaced it with another — coaching — that helped people with individual concerns. In my old life, I could have tried to become an international criminal lawyer and prosecute war criminals. Whereas my new life seemed to be limited to helping fellow Millennial quit their soulless job.
Cue my impromptu existential crisis, just before I was supposed to present my ideas on stage.
Did it really make sense to talk about passion and purpose when others talked about systemic changes that sounded like they would have a much larger impact? Could I come up with something else, something more “worthy” on the fly? Or should I try to quietly escape through the back door while I had the chance?
What Happened When I Had to Face the Audience
However, my name was called. It was too late to back out and too late to come up with another idea. So I pulled back my shoulders and forced myself to walk on stage, to get this over with so I could hide somewhere in a dark corner for the rest of the multi-day event (and regret my life choices).
While walking up the stage, I realized that I should practice what I preach and that the only thing I could do on the fly was to tap into a sense of purpose, a sense of “why.” And so I tried to speak from the heart about how much better the world would be if more people did work they really loved.
To my surprise, the audience responded favorably and I got cheers and claps while I spoke. To my even bigger surprise, my workshop idea got approved. Oh, and I didn’t spend the rest of the event hiding in a corner and instead connected with people.
In the years following that experience, I made peace with the purpose I was now pursuing — helping people do what they love. When talking to a client or a friend, it was easy for me to make a case for why their purpose was important and eventually, I got better at doing the same thing for myself as well.
Over time, I realized that if the following words apply to everyone, that that also included me:
“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
Perhaps Your Purpose Is Bigger Than You Think…
Just recently, I was reminded of that whole situation during a workshop I gave where we talked about passion and purpose.
As we continued to explore these topics, many people had questions about their purpose. As I supported one participant getting clearer on their purpose, I realized that they actually knew what it was… helping people develop more emotionally.
When I mentioned that that sounded like a purpose to me, the participant wondered if purpose wasn’t supposed to be something bigger, something grander.
Having had exactly the same thoughts about my purpose in the past, I chuckled and said something along the lines of:
“Helping people with that is not a small purpose at all! Just imagine how it would change the world if more people were emotionally developed… there would be less conflict, less violence, and fewer wars.”
Everyone on the call — including the stunned participant I had been talking to — nodded as they considered just how much emotional development could improve the world.
I then shared how I had felt doubts about the purpose I’m currently pursuing. I mentioned how I had wondered if helping people do what they love was too small, especially when compared with people who wanted to create something like world peace.
However, as I eventually realized, work is an area that creates a lot of suffering on the planet. So by changing that even for just a few people, I can help reduce the overall pain on earth.
If I help one person tap into their passion, that will make them happier which will be positive for the people around them. And who knows, that person might decide to do something that’s positive for others… such as helping them develop emotionally.
The Truth About Purpose
What I realized through my own journey — that I believe is true for everyone — is this:
As long as your purpose is genuine to you, there’s no such thing as a small purpose.
Even my assumption that I had given up any chance of making a systemic impact when I left law turned out to be inaccurate. When I found out that someone had successfully used a concept I taught them to improve their negotiations with a foreign government, I was blown away.
Oh, and I only found this out by chance. How many people could your purpose impact in ways you will never know about?
The moral of the story is this:
Whatever your purpose is, it will have ripple effects for many people. That’s why every purpose is big, no matter how small it might seem to you.
And perhaps my audience realized that — long before I did — back when I pitched my workshop idea to them.