Vail Valley Voices: What is your purpose? |

Vail Valley Voices: What is your purpose?

John Horan-Kates
Vail, CO, Colorado

I define purpose as the quality around which you shape your life. It’s your reason for being or why you get up in the morning. Purpose influences goals, but it’s actually broader and deeper.

Purpose is about a direction. Richard Leider, author of the “Power of Purpose,” says, “Purpose answers the question: What am I trying to do with my life?”

It is clearly something beyond your job and encompasses thoughts and ideas broader than any self-serving interests and desires.

Leider says, “It’s the cradle-to-grave, round-the-clock unifying principle that you organize your life around.”

Your purpose is influenced very directly by the values and beliefs that you hold dearest. It’s deeply rooted in us, but evolves in its articulation over time. One of your most important tasks as a leader is to uncover what’s already there.

Being an “on purpose” person is a very powerful asset in any organizational setting.

One of Leider’s most influential statements about purposeful people is that they are “doing the work they love, with people they care about, in a place where they belong.”

Here’s my story about purpose. I started building things when I was about 10. Right behind our house in Detroit was Charlotte Clark Kitchens, a remodeling business that always had scrap wood out back. My mother wanted to get her new stereo equipment off the top of her dry-sink, so I built her a long, really cool stereo cabinet.

When I arrived in Vail in 1974, I had a couch and a bed. That was pretty much it for furniture. So I decided to build myself a dining room table, which I still have today.

Shortly after Pam and I were married, we built our own log home. In fact we’re still building it.

Then I was blessed to be involved in helping to launch Beaver Creek. After that, there was starting the Vail Valley Foundation. Next, Pam and I brought two children into the world and a family was being built. Ten years later, we helped build Vail Christian High School, whose board I chaired and where both of our kids went to school.

I was clearly doing some building, but it hadn’t dawned on me as my purpose until I began to examine this deeper question of meaning. When I blended this revelation with the fact that Detroit was definitely no longer home, and the sense that I didn’t want to be a nomad, moving from place to place, I knew in my bones that Vail was to be my permanent home.

I wanted to sink deep roots and allow our children to grow up in the same home. Through all of this, I came to see that I was a builder and my purpose became “building spiritually-oriented community.”

To uncover your purpose, begin by examining your history, your gifts, your strengths, passions, callings and ultimately, identifying your legacy.

One of the best questions to ask yourself that points toward your purpose is what do you lose yourself in? What is it that you are obsessing about?

Once you’ve done much of this thinking, then write out your sense of a purpose statement.

The revered management consultant Peter Drucker recommends that it should be short, about five words, and certainly no more than can easily fit on a T-shirt. The Harvard professor Howard Gardner says there are three questions people can ask as they are seeking purpose through “good work”: Does it fit your values? Does it evoke excellence? And does it bring you that subjective barometer of engagement — joy? Given all of this, how would you describe your purpose?

This column has been written in connection with Exploring Potential, a character development program offered in Eagle County high schools. John Horan-Kates is the president of the Vail Leadership Institute in Edwards. He can be reached at 926-7800 or

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