At a Dreamforce conference last fall, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked an important question by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff (as reported by Business Insider): “When you think about yourself, what is your highest value?”
I’ll share Cook’s response momentarily, but first I want to pause on that question, because it’s an important one. Values are those little things we do each and every day that exemplify who we are. They’re the collection of daily little impressions we make that make a much bigger overall impression in life. If I were to ask you to pull out a piece of paper and write down your most closely held, non-negotiable values, could you?
In conducting research for Make It Matter, I found that given 90 seconds to do so, only about 30 percent can (with conviction). If you’re in the 70 percent, take some time to think deeply about what your values are and write them down — so you can keep them in front of you, every day. Why? Because the bigger question is, “Do you live your values every day?” You have a choice to live each day in support of, or in spite of, your values.
Now back to Cook’s response, which has much to do with all this values stuff.
Cook related a story of how he’d been on a search for purpose in his life. Like many, he posed, his purpose younger in life was centered on what his major in college would be. He found that wasn’t it, so he continued on the search. Maybe it was his job, he thought? Then, that promotion? No and no. He offered that for many, they may find purpose a bit later in marriage, and then a child, but then still determine there’s got to be more to life. Then you come to Cook’s epiphany, which he said came too late in life, in his upper 30s. He shared it in one compelling sentence:
And at some point, you recognize the reason we are all here is to help somebody else — that is the sole reason we are here.
Cook went on later to add, “You’re here in service of other people. It’s not about you.”
Why Cook’s epiphany is so powerful
Cook talked about how much this realization simplified his life. It made making decisions very easy. What you’re about to do or say will either help others or it won’t. Easy. It’s now his North Star. His most closely held, non-negotiable value.
It’s mine, too. Oddly enough, I had the same epiphany at about the same time in life as Cook did. I was successful enough in my corporate job but felt like something was missing. Why was I working so hard and spending so much time not with my family (even when I was with my family)? For what higher-order reason? There had to be more to life than selling 10 percent more widgets than I did last year for 6 percent more profit.
As I was searching for answers I came across a video of Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame) giving an acceptance speech at an awards ceremony. He asked everyone in the audience to close their eyes for 30 seconds and think about someone in their life who made a profound difference in who they are today. Then, after all eyes were open and on him, he simply said, “Who will think of you when asked the same question?”
Bingo. I had found my purpose, reflective of my core values (our values are often the source from which our purpose emerges): to help others become a better version of themselves. To live in service of others. To inspire someone every single day. It drove me to broaden my platform for making a difference. I’d later on leave my corporate job to try to influence and inspire others with the written and spoken word (as a writer and professional speaker). My purpose has greatly simplified my life and yet made it vastly richer.
My guess is that your purpose lies in some version of servitude to others. Maybe this column will nudge you toward yours. If so, I’d be living my purpose today.