The Power of Purpose.
Why So Many Successful People Are Unhappy and Unfulfilled.

A blog by Pádraic Ó Máille.

I treasure any and every moment I can snatch with my friend and mentor Pádraig Ó Céidigh. The man is quite simply the most illuminating thinker and teacher you can possibly meet.

Earlier this month I caught up with him for a quick coffee following recent sessions he’d attended in Harvard and IMD where he’s revered in business and academic circles.

‘What d’ya learn? I enquired eagerly.

He paused for what seemed like an eternity.

‘I learned why so many successful people I know are unhappy.’

‘What is it?’ I asked

‘In a word, PURPOSE. Purpose is key. That’s my gift for you this morning.’

Forever the consummate teacher, he sensed I didn’t get it and changed tack.

‘How has your purpose changed over the past two years?

‘Well I’m planning to build a business with more of an online component so that if I ever get sick again I’ll have something to fall back upon.’

‘That’s not a purpose. It’s a goal. And there’s a world of difference between your purpose and your goals. Your purpose is what you exist for. Your purpose is what contributes to your well being now. Your purpose is what drives you when your world is crumbling all around you. Your purpose is what energises you when you should be exhausted. Your purpose is your journey.’

‘AND.’ He said emphatically. ‘The worst thing you can ever do is keep fulfilling a purpose that doesn’t exist.’

‘Sounds mighty.’ I said. ‘But what does that really mean?’

He paused again in a desperate effort to find a suitable means of getting through to me.

‘Pádraic, when I was 16 my primary purpose in life was to shift a Dub. Imagine what I would have become if that was still my primary purpose today?

We both spontaneously burst out laughing and went our separate ways.

I still didn’t get what ‘Purpose’ was. As Steve Jobs once famously quipped.’You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.’

Ans that’s what great teachers do. They trust their students will somehow connect the dots in the future.

I only connected the dots last Friday evening. I was MC at a function to celebrate the fifth anniversary of BioInnovate – a dynamic venture between NUIG and Stanford Universities which combines resources to catalyse and lead medical innovation.

I met with Doctor Faisal Sharif, the clinical director of the programme, and an eminent cardiologist with an outstanding reputation for competency and care in the west of Ireland. As we discussed how best I might introduce him to the audience he shared a story with me that he in turn shares with his students.

‘If you want to be happy for an hour, eat a steak.
If you want to be happy for a day, play golf.
If you want to happy for a week, go on a cruise.
If you want to happy for a month, get a car.
If you want to happy for a year, get a house.
If you want to be happy forever, serve humanity.’

The dots began to connect for me. Purpose first. Goals second.

I reflected on all the dubiously successful people I’d encountered in my career.

  • The countless millionaires living in fear and terror that they’ll lose their money or worse again, be defrauded of it.
  • The guy who nabbed the College babe but discovered too late in the day that she was a thundering witch and made his life a misery.
  • The girl who became a senior partner at the prestigious law firm but at the expense of a family and social life.

Each all have one thing in common. They were all serial goal achievers who lacked a purpose.

It’s futile, if not downright destructive, to have a goal that runs contrary to your purpose.

Therefore, your primary purpose in life is to unearth your purpose. When you live congruently with your purpose you unleash your natural genius.

And then, on Saturday, the miraculous happened. Connacht rugby won the Pro 12 Championship for the first time ever, against all the odds, in swashbuckling fashion.

Their coach Pat Lam clearly understands the difference between purpose and goals. Listen to what he said.

‘When I left my home town to become professional I needed to know what I [was] playing for, because when the going gets tough and we’re down to a point or we need to defend a lead, I have to understand.

‘So it’s very important as a coach to make sure that all the players understand.’

“When they employed me as a coach, I said there are three things I work on: There is the game that I like to play, that I believe we can play.

“There is the culture, because you need to build the trust and build relationships because when the going gets tough, you always want to be with the people who meant a lot to you.

“And then there is the leadership because when I first came in trying to drive a lot of things, effectively it has evolved to the players taking ownership of all and driving it.

As I stood in the Sportsground to welcome the squad back on Sunday afternoon I witnessed at first hand the meaning of the word purpose. Pat Lam and Connacht had achieved infinitely more than winning a tournament.

They had served humanity.

PS. Congratulations to both Pádraig Ó Céidigh and Billy Lawless, another great friend of mine and a man of true purpose, who were both appointed as Senators on Friday last. These are truly inspired appointments. Well done to both Enda Kenny and Mícheal Martin for selecting people of purpose as opposed to political cronies.

PPS. Congratulations to Eric Elwood, another good friend, who when I interviewed him six years ago spoke about his vision for Connacht rugby. His dream was that a day would come in his lifetime when 5000 people would regularly March up College Road to support Connacht. Even Eric must have been a tad surprised at the 15000 who basked in Connachts homecoming on Sunday last.

PPS. Today is the first day of a new month. A superb planning exercise is to ask yourself the question. ‘What would make this a great month of June – business wise and personally?’ Write your answers in action oriented language such as ‘Walk for 30 minutes on alternate days.’ Do this exercise with your team. It takes about 15 minutes maximum. When you consider there are 720 other hours that will be impacted by this time spent planning, you realise what a great return on your investment.