Last week, I attended a mastermind dinner in NYC on the topic of work-life integration. The host had hired a sketch artist to create a visual representation of our discussion so that each attendee could have a unique and interesting reminder of the discussion to take with them.

Intrigued by her skill, I asked the artist how she’d gotten into this line of work, to which she replied: “My purpose is to allow people to be fully seen and heard.”

Struck by the clarity of her answer, I asked her if that purpose came from a personal place or from her childhood (prefaced by saying that it was fine not to answer if she felt my question was too personal). Without hesitating, she replied that she’d had a severe stutter as a child and struggled to communicate.

Based on the extensive research I’ve done for my upcoming book, Elevate, specifically around the topics of spiritual capacity and core purpose, I was not surprised by her answer. In hearing many high achievers talk about why they do what they do, the consistent pattern I’ve perceived is that one’s purpose often stems from a formative life experience, and commonly a painful one.

For example, someone who had a difficult time learning to read as a child might be driven to become a champion of literacy. Or someone whose family suffered a major injustice is more likely to become an advocate of the law or human rights.

My friend, Pete Vargas, shares that he founded Advance Your Reach, the leading company for people who want to publicly share their message from a stage, because as a child he’d gone to see a speaker with his father, an experience that led to their first real emotional connection.

Many of us are held back because we don’t fully recognize or lean into the pain that transformed itself into our core purpose or passion. Instead, we avoid or deny a reality because we don’t want to place blame on others or be seen as a victim.

For example, consider someone who creates an award-winning afterschool program because they’d had a single parent who worked two jobs and wasn’t around much. That person’s ability to appreciate that their parent did the best they could to provide for them is mutually exclusive from honoring how being alone so often made them feel.

In a discussion with Phillip McKernan, a world-renowned clarity coach, he imparted that we each have a truth and we need to honor that truth and our formative life experiences without making excuses for those who were involved or absent.

If we fail to truly acknowledge how these experiences impacted us – positively and negatively – we may actually be holding ourselves back from greatness. Understanding and honoring our truth is about understanding and honoring ourselves, not anyone else.

The relationship between purpose and pain also implies that pain is an important ingredient in our personal and professional development. Today’s leaders often struggle to let their employees make mistakes and experience discomfort. For example, I know many new managers who got far more serious about refining their interviewing process after making a bad hiring decision. It was a necessary part of their development and a learning they will likely carry with them throughout their career.

The tragedy of this avoidance of discomfort and pain is that it’s ultimately robbing the person of experiences that could lead to their greatest transformation and discovery of their core purpose.

This week, reflect back on your childhood or career. Is there an experience(s) that has been driving you consciously or unconsciously for years?

Maybe it’s time to use that to your advantage.


Quote of The Week

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”


-Mark Twain