Every day in leadership class we have a word and quote of the day. The student shares their word, the definition of it and how it applies to leadership. We’ve had hundreds of words over the last few years, but last week a student selected “Determination” as her word and shared the first definition that pops up on Google: “firmness of purpose.” And, for some reason, that’s been stuck in my mind ever since.
What a great way to define determination, grit, and perseverance. I do have questions though. Where does firmness of purpose come from? Why do we have it, or not have it? How do we improve our firmness of purpose?
Why Should We Care? Our purpose drives everything we do. Our purpose for going to school determines if we take notes in class, ask the teacher questions when we don’t understand, skip class, or sleep during a lecture. Our actions at work are dictated by our purpose. Want to move up the proverbial corporate ladder? Want to provide a comfortable life for your family? Want to make more money than everyone at the firm? All require a different approach to your job. Your purpose for working colors your actions.
The catch? True firmness in purpose only catches fire when your purpose aligns with your values.
There’s an old parable, The Three Stonecutters, that begins with a young boy walking down a dirt road where he comes across three old men cutting stones. The boy stops at the first stonecutter and notices his tools rusted and strewn all over the ground and the man sitting slouched down lazily chipping away at the block in front of him. The boy asks the man what he’s doing and the man begrudgingly replies, “Just working, trying to survive. At least it’s a job, I guess.”
The boy shrugs him off and continues on to the next stonecutter a few miles down the road. The boy immediately noticed the man’s tools. They weren’t on the ground like the last stonecutter’s, but they were old and worn. Clearly they had been used for many years. When asked what he was doing, the second stonecutter replied, “What’s it look like I’m doing? I’m cutting stones to build this wall. Not a great job, but it pays the bills and gets me to the weekend.” This time the boy nodded his head, acknowledging the man’s additional commitment to his job, although slight.
The 3rd stonecutter was different from the others and the boy noticed it immediately. His tools were clean and organized. Though older, they were as sharp as brand new ones. As the boy approached, he was greeted with a confident, yet welcoming “Hello! How are you on this beautiful day?!” The boy smiled. Though the task appeared the same as the previous two, the boy asked the same question he had with the others, “What are you doing?” The man’s eyes immediately brightened and a smile stretched across his face. “I’m so glad you asked,” he replied. “I’m building a cathedral. A gorgeous place for my kids, and my grandkids to enjoy and worship. It’s going to be amazing.” The boy smiled as he continued on, fascinated by the difference in a seemingly identical task.
Think about this, who do you want to build your house? It’s the firmness of purpose of the 3rd stonecutter that makes all the difference.
REAL TALK - Action Steps Here are some thoughts on gaining, or growing in, your firmness of purpose.
Where does firmness of purpose come from?
Those with the most resolve, persistence, and determination are those that best know themselves. They’ve taken the time to reflect, and confront, the brutal truth about who they are and accept both the good and bad of that discovery. Not a passive acceptance, but one of honest reflection coupled with a faith that improvement is just a matter of work and time. A consistent belief in one’s purpose is always preceded by serious self-reflection.
Why do we have firmness of purpose, or not have it?
People living with purpose is fairly common. What that purpose is, however, will determine exactly how committed to it we are to it. A purpose centered on personal goals that only benefit us as individuals are appealing from the outside. To make money, to retire by age 45, to become CEO of my company ... all purposes revolving around you. We have firmness of purpose when we pursue a mission that serves the greater good, that makes the world a better place. A purpose, without a service mentality, is nothing more than a goal.
How do we improve our firmness of purpose?
Our firmness of purpose will be the strongest when our purpose is aligned with our values. Going a step further, when it is aligned with our habits. If our daily actions match our values and by living our values we are fulfilling our purpose, we become unshakable in our purpose. These are the people that attack opportunities, rally in adversity, and seem to always be moving forward. Alignment allows for intentional living, and intentional living paves the path for a firmness of purpose.
If you would like to become more firm in your purpose, begin with truly understanding yourself, focus on what you can do to serve others, and align your purpose, values, and actions.
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