What’s Your Purpose?

There’s a story of a Prince who had taken over the running of the Kingdom after the sudden death of his peace-loving father. The Prince was inexperienced in the ways of leadership and wanted to prove his worth. His power-hungry generals suggested an invasion would show others his strength (and of course increase their power).

So he led his army into battle to take over a neighbouring kingdom. The neighbouring King had a hunch the new Prince would attempt something like this, and was prepared for the attack. He quickly had the Prince and his men captured and thrown into the dungeons, while he considered how to teach him a lesson.

A few days later the Prince was led into a bright courtyard filled with hundreds of people. The light made him squint as the stern-faced King approached. Holding a goblet filled to the brim with water the King said, “You are going to carry this goblet across the courtyard to the wall on the other side, without spilling a drop.”

“And what happens if I spill some water?” asked the Prince tentatively. The King turned and nodded toward a little red door behind them. It opened and huge man with a black hood emerged, holding an axe that glistened in the sun. “My executioner will follow you, and if one drop hits the ground, your head will roll.” He handed him the goblet. “Begin when you are ready.”

The Prince looked down at the goblet and then looked ahead. Slowly, and with intense concentration, he began to walk towards the wall, the executioner behind him.

The King had arranged for the townspeople to line up on either side of the Prince’s path. On one side, they cheered and encouraged the Prince. “You are our hero, we love you!” they cried at the tops of their voices. The townspeople on the other side had been instructed to jeer and discourage him. They booed, pulled faces and hissed. “You are pathetic, you are going to die!”

Illustration of prince holding goblet

Despite the cheering and the jeering, and the executioner behind him, the Prince gradually made his way to the wall without spilling a drop. The King was waiting for him and took the goblet. “You are free to go.”

“Your majesty” cried the Prince. “I don’t understand!”

The King looked at him quizzically. “Tell me, how did you cope with the fear of the executioner behind you?”

“I was so focused on what I had to do, I forgot he was there”, replied the Prince.

“And how did you cope with the ridicule of all those people putting you down?”

“I was so focused on what I had to do, I wasn’t listening to them.”

“And was the cheering and encouragement of the other people useful to you?”

“I was too focused on what I had to do to care about that.”

The King smiled. “I hope you will bring the same single-mindedness to how you lead your people, making decisions for their benefit, and not get distracted by trying to impress others.”

With that the King walked away leaving the Prince lost in his thoughts. Legend has it the Prince returned a changed person, fired with a sense purpose to serve his people with courage and fairness, and became one of the most respected leaders of his time.

How much of your time and energy do you spend worrying about what is behind you, or trying to appease those around you? And where does this really get you? If the goblet was your purpose - the thing that really mattered - what would this be? Get clear on this and you'll have all the energy and focus you need, without the stress.


Greg Nathan is a psychologist, author and an international expert on the franchise relationship. Connect with him on Google+ or Linkedin.

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