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Prateep Ungsongtham Hata stands less than five feet tall, tips the scale at under 100 pounds, and at age 65, has stamina that puts the Energizer Bunny to shame.

Prateep was born in Khlong Toei, Bangkok, Thailand’s largest slum. As a child, Prateep would look around and wonder, ‘why do I have to live in these conditions’? Because her family was so poor, at the age of 12, she went to work in a factory making fireworks for 35 cents a day. When she was not making fireworks, Prateep could be found high up on a scaffold at the local ship yard (Khlong Toei is located next to one of Bangkok’s largest shipping ports) scraping rust off the various ships bringing goods to Bangkok.

One day, when Prateep was 12, an incident occurred that would change her life forever. A friend of hers was up about three stories high on a scaffolding scraping rust off of a ship, when the scaffolding collapsed. While her friend survived the fall, he was left paralyzed and unable to work.

As you might imagine, an event like that had a powerful impact on Prateep. Prateep was angry because she felt that the life of poor people, was a life with no value. She determined that she would build a better future for herself and the others that lived in the Khlong Toei Community. But how was she going to do that, she wondered? The answer was education, starting with herself. Prateep decided that she would become a teacher. But traveling the path to becoming a teacher was not easy. She had to continue working during the day and go to the adult night school.

Michael with Prateep Ungsongtham Hata. March 21, 2018

In 1971, at the age of 18, Prateep began to take on a leadership role in the Khlong Toei Community. The local Port Authority was threatening to evict people from the slum because they wanted to use the land for business expansion. Her actions to organize the community earned her the title of “The Slum Angel” in the local media.

Her efforts to organize the community were ultimately successful and in 1978, she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award (the award, sponsored by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is given in memory of Magsaysay who was the fifth President of the Republic of the Philippines). The award was a cash prize of USD20,000, which she immediately donated to set-up the Duang Prateep Foundation. The foundation would be responsible for funding, maintaining, and improving a school she had started in the Khlong Toei community. Today the Foundation is active in solving local social problems, including community organizations, opportunities for education, banking for the non-formal financial sector and substitute family activities. You can learn more about her foundation by clicking here. But the last forty years have not been easy. Prateep has experienced many challenges and set-backs. She has had her life threatened by “gangsters”, been jailed, sued by local business leaders who want the land occupied by her Foundation, accused of theft of funds, and confronted by local politicians envious of her efforts to champion the rights of the poor. Despite all of this, she has never lost sight of the better future she envisioned for the poor of Khlong Toei. Prateep demonstrates what my colleague, Rajeev Peshawaria, described in his book, Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders, as “fearless purpose”.

Fearless purpose is more than simply the answer to the question, “what do you want to do with your life?” Many individuals think they have discovered their life purpose but quickly abandon it when the going gets tough or they are confronted with significant challenge or some type of resistance. With fearless purpose, we have an absolute commitment to a clear image of what a better future would look like. That image enables us to keep going, even when we experience emotional and physical pain.

1. Identification of Core Values: The identification and prioritization of your core values is the starting point for pursuing fearless purpose. Core values are the things in our lives that are non-negotiable. We will not give up, compromise, or trade these values under any circumstances. The money may be tempting, or the threat of emotional or physical pain real, but we do not deviate from what we believe in or what is important. In Prateep’s case, her core values included equality, fairness, and education. Do you know, in priority order, your core values?

2. Discovering Purpose: Discovering your purpose can occur in moments or it may take years. Purpose is typically found at the intersection of values and experience. Some people discover their purpose when an event or situation either satisfies or threatens a personal value. When Prateep witnessed her friend fall from the scaffolding and be injured, it threatened her values of equality and fairness. It mobilized her personal energy to create a better future for the poor. Other people discover their purpose through intentional contemplation and reflection. The interesting thing about purpose is that it can exist at diverse levels. For some people, purpose may be about having a good life. For other individuals, purpose may be about serving their family, team, organization, or community.

How do you discover and develop your purpose? Try the following

  • Have a clear image of the better future. Individuals, who possess fearless purpose, have a vivid image of what the better future looks like. They use mindfulness or visualization techniques to engrain the image of a better future in their minds.
  • Believe the better future is possible. The path to the better future may not be clear, but you must believe you are capable of figuring it out. People who believe that they can figure things out, exhibit what Stanford University Professor of Psychology, Carol Dweck, refers to as a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe they can adapt, learn, and grow, and as a result, accomplish almost anything.
  • Practice, practice, practice. The path to our desired better future is never a straight line; it has lots of twists and turns, starts and stops, successes and failures. To get better at anything requires practice. Michael Phelps, the USA Olympic Swimming Champion, practiced 365 days per year for two years to prepare for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.