The Soul Purpose: Trading in the Commerce of Authenticity

Ellen Yui quote

If every living soul is unique, then every group of souls is equally unique. No two groups of people, be they families, nations, corporations, institutes or associations, can offer the same gifts to the world in quite the same way.

It’s common to speak of the soul of a nation. Civil rights activist Coretta Scott King implored: "Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul." In his 1934 essay National Music, composer Ralph Vaughn Williams commented: “The business of finding a nation's soul is a long and slow one at the best and a great many prophets must be slain in the course of it.”

If nations can have a soul, so can your company, non-profit, university or movement. Exploring your soul as a group can be uncomfortable and complicated…reconciling with your soul is hard enough for the individual. But identifying a clear purpose can yield great value for branding, strategic direction, communications, team-building, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and more.

Your organization’s soul purpose informs and strengthens its vision and mission. It offers certainty around why you exist. It is the “why,” not the “how” or “what.”

Anchoring in purpose is not reactive; it leads. Having a purpose strengthens the organization by building from the soul outward. As the nineteenth century politician and education reformer Horace Mann wrote in the Common School Journal in 1839: “The living soul of man, once conscious of its power, cannot be quelled.”

As Oxford Philosopher Richard Swinburne writes in The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford University Press 1986): “Humans are distinguished from the higher animals by an ability to reason logically, and by having moral awareness, free will, and an integrated system of beliefs and desires.” For the collective, the common value system and drive, informed by a shared sense of morality, combines into a soul purpose—a philosophical approach to your work based on a distinct worldview.

As a group, your soul purpose communicates what you are uniquely designed to believe and do. It’s how you inspire the world. It’s why you show up for work, and it resonates way beyond the office. As author and activist Marianne Williamson explained in a 2012 Super Soul Sunday interview, “The soul is the truth of who we are.” Anchoring in and expressing a purpose is a vital step in the practice of conscious communications. 

To articulate a purpose, ask yourselves: Who are we? What makes us tick? What are our common beliefs? How can we serve the world? What is the passion that can propel us via our mission to our vision?

When you are deeply anchored in purpose, you never experience direct competition. As a non-believer in direct competition, I think of competitors as compatriots who can lift each other through mutual respect. Your compatriots can inspire you to work harder and faster, but they’ll never be you. They will never resonate on precisely the same wavelength or innovate in exactly the same way. They shouldn’t be threatening if you know who you are; anchoring in soul allows a generosity of spirit. If you’re looking over your shoulder nervously at them, you’re looking in the wrong direction.

Organizations have been guided by missions for more than a century. By adding a soul purpose to your corporate or organizational construct, executing your mission will feel less like work and more like passion. It connects your organization by head and heart. By articulating it, you are wired to believe in yourselves.

Purpose can put your CSR program on steroids. As part of identity branding, your purpose is about more than doing good—it’s about being true to yourselves. It bolsters CSR programs, establishing a spirit and attitude of impact. As colleagues, your respect for each other deepens, because you share a profound truth, a longing to manifest something larger than any individual. Your interactions with customers, investors, partners, vendors, and influencers are simplified and fortified, because you emphasize transparency and trust.

Your organization’s purpose serves as a compass pointing you down the right path with any activity or goal you pursue. It is the antithesis of ego, which is motivated by fear and a belief in lack, in the finite. Everything you do must spring from and lead back to your purpose. With it, you are operating at the level of ideas energized by ideals.

Ellen Yui