Clarify your Purpose, Understand your Self, Apply your Self toward your Purpose

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If you want to make a significant difference at work, I suggest these three steps:

  1. Clarify Your Purpose
  2. Understand your Self
  3. Apply your Self to Fulfill Your Purpose

Clarify Your Purpose

You have to believe your work matters and that it is purposeful before you will pour yourself into it to the degree that will make a significant difference, the type of difference that will make a tremendously positive and lasting impact on an important outcome.

This is a working article. In other words, you will need to do some work beyond just reading the words. Please take five minutes and jot down your answers to this question:

If I do a great job with my work, what will be the benefits to the following people?

My Organization –

My Work Group –

Our Customers –

Our Suppliers –

My Family –

Myself –

Okay, go back and invest five more minutes in that exercise. Really clarify why your work matters greatly.

(Sources: Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and The Unheard Cry for Meaning.)

Understand your Self 

If anybody wants to achieve anything, the first step is to figure out what the person has to work with to achieve the goal. The same is of course true if we want to fulfill our purpose at work. We first have to figure out what we have going for ourselves that we can apply to fulfill our purpose.

I’m allowed one fancy word per article. My fancy word for this article is individuation. It’s a really old word that Carl Jung used a lot. Individuation means “the lifelong process of becoming the complete human being you were born to be.” It means “waking up to your total self” and “actualizing the blueprint of the main elements of your personality.” It also means “discovering the uniqueness of yourself, finding out what you are not and finding out who you are.” (Source: Inner Work, pages 7 and 11, by Robert Johnson). Jung used the word “Self” to mean “the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego.” (Source: Wikipedia on “Self in Jungian Psychology”)

In this article, I’m going to focus on two parts of your Self: your Personal ID, and your personal needs.

Your Personal ID

The word personality seems to have taken on a limited meaning. People will say, “That person has a nice personality,” or “That person has a mean personality.” In that context, the word “personality” seems a very small snapshot of the person. In reality, the person’s personality represents the enormous scope of the individual.

I’m going to change the word “personality” to “personal-ity” to “Personal ID”. Every person has a Personal ID that is made up of his or her temperament and character.

Now I need to recommend an incredibly powerful book called Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey. This is the most useful book I’ve ever read on understanding people. The only concerning part of the book that I saw was it was first written in 1979 and then updated in 1999 so it says something like, “One day women will be great executives in business.” Obviously that day has arrived. Other than that, I think the ideas in this book are tremendously useful today. So here’s a brief synopsis of the book.

On page 20, Keirsey says that the two sides of an individual’s personality are temperament and character. He defines temperament as “a configuration of inclinations” and character as “a configuration of habits.” He says “character is disposition and temperament is pre-disposition. Each individual develops habits appropriate to his or her temperament…Temperament is the inborn form of human nature; character, the emergent form, which develops through the interaction of temperament and environment.”

Here’s my translation. You are hard-wired at birth with a given temperament. You had no choice in what temperament you received. You can’t change it. It’s not based on your birth order or your parents parenting style or your socio-economic surroundings.

According to Keirsey, there are four types of temperaments: The Artisan, The Guardian, The Idealist, and the Rationalist.

Here’s a brief explanation of each one, but again I encourage you to read the book, Please Understand Me II.

The Artisan – The creator, the maker, the doer. This person’s strength is tactics and getting stuff built or created.

The Guardian – This person protects and nurtures other people. Think of putting up guardrails. This person’s strength is putting together logical plans, following through on them, and making sure other people follow through on them.

The Idealist – This person is driven by ideas, purposes, causes, dreams, and visions of what can be in the future. Think of an Idea List. This person’s strength is diplomacy and moving other people with words.

The Rationalist – This person focuses on determining what makes the most rational sense. Think of a Rational List. This person’s strength is strategy.

Each temperament brings with it strengths and weaknesses. Accept yourself as you are with your temperament, and accept other people with their temperaments. If we try to change our temperaments or try to change other people’s temperaments, we are trying to do the impossible. Please don’t do that. It wastes an enormous amount of time and energy that you could be using toward making a significant difference at work.

To understand which temperament you have, you need to do another homework assignment. Go to and click on “Take the Test”. It’s a free personality test. It will take you about ten minutes to do it. Then you will receive your test results for free. Please write the result down. It will look something like “ISTJ” or “ENFP”. There are 16 different results. You will get one of them.

According to Keirsey, here is how to decode the result you receive:

SP – The Artisan Temperament

SJ – The Guardian Temperament

NF – The Idealist Temperament

NT – The Rationalist Temperament

You were born with your temperament. You had no choice. It is your key to making a difference in the world.

From your temperament evolves your character. Your character is who you really are today. Your character is made of your habitual ways of talking and the things you talk about and the ways you interact with other people and the attitudes you have toward different people and different situations. Your habits come from your beliefs. Your character is the beliefs that drive your habits. Your character is always evolving, but the evolution always stays within the confines of your temperament. You can change your beliefs, but at this moment they are what they are.

If you are really going to make a significant difference at work, you need to make sure you do your work by staying true to your temperament and character. For example, an Idealist would make a lousy Artisan, and an Artisan would make a lousy Idealist. You can’t be someone you’re not. You can’t do something well that you don’t believe. Approach your work from the perspective of who you really are as a person in terms of your temperament and your character, the beliefs that drive your habitual behaviors. We can waste a lifetime trying to be someone we’re not. Accept your Self as you are and apply that Self toward fulfilling your purpose at work.

Your Personal Needs

There’s one more aspect of your Self I want you to think about, and that is your specific needs.

Here’s your next work assignment. Take a few minutes and jot down your answers to these questions:

(Autonomy) How much freedom do you need at work? (Range: Tell me what to do and watch over me, Tell me the outcome you want me to hit and I’ll find a way to get there, or I’ll decide on what outcomes to go after and how to get there.)

(Competency) How much ability do you want to have? (Range: I can do this job, I can do this job well, or I have mastered the ability to do this job.)

(Recognition) How much recognition do I need in my work? (Range: My boss knows my name, I am acknowledged publicly for the work I do, or My title and awards are continually updated to reflect my current status in the organization.)

(Fulfillment) How much fulfillment do I need at work? (Range: I receive a paycheck, I enjoy my work, or I feel deeply fulfilled in doing what I do.)

(Relationships) What kind of relationships do I need at work? (Range: It’s socially fun to work with these people, I’m part of a great team that does great work, or I feel tremendously purposeful when I interact with these people.)

(Organizational Impact) What kind of an impact do you need to make on the organization? (Range: I’m a member of a team, I influence the way other people think in the organization, or I’m the final decision-maker on important topics.)

Now go back and read over your answers and add in any more thoughts you have.

Apply Your Self toward Your Purpose

Your Personal ID consists of your temperament, your character, and your personal needs. Your Personal ID (personality) is unique to you. It’s like your Social Security Number. No one else has your Personal ID.

Ok, it’s time for one more work assignment. Write out your answer to this question in a paragraph or bullet point format:

How can I apply my temperament and character toward fulfilling my purpose at work while still staying true to my personal needs?

Okay, try that again. Keep writing. Keep thinking, and then write some more. It’s not an easy assignment, but it’s also not an impossible assignment.

Only you can determine how to apply your Self, which is all of you, the whole kit and caboodle, toward fulfilling your purpose at work. Of course, the same is true for fulfilling your purpose in life beyond work.


Please take some time to clarify your purpose at work. Understand why your work matters.

Please take some time to understand your Self. Read Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey and take the test at Think about your character and the beliefs that drive your habitual behaviors. Think about your personal needs at work.

And then please think, really think, about how you can apply your Self toward fulfilling your purpose at work. It is how you will make a truly significant difference, a tremendously positive and lasting impact on an important outcome.

Simplify: The Mother of all Power Tools

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We buy power tools to increase our efficiency and effectiveness. We do this for our personal lives, we do this for our work groups, and we do this for our organizations. Oftentimes, power tools are devices like smartphones, video conferencing, self-propelled lawn mowers, and on and on. They have become cheaper to buy and easier to use

However, the mother of all power tools is not a device, but rather a belief. It’s the belief in the power of simplifying our lives.

When we simplify our lives, we increase our chances of being efficient and effective because we’re not letting our time and energy and talents to be dissipated over a ton of unnecessary things.

Here are some ways you might consider simplifying your life.

Simplify Your Stuff

I’m a keeper of memories.

I keep notes and little mementos and books and tapes and CDs and DVDs and audiocassettes and video cassettes from a wide range of life experiences. Over the past 35 years I’ve collected and held on to boxes and boxes of things and more than 300 books. About every two years I pull all of my stuff off of shelves in my house and empty the boxes on to my bed. Then I force myself to look at every item and decide if I really want to keep it. I go through every book on my bookshelves and ask myself if I still want it. A few days ago I got rid of four boxes of stuff, three bags of paper, and about 60 audiocassettes and 40 video cassettes, which was good because I no longer have an audio cassette or video cassette player. You can donate music and books to your local library, and they can resell them and the money goes to the library.

It’s amazing how that activity freed up space in my brain and space in my house.

Simplify Your Spending

It’s wonderful how much stress we take out of our system when we stop spending beyond our means. When we save money and refuse to buy things that we don’t have the money to pay for, we simplify our lives. Personal debt complicates our lives. Saving money simplifies our lives.

Several years ago I worked with a client I couldn’t stand because I absolutely needed the money as the world economy almost collapsed in 2008 – 2010. I took on a project that was a nightmare, but paid pretty well.

From that I learned the enormous value of simplifying my spending. When you live within your means you don’t have to take on work that you can’t stand. You get to work with only the kind of people you want to work with. It’s amazing how nice an old car can look when it’s all paid off.

Look at where your money goes. Where can you simplify your spending?

Simplify What You Eat and Drink

Sugar, grease, and dough have a way of taking over our lives. It’s incredible how fast cookies, brownies, ice cream, cupcakes, candy, pizza, and beer can work together to complicate our health in ways that eat up, no pun intended, our energy.

Like a tsunami gaining momentum, bad eating habits can overwhelm the benefits of any past diet. Simplifying our eating habits is a daily challenge for many of us, but the benefits can be tremendous in terms of increased efficiency and effectiveness.

Simplify Your Relationships

When you carry bad relationships (defined as someone who drives you crazy and where you feel worse off after you see him or her as opposed to before you see him or her) around, it’s like carrying a giant backpack of rocks everywhere you go.

Do yourself an enormous favor.

Look at the non-family relationships in your life. Those are the people you hang around with by choice. If you identify one, or more, of those relationships that is eating up your time and energy in a negative way, then just quietly slip out of the relationship and move on. Don’t make a big deal about it. That would eat up even more of your time and energy. Just move on without that person in your regular routine.

Simplify Any Loose Ends

If there is anything in your life that is causing you to lose sleep, just simply clean it up. If you cheat on your travel expenses by fifty dollars a month or you do something that bothers you and it feels like a child tugging on your coat all the time, then acknowledge it within yourself and stop doing it. Cleaning up those loose ends can allow you to sleep better at night, and can free up more time and energy for you to be more efficient and more effective every day.

Simplify Your Website

Okay, one more. Since almost every organization no matter how big or how small it is has a website, I encourage you to consider simplifying your website. I have a theory that simpler websites are better than complicated websites.

Think of a website like a soda machine. You walk up, you look at the options, and you press a button. Very simple. How simple is your website?

One of my favorite websites is Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world, and you can see everything they have to offer on their website like you’re walking up to a soda machine and pushing a button.


The mother of all power tools is to simplify your life. This will allow you to focus on the things you really want to focus on and apply your strengths and passions in a way that will really make a significant difference in the world.

Be Okay with Letting Other People Help You

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(Author’s Note: This article is dedicated to people around the world who are willing to help other people, but who are not as willing to let other people help them.)

All my life I’ve interacted with Helpers.

Helpers are those people who go out of their way to help other people achieve what they want to achieve. Helpers provide help by listening to other people share their concerns, frustrations, anger, hopes, and dreams. Helpers help by offering suggestions, and providing encouragement and sound advice. Helpers help by jumping in and getting actively involved in working shoulder-to-shoulder with other people. Helpers help by providing people with assistance in the form of introductions to other people. Helpers help by providing people with a loan to get started.

When I was growing up I interacted with Helpers who were family members, teachers, coaches, Cub Scout leaders, adults in my neighborhood, and friends of mine. As an adult, when I was a high school teacher I saw many, many Helpers in action. They were my fellow teachers and administrators. These were people who dedicated the vast majority of their lives to helping other people.

Over the past 20 years I’ve served as an Executive Coach for many executives and managers in businesses and not-for-profit organizations. The vast majority of these people are Helpers. They work long and hard to help other people achieve their desired outcomes. As a community volunteer, I’ve seen incredible adult, young adult, and teenage volunteers who were amazing Helpers for other people. They gave freely of their time, talent, and energy.

Helpers Make a Huge Difference

It’s been my observations that Helpers make a huge difference in the world. They help to make individuals, families, communities, organizations, and societies better. They are critically important to many different types of successes.

Oftentimes when a person looks back on his or her life, he or she will recall a Helper who made an enormously positive difference on the road to him or her achieving something special. The person admires and appreciates the Helper in many different ways.

The Big Problem Many Helpers Face

On the road to helping so many other people, Helpers often develop one major problem. They stop allowing other people to help them. Helpers develop a very high degree of self-esteem based on helping other people. They get their sense of self-worth from helping others. That’s not the problem.

The problem is they often start to feel that their sense of self-esteem will go down if they let other people help them. They build a wall of pride around the idea that they can help other people, but they don’t need help from anybody else. They believe they can go it alone and solve every problem in their life on their own. Or they develop a sense of shame if they ever ask someone else for help, as though it makes them a loser or a weak person.

This big problem is not based on gender, height, race, size, or personality. I have seen this problem in young people and old people, men and women, and in people of all sizes, personalities, and races.

You are Not Your Labels

You are not your title, your income, the size of your house, your standing in your community, your friends’ perception of you, a Magnificent Mom, a Dependable Dad, or The Friend Everyone Can Count on for Positive Energy. Those are just labels.

You are a human being. Consequently, at times you are going to get burned out, bummed out, frustrated, angry, or confused. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how big you are, or how tough you think you are. There will be times when you lose or get frustrated.

You might lose money or your job or your kids’ respect. It doesn’t matter what your title is or how much money you have or how respected you are by other people. There will be times when you need help from other people. You might be frustrated by the kids you have, or by not having kids. You might be frustrated by the job you have, or by not having a job. You might be frustrated that you are young, or you might be frustrated that you are old.

How you handle those moments will greatly affect your life. In some cases, it will determine whether you can move forward in a healthy way, or fall into a very unhealthy state of mind.

If you turn inward and isolate yourself from every other person, you can easily slide into an extremely negative emotion such as shame, jealousy, anxiety, depression, rage, hopelessness, or helplessness. If you try to always take on life by yourself, those negative emotions can become engrained within you. They can even reach a point of becoming irreversible. You might give up hope because you never let anyone truly help you.

Let Other People Help You

Please, please, please don’t try to take on life all by yourself. It is perfectly okay to turn to a person and say, “I need someone to listen to me. Do you have time today or tomorrow when I can talk with you?” If the person says no, then turn to someone else. Don’t act tough and think it’s shameful to ask for help. Turn to people who are older than you and younger than you. Turn to people with bigger titles and bigger incomes, and to people with smaller titles and smaller incomes. Turn to older people for help, and turn to younger people for help.

Stop acting like you should have all the answers, and you can’t learn from somebody else. Stop thinking like you will look better in the eyes of other people by never admitting you need help from other people. Stop feeling that it’s shameful to ever admit you need help. Please, please, please stop doing that.

Two Great Dangers Every Person Faces

I think there are two great dangers every person faces.

The first danger is to stop trying to help other people.

You have talents and passions that can make a great difference in the lives of other people. Apply those talents and passions. You can make a huge difference in your family, community, organization, and society. Be willing to listen to other people. Be willing to let them yell or cry or shake their heads in frustration. Be willing to offer a suggestion. Be willing to work with people shoulder-to-shoulder. Be willing to help.

The second danger is to stop trying to let other people help you.

You are human. You can benefit greatly and in healthy ways by letting other people listen to you, and then considering their advice. It’s great to have self-confidence and to be courageous, but it’s foolish and dangerous to take on life all by yourself.

Please, please, please avoid those two dangers.

Be willing to be a Helper and a Helpee. Both roles are important to having a healthy and meaningful life.