Everyone ends up asking oneself this question eventually. Some really early in life, some when in a crisis and some as a result of a discussion or external influence.
The following is my story of determining my purpose. It might be a long read, but hopefully a good one.
I vividly remember asking myself this question in March 2002, when I had just finished reading “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. I was part of an IT project team stranded in Ahmedabad, Gujarat during the infamous 2002 Godhra Riots and even though we were in a safe part of the city, we had nothing to do as our project was stalled and such existential questions often emerged as part of the environment we were in.
Deciding upon one’s purpose is usually an iterative process and so was mine.
My first iteration was to define my purpose in terms of my job. So my first purpose was:
** My purpose is to build the best networking solutions for my customers **
While this looked fine, it somehow lacked the idealistic flair that well-defined purpose statements (especially organization mission statements) have. Also, it felt too limiting and dependent on my job.
My second iteration was to define my purpose in terms of me as a person. And the role I have to play in life. So my second iteration got me to:
** My purpose is to be a great son and a supportive brother **
(I wasn’t married at this time)
Again, this still felt a bit limiting. After all, don’t we all aim to be the best version of the relationships we maintain? What’s so special about that?
Now it was a morose time in Ahmedabad. Everybody went about their business in hushed silence and the sombre tension in the atmosphere was depressing and often weary. You could notice that even though the violence did not affect us directly, everyone was tired of it.
These were the days of Internet cybercafes which used to be the only place you could check your emails if you could not afford a costly dial-up internet connection in your home. I remember waiting in line for a computer terminal to free up when I heard the cybercafe owner lamenting about how his IT guy had not done a good job of setting up his network and every day was a struggle with getting his network working.
I offered to help him redesign his network and sat up with him in his shop past midnight to configure all his computers into one well-configured network. Sometimes as a techie, you just want to switch off your Word documents and Excel spreadsheets and just get your hands dirty with technology.
Three days later, when I went back to the shop, Rasikbhai was all beaming.
“Navinbhai, ekdum (totally) first class!! Not one problem. Even the speed of surfing is better.”
Every day since then, when I passed his shop, Rasikbhai would wave at me with a happy smile. He could not stop telling other people what I had done. For him, I was the technical magician who improved his business. Moreover, it brought me joy and pride that I could help someone with my skills.
And it was then that I realized what I believe is my unique purpose:
My unique purpose is to bring a smile to everyone I meet
For me, that “smile” is a metaphor. It can be telling a funny story to someone who’s down, bringing a word of encouragement to someone who is demoralized, helping a Rasikbhai with my technical skills, helping a client solve his business issues with my consulting or just sharing a friendly smile with the doorman or parking attendant. It is taking away the “pain” from another person’s mind, even momentarily, to enable them to smile.
Yes, it sounds foolish and rhetorical. I have been laughed at by interviewers when I’ve stated this in interviews, scoffed at by well-meaning friends who would tease me to become a stand-up comic as well as had many dismiss me as an idealistic fool.
But I truly believe that this is my unique purpose. To be a catalyst in other people’s lives, as much as I can. To bring a smile to anyone I meet.
After all, Rasikbhai’s smile is always a testimony to the accuracy of that purpose.
(Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is my favourite book. It is a great book to start the thinking process and to discover your purpose and calling in life. I will highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it before.)