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Living with purpose gives purpose to live...it's not what you think

Updated: Aug 27, 2018

Words have meaning, but the meaning can get lost in the interpretation


by Susan D. Swafford |Leadership, Communication, Motivation


Purpose is a hot topic of discussion that crosses over adult generations and is a quest for many. Do an internet search on the word and you’ll find over 1.5 billion hits. From videos to a plethora of how to articles to help people identify individual purpose can be found. Purpose is discussed among friends, presented in workshops, and artfully posted in quotes on social media.

As tempting as it is to engage in the find your purpose conversation, I’ll restrain from adding to the overflowing topic here. The purpose of this blog is to address the fact that words have meaning to the one who speaks them, but the meaning can be lost in the interpretation from the one listening.


Living with purpose gives purpose to live” is a quote I read on social media. My initial reaction was to push the like button and write a comment of agreement. But before I did, a still small voice inside me stopped me. My mind instantly got filled with thoughts that I had not considered with this type of quote before. My interpretation of the author’s words led me to want to like in agreement.


Yes, we have purpose.

Yes, we are to live in that purpose.

Yes, living with purpose gives purpose to live.


I agree, so why the hesitation to post my approval?


Words have explicit meaning to the one who is speaking them as well as to the ones who hears them, or in this case, to those who read them. What if the person who wrote these words was amidst a debilitating health crisis that turned a once active life-style upside down? What if she could no longer work at her job, play on the floor with her children, or engage in hobbies that once brought joy but now imposes pain? What would be the depth of meaning behind these words of the one who spoke them? Could this person think she no longer has a purpose and therefore there is no purpose to live? It’s an extreme suggestion, but certainly a possibility. The only way to find out the meaning is to ask the one who posted the comment.


This same idea holds true in organizations. Words have meaning, but the meaning can be lost in the interpretation. Therefore, if a manager wants to motivate her team to reach greater success, it’s imperative to know how the individuals on the team interpret the choice of motivation given. The truth of the matter is what motivates one, can demotivate another.


You may think that it’s impossible to know what motivates your team on an individual level. Let me assure you that not only is it possible, but it is also imperative for greater individual, team and organizational success.


Here are 7 elements to turn the idea of it's impossible to motivate on an individual level, to it's possible.

  1. Understand that you are in the people business. The more you connect on an individual level, the greater understanding of people you will have.

  2. Know that simply because you are motivated one way, doesn’t mean the people you manage are motivated the same way.

  3. Build rapport with each person on your team. A harmonious relationship will always give a great return.

  4. Identify and express their individual strengths. Everyone wants to be recognized for what they’re good at.

  5. Ask them to define what motivates them. Don’t merely settle for the word or phrase but dig deep to get the meaning.

  6. Find out if there’s been anything that has demotivated them and act to overcome it.

  7. Ensure your people are living with purpose that gives purpose to live. People excel when they’re doing what they’re best at.

Motivators are elements that create a positive environment. They are the individual factors that provide a sense of well-being and reward for a person. If your team doesn’t seem motivated no matter what you’ve tried, it’s very possible that your efforts are creating a negative environment.


What’s the cost if your team isn’t motivated on an individual level?