“We live in a purposeful universe. Every organism in the
universe has a design—a purpose that determines its function and role.
A critical part of our development is the inside-out search for
purpose and meaning.”
–Richard J. Leider
Purpose is a need within us, the fulfillment of which gives us a
feeling of belonging to the world and a relationship to others. It can
also lead to renewed excitement about our work which is profoundly
Purpose begins with the realization of the spiritual life within and
around us. Purpose can give depth and weight to our lives by
motivating us to respond to that inner need and desire. It can be
expressed through a choice of work which is consistent with that purpose
and those spiritual desires. In fact, once we really get in touch with
our purpose, it informs our entire life along with community, family,
relationships and self-care.
Have you ever had the thought: “Is there more to life than this?”
If you have, you’re already in a place where finding your sense of
purpose can help you answer that and other important questions.
One of the ways people begin to think about purpose is through
crisis. Everyone experiences crisis from time to time. The role of
crisis –- moderate or severe –- can play a significant part in defining
our purpose. It is often a tendency to be reflective during or after a
crisis. Sometimes it acts as a catalyst enabling us to let go of our
daily concerns and take in the big picture of what’s next. But who
wants to wait for a crisis? Doesn’t sound very enticing, does it?
It is not necessary to wait until life confronts you with a crisis to
seek your sense of purpose. A sense of purpose is there within you, an
inside job, if you will, whenever you choose to find it.
With the holidays upon us, I am reflecting on how difficult it used
to be for me to accomplish my New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps you’ve
had the same experience. That could be because there is no context
within which these resolutions have been made. They are goals without a
bigger picture. The difference between setting goals out of the context
of a sense of purpose and within that sense of purpose is significant.
Often it simply is that the goals seem more superficial with no
direction. Also, with a sense of context, we are more deeply motivated.
I used to struggle with making a list of goals for my life. Nothing
seemed fundamentally important to me. There was no flow, no connection
from those goals to my life. That was because I had no defined purpose
from which to work. Purpose is broader and deeper, more than pursuing a
goal. It is the framework for our goals. Once I found my sense of
purpose for that time in my life, the goals were easy from that point.
I began to feel so much more passionate about my life and my work, and I
firmly believe that this passion is an outgrowth of having found my
sense of purpose. I also believe that finding my sense of purpose for
the next chapter of my life has made life easier and more exciting for
It is possible, sometimes necessary, to re-invent ourselves several
times during our lives in response to a changing environment. This is
by no means a small order; however, if we begin by putting our purpose
down on paper, we can more easily identify it. Then we can begin the
exciting journey of living our purpose.
When approaching the notion of designing our purpose, it works best
if we create the purpose first and then allow our life to flow from it
rather than to design our purpose around our life.
“In fact, many of us never even speak about what our
purpose could be and instead work only on coping with day-to-day
Anxiety levels soar when our focus becomes too narrow. We tend not
to nurture our souls but rather find ourselves in a struggle to “get
It does seem as if we are so busy –- always returning voice mails,
emails, texts while working, raising children, and fitting exercise into
our lives. And, of course, we need time for fun. When we approach our
busy lives without purpose, we can easily become exhausted and
overwhelmed. Sometimes being busy can be an escape from the important
questions or thoughts within us, universal questions. With or without
purpose, it is important to take time out on a regular basis. We need
space for creative pause in our lives. This pause can be a walk in
nature, meditation, in some way taking time for reflection so that we
connect to our deeper selves and find the answers that are within us.
“Purpose is the most important quality for every life to
possess, experientially, consciously, and with words. It tells us what
we want most to be about.”
–Frederic M. Hudson, Ph.D.
I was once speaking with a friend of mine who is an M.D. and treats
older adults. He said that many of them had regrets about their lives.
These regrets were mainly about not having left an imprint on their
world, family, or community. They were filled with thoughts about deep
issues, and most of them seemed to wish they had thought of this sooner.
When I think about that, I connect within myself to a need to do my
part to help my family, my friends, and my world. So purpose for me is
also about service, about sharing.
Our purpose evolves and changes for us as we evolve and change. It
may begin with a desire to achieve greater success in business but can
grow to encompass community and spirituality as well as work and play.
I remember that when I first got sober, my purpose was to find a Higher
Power and learn how to live without drinking. That was a huge purpose
for me. In fact, at the time I had not even thought much about purpose.
Over the years my purpose has evolved again and again. At this point
it has broadened to include service to family and friends as well as
community. It also includes my work. In fact my purpose now covers all
aspects of my life as well as my process. It seems that the more we do
this kind of intuitive searching within ourselves, the deeper our
results become, filling us with a greater sense of achievement and
Our purpose is our vision of our lives in the future. It can be our
near future or our more distant future. I like to start with the
distant future and then work backwards, designing goals which will
gradually get me closer and closer to what I want to do, where I want to
be, and what I want to leave behind me.
One of the best ways to find our sense of purpose is to look first at
clarifying our values. Our values are not tangible, they are the
concepts that best represent who we are, what is most important to us.
Like purpose, values shift and change throughout our lives.
When we live according to our values, we tend to have a feeling of
fulfillment. In contrast when our lives challenge our values, we tend
to feel discontent and tension pervades our path. Understanding what
are our most important values is helpful in designing a map for finding
our sense of purpose and achieving our goals. When clarifying our
values, it is essential that we remember not to judge them. If we do,
we could fall into the trap of choosing values which we think we should
have, rather than being true to ourselves. Most of us can look back at
various choices we made earlier in their lives which might not have been
true to our values. These choices probably did not turn out well.
In addition to exploring our values, it is useful to take a look at
our strengths, our gifts. Each of us has gifts. One way to find them
is to make a list of everything you’ve ever done well. What qualities
in you led to success in these areas? These qualities are your gifts.
Some people feel stuck in their lives. That could be because they are
not focusing on their gifts, on the things they do really well. And
let’s face it, it feels great to be doing something successfully.
Purpose is not only the discovery of what moves us in theory, but
also applying what we’ve learned in practice. It is not enough to know
what moves us. We need to set forth and practice our purpose, follow
our passion. When we live a life of passion, we are truly alive; we are
energized. We are living an answer to some of life’s more powerful
questions, such as: Who am I? What’s it all about? Why am I here?
Everyone seems to have these questions deep within. In this work,
however, there will be distractions. Part of what we need to do is to
prioritize and manage those distractions, both internal and external.
Our purpose has to do with our contribution to life, not just ours
but the lives of others as well. No other person can discover for us
what lies within, what our truth is. Purpose has been referred to as
our “calling.” Discovering our purpose takes time and thought. It is
the beginning of a powerful and fulfilling journey. It lends a
fullness to our lives, helping us to know where our path is. It begins
deep within us and, once stated, can be the basis of our design for
living our lives. Our purpose is our vision for our future lives. Our
vision helps us become motivated to change and grow throughout our
For the purpose of CE/CEU’s, article objectives are:
- The participant will learn what purpose is and why it is important.
- The participant will learn about the role of crisis in thinking about purpose.
- The participant will learn how to discover purpose.