Finding your life purpose

I’m currently reading a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. Collins and his research team spent significant time identifying the common factors that distinguish good companies from great companies. One of these factors is what came to be called The Hedgehog Concept, defined as…

A deep understanding of three intersecting circles translated into a simple, crystalline concept.

It’s called The Hedgehog Concept because of an analogy: some people are foxes, others are hedgehogs.

Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity… never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision… Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything.

Great companies, Collins tells us, always have a Hedgehog Concept. And they come up with that simple, crystalline concept by understanding three key dimensions. Those dimensions can be visualized as intersecting circles:


To help grasp the three circles, a personal analogy is given in the book:

Suppose you were able to construct a work life that meets the following three tests: First, you are doing work for which you have a genetic or God-given talent, and perhaps you could become one of the best in the world at applying that talent. (“I feel that I was just born to be doing this.”) Second, you are well paid for what you do. (“I get paid to do this? Am I dreaming?”) Third, you are doing work you are passionate about and absolutely love to do, enjoying the actual process for its own sake. (“I look forward to getting up and throwing myself into my daily work, and I really believe in what I’m doing.”) If you could drive toward the intersection of those three circles and translate that intersection into a simple, crystalline concept that guided your life choices, you’d have a Hedgehog Concept for yourself.

It strikes me that “Hedgehog Concept” equates to “Life Purpose” in that analogy. Your life purpose lies at the intersection of those three circles.

My life purpose

My life purpose is simply this:

To be the best person I can be, and help/inspire others to do the same.

(Sidenote: my purpose is pretty broad, and intentionally so. Your goals should be specific, your purpose should be broad. Having a broad purpose allows you the freedom to fulfill it in many different ways. There are lots of things I can experiment with as I try to become a better person, and I can find many different ways to help and inspire people. That’s important for me, as I’d get bored fast if I was stuck doing the same thing all the time.)

My purpose resonates with me constantly. With that as my foundation, I’m excited to get out of bed every morning. It helps keep me focused. I can always refer back to my purpose and see if my thoughts and actions are in line with it. If they’re not, I make the appropriate adjustments.

But does it pass the three circles test?

Yes, I believe it does.

See, I’m deeply passionate about personal development, I believe I can excel at helping and inspiring people to better themselves, and I know I’ll be rewarded financially because I’ll add value to people’s lives. Value sells.

That’s not to say that I’m the individual equivalent of a great company just yet, but I’m confident I’m headed in the right direction 😉

Finding your life purpose

If you’re unsure of your life purpose, focus on finding something that fits within the intersection of those three circles.

I recommend you start by figuring out what you’re passionate about. You’re looking for something you love to do, something you would do for free, just for kicks. If nothing comes to mind, get out there and start trying new things, having new experiences, meeting new people. Eventually you’ll find something that gets your blood flowing.

Once you’ve got that, consider the skills and talents you already have. Are they enough for you to be good at this thing you’re passionate about? Could you develop them to a point where they would be enough? Be brutally honest with yourself here, but don’t sell yourself short either. You’d be surprised what you can excel at when you put your mind to it.

Next you need to figure out how to make money doing this thing that you’re talented at and passionate about. Focus on providing value to other people, and that shouldn’t be a problem. If you can use your talents and passion to help others achieve their goals, the money will come.

Bring those three circles together and focus on the intersection. Try to simplify it all into one core concept, a mantra that you can resort to when you come to a fork in the road. Then you’ll quickly be able to weigh Path A against Path B and proceed along the one that best resonates with that core concept, that mantra, your life purpose.

This is not a weekend retreat

Keep in mind that finding your life purpose isn’t easy. Don’t expect to find it during your lunch break or at a weekend away in the mountains. Jim Collins found that the great companies took an average of four years to develop a Hedgehog Concept. I’m guessing it’s a similar time line for individuals trying to find their life purpose.

The great companies broke through by constantly asking themselves hard questions, confronting brutal facts, dialoguing and debating, trying different things and analyzing results. It was an iterative, patient process, during which they remained faithful that they would eventually emerge with that one simple, beautiful concept.

And once they did, there was no stopping them.

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  5. Thanks, Niall, for helping me out. I’ve been reading plenty of blog posts in the preceding weeks about finding one’s passion, but it hit me as I was reading your that I actually blogged about it back in February. Now that I realize what it is, it’s time to move forward! Release the hedgehog!!

  6. Robert Abeldano

    When planning strategically and accepting the thought that optimists die of a broken heart because of unmet expectations, then does having expectations in terms of a dated goal limit one’s faith to that date?

    Or, precisely asked, How does the concept of time play into the Stockdale Paradox?

    1. Thanks for the question, Robert. I believe it’s fine to have a deadline and to create a sense of urgency for yourself. I do that all the time and it seems to work well for me. The paradox is that you can’t beat yourself up for missing that deadline. You have to keep your head up and move on. It can be tricky trying to take a deadline seriously when you know that it’s not the end of the world if you miss it.

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  9. This is good stuff, Niall!

    I just hate it when they call it the ‘hedgehog’ concept though. 🙂 I don’t like hedgehogs :/ 😛

    Simplicity by choice is the most rewarding of choices, I think. And many people just refuse to believe that ALL OF THIS is really just THIS simple, you know!?!

    Thanks for a very helpful article, man. All the best!

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