The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life's Work

The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life's Work


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"When you've found your life's purpose, work becomes meaningful to you. If you want to discover and live your purpose, read Nicholas Pearce's book. Not only will it inspire you to become who you were born to be, it also will show you how." - Ken Blanchard, New York Times bestselling coauthor of The One Minute Manager®

How to build a meaningful career with a moral center and a purpose in the world.

Some of the world's most successful companies—Google, Disney, Starbucks—are not simply profit-driven, but purpose-driven. They identify the purpose behind why they do what they do, and let their "why" drive what they do every day. Nicholas Pearce argues that we all should do the same: discover our "why" and commit to the journey of aligning our daily work with our life's work. The Purpose Path is for people in any field who long to have more than just a job or a career, but a true vocation that allows them to connect their soul with their role. The Purpose Path is organized around five key questions:

What is success?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
Am I running the right race?
Am I running the race well?

Nicholas Pearce sits at the unconventional intersection of academia, business, and faith. With examples and advice, he shows how he and other people in a variety of fields and at different life stages have asked and answered these five questions in order to start, shape, or even radically change their careers. Inspiring, thought-provoking, and practical, The Purpose Path is an essential book for anyone who seeks the clarity and courage to advance their authentic life's work every day.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250182173
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/09/2019
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 771,764
Product dimensions: 5.73(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

A scholar, speaker, entrepreneur, and pastor, Nicholas Pearce is an award-winning management and organizations professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, founder and CEO of The Vocati Group, a global executive advisory firm, and assistant pastor of Chicago’s historic Apostolic Church of God. He has advised and coached leaders of Fortune 500 corporations, communities of faith, and social impact organizations on six continents. He and his work have been featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, The Chicago Tribune, CNN, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. A native of Chicago’s South Side, he lives in his hometown with his family.

Read an Excerpt


What Is Success?

We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.


In high school, Annie Little's most important value was freedom, which she defined at the time as physical and financial independence from her parents. Annie's family dynamic was not a particularly pleasant one for her when growing up, and Annie was committed to doing everything she possibly could to avoid having to rely on her parents after she graduated from college. While still in high school, Annie decided that the best way to achieve her goal was to become a lawyer. Says Annie about the reasoning behind this choice, "I grew up with several friends whose parents are lawyers, and they all had nice houses, fun vacations, cool clothes, and their lawyer parents had interesting stories."

In short, lawyers were successful people, and Annie wanted to be successful, too.

So Annie put her focus on doing the things required to become a lawyer. She earned stellar grades in high school and was accepted by Northwestern University, where she majored in religion and psychology. As she neared her senior year of college, Annie scored well on the LSAT — the standardized test used by most American law schools to help make admission decisions — and she was admitted to the University of Minnesota Law School. For Annie, law school wasn't an afterthought — a fallback position — it was her first choice and her guarantee of future success.

Soon after graduating from law school, Annie was offered a position at a law firm in Philadelphia. Over the years, Annie worked her way up from an entry-level position to the partnership track. She was skilled at her job, and it seemed to suit her well. However, cracks were beginning to appear in the foundation of Annie's pathway to success, and they soon began to trip her up.

Annie was becoming increasingly frustrated that her requests for pay raises based on her performance and the profitability of the firm were being ignored. Perhaps even worse, however, was that the monotony of the work she was doing was beginning to bother her. If this was what success was supposed to look like, she thought, then it sure didn't look as glorious as she'd expected.

At about this time, Annie was offered a position with a different firm, which would allow her to expand into other areas of law while providing her with a significant salary boost. For Annie, this was a no-brainer, and she quickly accepted the position.

She was back on the fast track to success.

Until she wasn't. "I became bored and frustrated in a matter of months," says Annie. "No sooner had I learned everyone's name in my new firm than I started looking for new jobs."

Annie interviewed with numerous law firms — from boutique to regional to international — and with companies seeking in-house counsel, but she received no offers. She began to feel trapped by the decision she had made so many years earlier, when she was just a teenager. "On paper," she says, "I had everything I ever wanted. Or at least what I thought I wanted — six-figure salary, successful career, supportive husband, beautiful house, luxurious vacations, and legitimate net worth. Yet it wasn't enough." Annie's reflection revealed that she had reached her goal of becoming what most people would call successful, but she says that she "had failed in finding work that was meaningful" to her.

In other words, Annie was successful, but she didn't feel like a success.

Realizing that the professional life she had chosen was no longer aligned with her values, Annie sought the services of a life coach to help bring clarity to what had become a very confusing situation. In less than two weeks, she had her answer. Says Annie, "The values and priorities of my younger self were not the same as those of a thirtysomething professional."

While independence to a teenage Annie meant not having to rely on her parents any longer, independence for a thirtysomething Annie meant:

starting a family, not working full-time while raising babies, being able to travel for longer than a week at a time, knowing with certainty that I wouldn't have to work on any given weekend, being able to live wherever I want regardless of whether or not I'm licensed to work there.

Annie's definition of her most-important value — freedom — had changed, and it was now in direct conflict with her chosen career — the practice of law. The moment Annie realized that this was the source of her unhappiness, she knew that something would have to change if she was ever to truly become a success and not just successful.

After considering a variety of different options — starting her own business, going back to graduate school, pursuing an entirely different kind of legal job — Annie left lawyering behind once and for all, and instead became a life coach. In this way, she could achieve the kind of freedom that her thirtysomething self craved, while helping others find their paths in life — making a real difference in the lives of her clients.

And perhaps most gratifying for Annie is that this new brand of freedom has given her the time she needs to make a difference in the life of her daughter. Says Annie:

I didn't want her to know me as an attorney. I didn't want to teach her it's okay to trade her happiness for a career she hates just because she's good at it or earns a hefty salary or doesn't know what else to do. I wanted her to know she gets to decide what success looks like for her.

We all want to experience success in our lives — to achieve the goals we set for ourselves, to make enough money to live comfortably, to surround ourselves with real friends and a loving family that bring us warmth and joy, and to make a lasting difference in the world around us.

But what exactly is success, and why do so many of us have such a hard time being a success instead of just successful?

The Nature of Success

Each of us has our own idea of what success is; there's no easy one-size-fits-all definition that can be applied to every person. Consider the cases of Brenda Barnes and Indra Nooyi.

Brenda Barnes, who passed away in 2017, was for a time one of the most powerful women in business. Starting as a business manager at Wilson Sporting Goods, Barnes worked her way up through the executive ranks as vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, various top executive positions within PepsiCo, and then in 1996, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Pepsi-Cola North America — the largest beverage division of a huge global organization with $7.7 billion in annual revenues.

When Barnes resigned her position running Pepsi-Cola North America after just a year and a half to spend more time with her elementary-school-age children and her husband, she triggered a firestorm in the media. Some applauded her for putting her family first, while others felt she had done the cause of increasing the number of women in the boardroom and in top executive spots an extreme disservice.

But through it all, Brenda Barnes held firmly to her own definition of success, that at least for some portion of her life, she needed to put the focus on her family instead of on her career. Speaking of the internal struggle she went through to reach this level of clarity, Barnes said:

Every time you would miss a child's birthday, or a school concert or a parent-teacher discussion, you'd feel the tug. You wished you were there.... I'm not leaving because they need more of me, but because I need more of them. I suppose a lot of chief executivescan find a way to balance work and family, but I couldn't figure out how to do it with 100 percent commitment to the company — in a way that would give me a role in my children's life.

On her own timetable and on her own terms, Barnes did eventually return to the corporate world. She served on the boards of The New York Times, Avon, Staples, Sears, and Lucasfilm. When her children were in high school, Barnes decided that she could dedicate even more time to business. She became president and chief operating officer (COO) of Sara Lee in 2004 and was named chairman and CEO in 2005, serving there until she suffered a stroke in 2010.

Another former PepsiCo top executive has drawn attention for pursuing her own unique definition of success — one that stands in stark contrast to the one that Brenda Barnes defined for herself.

Indra Nooyi started her career at PepsiCo in 1994 and worked her way up to CFO in 2001. Nooyi was named president and CEO of the global food and beverage giant in 2006, added chairman to her title in 2007, and stepped down as CEO in 2018. Nooyi, who throughout her tenure at the helm of PepsiCo appeared on annual lists of the most powerful businesspeople and women in the world, earned a reputation for her intense work ethic and devotion to PepsiCo. While earning a master's degree at Yale, she worked the 12:00 A.M. to 5:00 A.M. shift as a receptionist, and freely admits that she routinely worked until 12:00 A.M. at PepsiCo.

In 2014, Indra Nooyi triggered her own media firestorm when she said in an interview:

I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for thirty-four years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. ... We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom.

Some observers were shocked that this powerful woman executive would put the needs of her company above the needs of her family. But it is not anyone's place to decide what success means to Indra Nooyi except for Indra Nooyi. And during her time at PepsiCo, she clearly decided that success for her, at least at that leg of her life's journey, involved putting PepsiCo first to ensure its future growth, profitability, and long-term success. In pivoting away from the helm of PepsiCo, she illustrated the importance of understanding the season of life in which you find yourself and how being a success takes on new dimensions as one's purpose path unfolds.

In my experience, I have found that few people actually take the time to figure out what success is for them. Many mistakenly assume it's universally defined, as though everyone on the planet has the same aspirations and keeps score in life in the same way. Many others operate on the flawed assumption that someone else has the right to impose his or her personal view of success upon them.

While some people think success means attaining the goals that have been set for them by others — whether by their families, their managers, the media, or societal norms and expectations — others think success means following in the steps of those successful people who preceded them. Still others are blinded by the intoxicating sparkle of fame and fortune as the measure of true success.

Back in 2014, Strayer University and Ipsos, a global market research firm, conducted a survey to find out what success means to Americans. Fully 90 percent of those surveyed said that success is more about happiness than power, money, or fame. (In fact, only one in five respondents felt that monetary wealth is what defines success.) In addition, 67 percent felt that success means achieving personal goals, while 60 percent believed that success is loving what you do for a living.

The problem is that relatively few people have the courage to look deep within themselves to get to the heart of what true success means to and for them. Granted, there are many people on the planet for whom success lies almost exclusively in making sure that their families have enough food to eat, clean water to drink, and adequate shelter. But for those of us who have the opportunity to choose what we want to be when we grow up, it behooves us to choose our life's path in a way that allows us to pursue and accomplish our unique definition of success, rooted in our sense of purpose and core values. This isn't just for the well-heeled Ivy Leaguers among us. This is something that everyday people can — and should — do.

For many of us, it's a struggle to clarify how we define success for our lives, not to mention how we pursue it. And when we don't, the consequences for our careers — and our lives — can be devastating.

One of those consequences comes in terms of how we show up to work every day. Gallup has tracked employee engagement — the extent to which people are emotionally committed to their work and their employers — for years. Unfortunately, the news is not good. According to the Gallup polling organization, only 33 percent — one-third — of employees in the United States are engaged at work, and just 13 percent worldwide are. This widespread disengagement leads to lower productivity, decreased work quality, and lower job satisfaction.

When you think about it, this is an alarming statistic. Fully two-thirds of the American workforce does not feel a deep connection to the work they do; they are simply going through the motions, day in and day out.

One of my deepest desires in writing this book is to provoke people to come off the autopilot mode that allows them to somewhat mindlessly navigate through their lives, and to pause for a moment, and say to themselves, "Hmmm ... I didn't think of what my life could be like if I lived every day on purpose." If people think through the questions I pose in this book, and if they engage in more intentional moments of self-reflection, then my firm belief is that this will both encourage and challenge them to live lives that are more vocationally courageous and ultimately more meaningful and impactful.

True vocational courage comes from defining what success is for us, based on our own unique purpose and core values, and then making the difficult decisions necessary to wholeheartedly pursue it. True vocational courage does not come from following someone else's definition of success, nor from having others define success for us. It's not about trying to achieve the kind of success that your parents pressured you to achieve because they couldn't achieve it themselves. And it's not about trying to achieve the kind of success that your boss defines for you at work, or your spouse/partner, friends, and other influencers define for you in your daily life outside the office.

It's about knowing your own values and then allowing those values to guide what success means to and for you — and you only.

It's about being willing to honestly explore and answer the question "How do you keep score in life?"

Many people choose to keep score in life by how many material possessions they can accumulate. They keep score by how many trophies are in their capitalistic display case — sprawling homes, luxury automobiles, designer clothes, fine jewelry, and expansive bank accounts. It is important to note that these things are not inherently bad. But the truth about the relentless pursuit of this definition of success is that such success is fleeting, depreciable, and corruptible — in fact, it can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

To be a true success, we need to adopt a definition that is more intrinsic, more internal, and more eternal — a definition that is designed to support our faithful pursuit of why we are here. Defining success in this way allows us to measure our clarity, commitment, and consistency in pursuing our life's work as the end and the means — not some goal that someone else has set for us.

So, the first step toward becoming an authentic success is making sure you have clarity regarding what success means to you and what you have to do to achieve it.

Can You Be Successful Without Being a Success?

I have a good friend who spent the early days of his career in the tech industry. He was a business executive at a Fortune 500 company in the Silicon Valley, and he had all the trappings of success: he had a brand-name college degree, he was a key player in a growing business unit in a growing company, and he was making bucketsful of money.

But after a few years of going one hundred miles an hour in that direction of being successful, his life smashed into a concrete wall. He realized that, while he was doing all the "right" things to be successful in terms of his career and his financial well-being, he was empty on the inside. He got into drugs to medicate the pain he was feeling, and his career, family, and life began to slide into a very deep abyss.

He was successful but not a success.

Fortunately, this executive could see that the definition of success he was chasing was eventually going to destroy his family and kill him. While he was successful by most anyone's definition of success, his life was not trending that way; he was on an extremely self-destructive path. So he walked away from the high-powered career as a tech executive and he stepped back from his life to reorient himself and redefine what success meant to him.


Excerpted from "The Purpose Path"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Nicholas Pearce.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part I: The Five Questions
1. What Is Success?
2. Who Am I?
3. Why Am I Here?
4. Am I Running the Right Race?
5. Am I Running the Race Well?

Part II: Putting Vocational Courage to Work
6. What's Courage Got to Do with It?
7. Rechecking Your Alignment
8. Helping Others Develop Vocational Courage
9. Vocational Courage for Organizations

Afterword: The Contagion of Courage

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