What’s Your Verb?

The Key to Finding Your Purpose May Be Finding One Word

Have you ever thought about your verb, the word that best describes what you do?

I know. We live in a world that’s perilously obsessed with our actions, but the more I think about it, the more our verbs matter. I’ve spent the last few years tinkering with my purpose statement, and I can’t quite land on a version I like, mainly because I don’t like my verb.

I started out with a purpose statement that was a nightmare: “I exist to help visionaries discover, refine, and share their unique message with the world.” Like a lot of purpose statements, it was long on words and notions, short on practical use. I was stupidly proud of it for a while because I felt it nailed what I really wanted to say…until I spent time reading it.

Just to pick nits, I limit my audience right from the jump: “visionaries.” So, if you don’t consider yourself a visionary, or actually aren’t one, then you’d just pass me by, even though I could help you. Even if you were a visionary, what was I actually offering to help you with? Thinking? Writing? Editing? Staring at you with a knowing grin while nodding at your every statement?

It took me a couple of years, but I eventually scrapped that statement in favor of the much leaner, cleaner, “Unlock the brilliance in others.” I felt like Hemingway would approve of that one: concise, simple verb, clear point. I am the missing element in discovering your brilliance, the key to your padlocked dreams. You need me. You can’t do without me. I am the hero.

Which is a sucky purpose statement. If my purpose in life is to be everyone’s hero, there’s not much about that to inspire anyone. I kept it for while, but still found it unsettling. I thought the verb was okay, so I switched the clause: “Unlock what’s brilliant in others.”

Still wasn’t right. But I kept it for a while too, if only because it was better than the first version.

One day, I realized I didn’t like “unlock” as my verb. It’s too controlling. Too aggressive. Too selfish. I swapped it out for “Find” but that didn’t work. Neither did “Show.” “Reveal” was a disaster. “Uncover” was a dud.

“Stripmine”? Too aggressive. “Polish”? That’s just weird.

I was purposeless. Well, purpose-statement-less. I was dancing all around it.

Part of my struggle was I didn’t want responsibility for someone else’s life. I want to help people, sure. I want to assist them, add value to them, aid them when they need it, but I don’t want to be the magical ingredient that may or may not allow them to live their best life. I was putting myself in the center of my purpose, instead of putting others, and it wasn’t working.

Then, the other day, I had coffee with a friend, Jesse Barnett. He’s been a friend for years, and we’ve had a number of discussions about his projects, life, and ambitions. I love talking to him because he’s brilliant — a gifted writer, thinker, and teacher, he’s the kind of person who needs to be famous. Seriously. Everyone should know him and read what he writes because he can make that much of a difference in their lives.

We had a great conversation, like always, and like he normally does when it was time for us to part, he said, “It was great talking to you. You always help me see my thinking better.”

Immediately, I thought of a mirror. It jumped into my mind because all I’d done during our time together is just reflect back to Jesse what I’d heard him say. Sure, I may have interpreted things a bit differently — the power of interpretation — but for the most part, I simply gave back to him the brilliance he’d given me.

Suddenly, I had my verb. And my purpose statement.

“Reflect what’s brilliant.”

I believe there’s brilliance everywhere, in everyone. It often goes unnoticed. My role in this world is to help reflect it, to amplify it, to make sure it’s seen. I don’t have to convince anyone of anything because brilliance speaks for itself once it’s out in the open. My job is to just help it get there.

“Reflect.” That’s my verb. It fits. And it’s helping me live my purpose with clarity.

Mark Twain is often credited with saying, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” That’s the difference your verb can make. The right verb sets you free. The wrong verb keeps you searching.

It’s amazing what a verb can do. If you’re struggling with defining your purpose, might I suggest you check your verb? Is it the right one? Does it really capture what you do, or does it merely get close?

Words matter, especially the ones you choose to describe you and your life. Make sure your verb is the right verb, not the almost right one.

It makes all the difference between living a life of purpose and living a life on purpose.

Writer. Observer. Humorist.

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