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The 3 Elements to Find Your Purpose by Clay Christensen

Mar 8, 2022 | 💪 Personal Development

Purpose. It seems like you can’t look anywhere these days without that word being thrown around as anyone’s one true mission in life. 

“Find your purpose and all of your problems will be solved.”

I’ve been listening to Noah Kahan quite a bit lately and there’s one line in a song called ‘Howling’ that I believe sums up how most people feel about finding purpose.

“You’re not alone, the world is small and I am sick of all the talk of finding purpose.”

He apparently wrote the song in a dark period in his life, where he felt empty, uncertain and without focus. It’s called ‘Howling’, because his dogs would often howl at the wind in that period of his life. The loneliness he felt when he heard that noise is what drove him to write this song.

I think all of us feel like Noah did at some point in our lives. But what can you do? Neglect it and procrastinate forever? Accept that you’ll never have a clear purpose and never truly live up to your potential? Complete a million exercises from a million blog posts, feeling overloaded with information and still unsure of what to do? 

How do you actually find purpose? 🤷

The book How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clay Christensen may offer an answer.

The three elements of purpose

In what’s arguably the most powerful chapter of the book – the epilogue – Clay describes his three elements of purpose that apply to companies and individuals alike.

🦸 Likeness
💪 Commitment
📈 Metrics

According to Clay, thinking about how these three elements apply to you might well be the most valuable exercise you will ever complete in your life. It certainly has been for him. But before we can get into defining any of these elements for ourselves, first we need to understand them.

The first element of purpose Clay identified is ‘likeness’. This means knowing the person you want to become and hope to be. Clay distilled his likeness from the three things he values most in life: his professional career, his family and his faith. This is his likeness: 

🦸 A man who’s dedicated to helping improve the lives of other people.
🦸 A kind, honest, forgiving and selfless husband, father and friend.
🦸 A man who doesn’t just believe in God, but who believes God.

What I like about Clay’s likeness is that it fits in three short sentences. Each sentence has a clear theme or core value attached to it. And as a whole, they are easy to remember. While they aren’t very concrete, they enable him to guide his daily actions and decisions. 

The second element, commitment, is all about being intensely committed to your likeness. Rather than simply writing your likeness down on a piece of paper, it’s important that you feel that you want to truly become that person. 

By seeing how committed you are – and are willing to be – to your likeness, you can test whether the likeness you determined is right or needs adjusting.

The final element really comes back to the title of the book: how will you measure your life? Which metric, or metrics, will you use to measure your progress towards becoming your likeness? 

Clay explains that this metric is rarely something related to money, status, recognition or position. For him it’s the individuals he will be able to help – one by one – to become better people. 

Why I like this ❤️✌️

Yes, in essence, this is another exercise from another blog post about purpose. So why would this one be any different? Here’s my take on that.

I feel that the majority of exercises on purpose generate much lengthier answers, making them much harder to apply in your daily life. This one is concise, logical and clear. It can serve as a real compass to guide your daily decisions for the rest of your life.

“Understanding the three parts composing the purpose of my life – a likeness, a commitment and a metric – is the most reliable way I know of to define for yourself what your purpose is and to live it in your life every day. Finally, please remember that this is a process, not an event, it took me years to fully understand my own purpose but the journey has been worthwhile.” – Clay Christensen

I also like how Clay emphasises that defining these three elements is a process. It may take you years to do so, just like it did Clay. 

By accepting that you will not be able to figure out all the answers on the spot, you can allow yourself to experiment. It helps you be open to new opportunities as they arise, without feeling like you have to hold on to a self-defined purpose that doesn’t end up working for you in the end. 

The final reason why I like this is because you can define this purpose for your business as well, with the same three elements.

It enables you to build the business you truly want to build, by allowing your actions to be guided by what’s important to you. Sure, you shouldn’t neglect making a profit. But perhaps you also shouldn’t aim for profits to the extent that it leads to making unethical decisions. 

So, if you’re not too sick of all the talk of finding purpose (I know I was before reading Clay’s book), sit down for this. Define what each element means to you. Then test it out. Allow yourself to be guided by it.

“I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life’s purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they have ever discovered.” – Clay Christensen

Getting started with this may seem hard or even a little uncomfortable right now, but if you’re willing to reserve some time for it, it could define the rest of your life.

If you could use some extra guidance, though, I recommend reading Clay’s book or sending me a message. As I just finished the book yesterday myself, I’m currently working on defining my own purpose as well. So we might even be able to help each other out. I’ll be sure to share both my business and personal purpose in one of the upcoming articles on this site.

So stay tuned and good luck!