Determining Your Purpose


Have you ever asked yourself at some point in your life or at various points in your life or that of your business the following question…?

“What’s my purpose?”

I am guessing that if you are reading this, you have. And, because you just read the question, you are asking yourself (perhaps again or perhaps for the first time) that question.

It is a very important question. To me, it is the most important question you can ask yourself. Once you seriously ask yourself that question, it will not let you go. It has a habit of nagging at you until you give it your full attention to find out the answer.

Regrettably, people and organizations across the globe are living and leading purposeless lives - rightly or wrongly. For many of them they are afraid to ask the question because, if they did, they would have to face up to their responsibility for where they are and what is happening or not happening in their lives and even their organizations. They prefer to live and work in selective ignorance. They have no desire to grow. But know this…what not growing is dying.

For me, this is where leadership starts. It starts with self-leadership. Only by addressing this question and determining its answer will your life and, therefore, your career be as fulfilling as it is meant to be.

Please, let me explain. The purpose behind the question is to confront people (and even teams and organization because it can applied there too); to give them a thought-provoking question to help them get clearer direction for their careers, their lives and their own Journeys of Success so that they ultimately add more value and find more fulfillment. Everyone on this planet is here for a purpose - their purpose. The one for which they are divinely designed. My personal conviction and belief is that everyone is world-class at something (their purpose). There is something for which you are the only person on the planet with the right mix of attributes, strengths, passions and experience who can deliver and fulfill it. Regrettably, many never discover it. Why? Because they do not ask the question.

I posed my own variant of that question on Linkedin last year…

In one word, what’s your purpose?

The response was quite significant. It generated more than 3995 replies. Why so many? To coin a phrase, “The teacher comes when the student is ready”. This question is a great teacher. Based on the feedback and comments in the discussion many said how timely the question was for where they were in their lives and careers. Considering the global financial crisis we are just coming out of that is, perhaps, not that surprising.

Now you may be asking, “Why, one word?” Good question. My answer? As a coach, I like to distill things down to their simplest and purest form for me first and, then for my clients. A confused mind says, “No!” You cannot get confused when you only have one word with which to deal. Of course, that assumes you know you have the right one word.

That one-word-purpose will be a reference point for your life – personal or business. It is for mine. My one-word purpose is: transformation. All that I am and do is about transforming people and organizations so they are more on purpose and working and living to their potential. So, whenever I am facing a challenge, an opportunity and/or a decision I can ask the question:

"Does this align or resonate with my purpose?"

If the answer is “Yes”, I keep going. If the answer is “No”, I don’t. Your purpose is like a compass and is meant to be used as one to keep you heading in the right direction. It applies across all your roles in your life e.g. mother, wife, daughter, volunteer, business owner. Applying your purpose in such a way ensures you are being who you are meant to be and doing what you are meant to be doing. The result…you will achieve what you are meant to achieve.

The key is that once we know our purpose we are to keep it in front of us at all times. Do that and life will be more fulfilling! Do that and you will connect with others living their purpose. Do that and you become a force for good; a force for change.

Please understand the inherent import of knowing and living your purpose. Think beyond yourself. Living your purpose will help others live theirs. All purposes are interdependent.

Imagine. If everyone in your home, school, business, town, city, region or nation discovered and lived their purpose, what would be the impact and value to the world…especially considering the events of today?

I believe most of, if not, all the adverse issues of humanity would be addressed and overcome.

Mankind would truly become enlightened.

That should get you thinking.

Before proceeding with the rest of this article and due to the importance of this critical question, whether you are an individual, team or organization, just ask yourself, mull over and meditate upon this life-changing question:

In one word, what’s my purpose?

So…Where has your thinking got to?

As mentioned above, there are those people who are too afraid to ask the question. They are afraid that the answer may explain why their lives or their businesses are perhaps unfulfilling. That means they would have to assume responsibility for where they are at rather than using the escape of blaming everyone else for their situation and their sense of frustration or dissatisfaction. For them to confront themself would mean they would have to change. And the fear of change is what holds many people and organizations back from their true self and their true purpose.

Just so you know. It took me 42 years to discover my purpose. Why so long? I never really confronted myself with the question. When I did, the answer slowly revealed itself.

As you read this you will be in one of three camps:

1. You already know your purpose. Congratulations! Now the mantle of responsibility is on you to live your purpose more fully and, thereby, help others to live theirs.

2. You have a good idea as to what is your purpose but do not yet feel you really have it clear. Well done! Keep it foremost in mind and begin to use it as the compass it is meant to be that will lead you to a more fulfilling career and more fulfilling life. With that focus its purity will be distilled.

3. You do not yet know your purpose.

For those of you in camps #2 and 3 we will continue this exploration and provide you with some guidance on how you can approach answering this life-changing question. Consider the following approaches to help you define your purpose. Please remember that these can be applied to an individual, team or organization.

1. Be 3. Three year old toddlers are perhaps the smartest people on the planet. They are incessant in getting to the root of an answer. Any parent out there will know this. My daughter last year kept asking the question "Why?" She wanted to know the answer. And she kept asking that question until she was satisfied (and my wife and I were exhausted) she had the answer she was seeking. And you should keep asking it too. It is an immensely significant and powerful question.

For example, start by asking yourself, “Why do I do what I do”? …Now ask yourself, “Why that is that important to me? And then on that answer ask the same question, “And why is that important to me?” And keep going until you can go no further. At that point you have come very close to the core answer to your question – your purpose.

2. Identify those areas in your life that provide you with the most stimulation, energy, and excitement. What are you passionate about? Your passion and purpose are closely linked. Sometimes it is easier to seek your passions first and your purpose will be born from there.

Where do you get a consistent buzz? What are you doing and who are you being when that happens?

Ask yourself, "Where in my life, across all my roles, do I feel like I am in the zone? Where do things flow?” Your answer will give you a clue that you are aligning to your purpose.

3. Consider your strengths. What are they? Your gifts? Where have you been able to exercise those fully? Where have you used those to serve others? Answering these will help identify a location, a field and/or a focus for your life. In that lies your purpose.

4. Ask friends, family, and colleagues what they believe or discern is your purpose. Make sure to ask only of those whom you know and trust and who know you well and who will be honest with their feedback. What you are looking for is a common thread in their answers.

5. Another approach is to finish off this phrase, “My purpose is to bring...".

One or all of five of these should help. Once you have identified your purpose, make the effort to determine the one word that sums it all up for you.

A question I often get asked at this point is, “Won’t it be possible that someone else will have the same word and the same purpose?”

My answer is “Yes. Absolutely.” However, your approach to it, your context and your impact will be unique. Why? Because you are unique! Someone in Canada may have the exact same purpose but you are in India. Enough said. This allows you to be authentic. Being authentic means your body, mind and soul will be in harmony. When that happens your whole being is "singing".

If you are not “singing” and feel discordant with your work and/or your life it is likely you are not in alignment with your purpose. When there is discord stop. Review what is going on and determine what needs to change about you and your circumstances.

When you are not authentic you likely experience frustration. I did. Several times. As a result I have changed my career from veterinarian to army officer to post-grad student to trainer to consultant to award-winning coach and now also speaker and author. All the while I was moving toward my purpose, whether I was aware of it or not. For you and me, energy spent anywhere else other than your purpose is often wasted. Where you feel drained by bad habits and attitudes, wrong relationships, lesser priorities and those other things that actually distract you, these are keeping you from your purpose. Deal with them.

Everyone is entitled to their own purpose because it is theirs alone. When you know it "fits" for you it is right. Do not allow others to dissuade you.

Remember most of us have "crabs" in our lives or business.

What do I mean by that? Put a single crab in a bucket with no lid and it will try and get out. Put another crab in the bucket what will happen is that when one tries to get out the other will pull it back. The “crabs” are those people who will seek to pull you back into the bucket with them; they are comfortable where they are and your purpose and aspirations will make them uncomfortable and challenge them. They generally think they need to pull you back. Why? Because it makes them feel better about themselves. It is really about them. Not about you. As I have done, identify your “crabs” and manage those relationships to minimise the drag effect they may have on you living your purpose fully. (Note in business these “crabs” could be clients, colleagues, leaders, suppliers and other stakeholders.)

We are designed to serve one another not feed off one another. We all need others to truly achieve / live our purposes. That can be perceived on of two ways. First, some may take the approach to use others. This is a very self-centred approach. You may achieve your purpose but it will likely be more difficult and less fulfilling. Second, serve others. This is a humble and more selfless approach by which you will likely achieve your purpose more easily with more fulfilment.

No one purpose is greater than another. There is just your purpose. That is the one that is most important. Once you know it, examine all areas of your life and ascertain if each area is keeping you on purpose. Where an area is not, decide when it is reasonable to withdraw or change and/or decide where you need to move next to keep you on purpose.

Live your purpose. Love your purpose. Live your dream.

Remember. Our purposes are interdependent. Every person’s or organization’s purpose serves others. Without others, we cannot truly fulfil our purposes. When we serve one another we truly become free.

Who knows? Perhaps, by sharing your purpose, other readers or even I can help further yours or that of your organization and vice versa? Now that would be interesting!

Copyright 2011

Dr Richard Norris is a speaker, author and leadership coach with a focus on self-leadership. To contact him about this article or on his services please email [email protected] and visit his website


Dr Richard Norris is a competitive swimmer who swims 4.5 hours a day, 6 days a week amassing a stunning 69,000 metres every week!

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