In 3 Unique Stages of a Purposeful Life, I talked about a long car ride with friends and sharing about the extent to which we had discovered, created, or were fulfilling our core purpose in life. I talked about there being three levels (there were three of us in the car, after all) but it’s probably not that simple.

As I reflected on writing that, I was reminded of two models worth comparing. One is the Unstoppable Conversations concept of a contextual Survival Barrier that both organizations and people evolve through. The other is the stellar work of Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright in their book Tribal Leadership, and it’s description of the 5 Stages of Culture (watch the TedTalk).

Tribal Leadership goes in-depth into the evolutionary stages of companies – I think it applies pretty well to people. The formal themes of each stage as described in the book (bloody well go buy it and read it if you haven’t already!) are like this:

  • Stage 1 – “Life Sucks”
  • Stage 2 – “My life sucks”
  • Stage 3 – “I’m great”
  • Stage 4 – “We’re great”
  • Stage 5 – “Life is great”

Visual and full details available here.

Riffing on how that maps against a personal conversation with friends, I get this:

  • Stage 1 – Surviving, or struggling
  • Stage 2 – Getting By with just enough of everything that you could keep going indefinitely…but it’s not much fun
  • Stage 3 – Making it, to the extent that you have multiple areas of life where you are “winning” the game and everything else is on cruise control (except those areas you studiously avoid)
  • Stage 4 – Doing it together and making a difference, leading within your communities and bringing others along in your group success
  • Stage 5 – Creating something that never existed before and Changing the world in the process

If I apply that to our car ride, I’d slot us in like this:

Stage 2 friend – Whose purpose is taking care of his family.

He’s experienced a lot of Stage 1 at various levels in the past few years, but things are turning around, and he’s keen to stop Getting By and start Making It. In other words, get some Stage 3 in his personal life instead of just in his life as a father. He knows some of the steps to take to get to Stage 3, and he knows some of the pitfalls to avoid moving back to Stage 1…

Getting to Stage 3 looks like a lot of work.

Stage 3 friend – Whose purpose is impacting his community.
He recently got back to Stage 3 after intentionally leaping into Stage 1 and 2 in order to start a business for the first time. He learned lots from the hard earned bruises –

  • which feels better by the way, when you leap off the cliff instead of getting pushedwhen you leap off the cliff instead of getting pushed Click To Tweet
  • and was rapidly applying those lessons as he figures out his plan of attack. He wants to get to Stage 4, knows some of the people who want to go there with him, and knows which communities he wants to impact. He’s been practicing taking his lumps, so he should be ready to go faster and stronger this time around. He’s creating his next set of risks to conquer. Whether he knows how different it is to transform from Stage 3 to Stage 4, compared to climbing from Stage 2 to Stage 3, I’m not sure. (That was right around when I got dropped at the airport…)

For me, co-founding two different companies over the past 5 years, with a volunteer community where I have an ever expanding leadership role, 9 and 12 year old boys, and a soul mate who is launching her second novel this month…

I’m actually in Stage 2, 3, and 4 at the same time depending on which organization I look at.

I’ll expand on what it’s like, live and on the ground, as I continue to explore how you too, can identify where you are at with your sense of purpose. I’ll also map it against the Unstoppable Conversations “Survival Barrier” in my next blog.