❓Purpose is overhyped - and what to do about it

💌 Newsletter

'Know your Why' or 'Start with Why' - we've probably all heard it before.

What's behind the 'why' is purpose: the big reason we do things in life, our north star.

Yes, understanding our purpose is important. The benefits are clear:

  • It fuels us, it boosts our motivation to act in the world.
  • It, therefore, helps with persevering when things get tough
  • We can make better decisions, at least one's aligned with what's important to us
  • It's associated with greater well-being and life satisfaction
  • We connect more deeply with others when we understand their 'why' and share ours

If you're in politics, and even more so: if you're a volunteer in politics, you probably have a strong 'why'. Even if not clearly articulated, it fuels you. You're committed to a cause. While friends are out for drinks & dinner, you're meeting with other volunteers to organize a campaign, or ensure funding is secured for your organization.

All that would be difficult to explain if you did not see purpose in what can often be mundane work.

But I do think purpose is not the full story. And even more: it can hurt us and others, if we only tell this half of the story.

When I look around in the world of politics and non-profits more generally, I see purpose takes center-stage.

We're off balance.

So what?

Well, I think there is one big pitfall (and a remedy):

The pitfall: an untamed 'why' pushes people to exhaustion.

I've seen people work themselves into burnout, especially volunteers. Sometimes they would not even return, because they associated that particular 'why', their cause, their organization with unhealthy workload. Faced with the choice of purpose versus well-being, they chose well-being. When we do not get the balance right, we are pushing ourselves and others into an either/or choice that does not need to be one. We can have both.


The remedy: Balance a potent 'why' with a resilient 'how'.

Assuming you cannot or do not want to reduce the adversity you, your team or organization face, resilience is the key. Resilience is how you adapt to adversity.

How can you boost resilience?

Key factors that contribute to resilience (from the American Psychological Association):

  • how you "view and engage with the world", e.g. are you optimistic, OK with failing, and see challenge as part of life, an opportunity to learn?
  • "the availability and quality of social resources", e.g. do you have someone to confide in, who can listen, perhaps becoming your ally & accountability partner?
  • "specific coping strategies"

There's a plethora of things you can do to boost resilience.

Here are 3 strategies that have worked for me and the teams that I support:

1) Assess your resilience levels, on a regular basis. Three ways to do this:

  • Find space & time to be mindful. Check in with yourself. How do you feel: stressed or renewed? A balance between stress and a sense of renewal is an indicator for how well you're coping with adversity. This exercise works best if you're in tune with your body and feelings - not easy and doesn't always work for me.
  • Count the moments you felt stressed or renewed last week. How balanced are they? How much variety of stressful moments versus renewal moments where there, e.g. did you mainly have one source of renewal (playing with a pet), but several different sources of stress?
  • Take a test. The above exercise is based on the 'Personal Sustainability Index' by Richard Boyatzis and Daniel Goleman. Or go for the more in-depth Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC). I'm working on my own quick resilience asssessment; if you're interested, send me an email.

2) Challenge yourself regularly. Purposefully expose yourself to adversity and overcome it. Even if in a totally different area than the one where you need to be resilient, there is a cross-adaptation effect. I'm a big fan of the Wim Hof Method (read here about what I learnt hiking up a snow mountain in shorts 🩳🥶): it boosts resilience at a physical level (through exposure and adaption to the cold) and in terms of mindset (sense of control and commitment you gain when you persevere in something difficult).

3) Work on boosting the resilience of your team. Your team is only as strong as its weakest link. If you're resilient, but your team members are not, then that's not going to be sustainable. Check-in with your team, create space for people to openly share how they're doing, create buddy groups that support each other.

Sharing is caring! If you find value in this newsletter, forward it to a friend or colleague who would appreciate it. Let's create a ripple effect of learning & personal growth in politics.

Every week I share actionable advice and insights to fuel your personal journey and political impact, sent straight to your inbox 👇