by Pauline Bergin 29 Jan 2016

PURPOSE: a matter of direction… and connection

In my work with groups of people in all sorts of settings I encounter many who are frustrated by their situation, particularly at work. They feel not listened to or misunderstood, not valued or utilised for their best qualities, in fact sometimes they feel put down and eventually start to loose their spark. Embedded in these conversations is a sense of blaming others for the situation, a sense of being disempowered. I’m not suggesting that the people around us can’t squash our spark and make us feel unimportant and undervalued, but sometimes I think wouldn’t it be great if every individual was able to take charge of their situation and change what’s not working, whatever’s not keeping them engaged and happy? Knowing one’s purpose can help create clarity and connection in all facets of life.

On further questioning, I usually discover that purpose has never been explored, and the belief that a personal/ life purpose is extraneous, a rare entitlement. It can be synonymous with spirituality (faith, religion) and a bit new age, making it seem irrelevant for those who don’t pursue or subscribe to such philosophies. The conundrum then is around the individuals’ responsibility for knowing their personal/life purpose and how, without clarity around this, they can possibly know they are in the right job, one where they feel they have something valuable to contribute. Some people get to turn a passion into a career but that’s not always possible so the least we should aim for is a working life that has purpose and meaning.


Apart from the definition above, purpose can be thought of as a feeling, a sensation. When people engage with and work towards a purpose, they experience a feeling or sensation of making a difference, being connected and having value, that they’re on the right track. A personal purpose is one’s ‘raison d’etre’ – their reason for being. It answers the why question – ‘why am I here? Why do I exist?’ And once we know the why we can figure out the how!


Many people equate purpose with one that’s bestowed upon them or they are directed to work towards, e.g. the purpose of their job or a project or the organisation – one that’s written by someone else. Research by the Association for Psychological Science found that having a sense of purpose can add years to your life. The question is whether a work-related purpose is enough?

People can find it challenging to articulate what purpose means to them personally. Not knowing one’s purpose is not unusual; in fact most people go through life not knowing or living their true purpose, and many have found their purpose late in life. So why is it important to discover and live your true purpose? Simply put, you may miss out on doing what you do best and what you really enjoy, and this impacts on other aspects of your life – relationships, family, happiness, health. Meanwhile someone else could be enjoying your job and living their purpose! And most importantly the world could be missing out– imagine if Einstein had continued the career he started out in, as a Patent Examiner? Or J.K. Rowling remained a researcher and secretary with Amnesty International? Or if Brad Pitt had continued in journalism?

Knowing your own purpose in life is a great way to guide your decisions and to know what makes you happy, to do what gives you meaning and energy. It helps you to connect better with others – friends, family, colleagues, the boss, your work, based on what does or doesn’t align with your purpose and serve you well. Of course there’s a strong connection between personal and work purpose (watch out for my the next blog), and when we meet people our answer to their first question, “what do you do?” tends to relate to our job or career. If you find yourself in a job that doesn’t make you feel like you are contributing something useful, it may be that it’s at odds with our personal values. Isn’t it high time you figured out your personal purpose and align every part of your life with it so you feel more satisfied and vital?


The big question I get asked then is how to live your purpose. The key to living your purpose is knowing what it is – if you don’t know it’s highly unlikely that you’re living it! Many think their purpose should be obvious, that it will just show up, or it will come to them just by thinking about it or looking for it, but the truth is, you have to work at it.


Realising your purpose requires action – you find it by doing: doing many different things to find out what drives you, what you enjoy, what feels worthy, valuable. And it’s often experienced as more than one focus or activity, a person can have a few purposes that they pursue. Purpose may be different at various times in one’s life depending on the situation and priorities e.g. a student’s purpose (apart from to party!) may be to learn and prepare for their future, as a parent their purpose is to protect and provide for their children, and so on.

There are numerous activities and tools to help you find your purpose. Most require you to engage in reflecting and questioning yourself. The diagram above is a nice visual of what contributes to purpose. There are various renditions of this diagram online; this one is from Multivariable Solutions.


STEP 1 – Get yourself into the right frame of mind and remember two things: (1) The notion of a personal or life purpose can be overwhelming so make the process manageable and take one step at a time. And (2) it comes with responsibility. This one is up to you, not the team or the boss or the organisation, not your partner or your parents or someone else; though you want to surround yourself with people who will support and help you, it’s your responsibility to remain true to your purpose; and that’s not always easy!

STEP 2 – Reflect and ask yourself questions that will help you get clarity. Look back on your life so far and reflect on the significant moments and people, those that made an impact and influenced you. Knowing what you dreamed of and got the most joy from as a child of around seven is a great way to reconnect with who you started out as. Use 7Senses Consulting ‘The Story of Me’ template available here Story-of-me.pdf. This will help to clarify some of your personal values and how they were formed, as well as help you recognise some of the important characteristics of people and the joys you’d forgotten about.

Step 3 – Based on the information gleaned in step 2, start trying different ventures and activities to figure out what you enjoy so much that you feel invigorated (not jaded), and causes you to loose track of time, what gives you a sense of contribution to others, of feeling valued and worthwhile. It might be as simple as doing the same things you do now a bit differently or with a different focus or being mindful about them.

Step 4 – Continue questioning. Using the purpose diagram above you can turn the statements into questions to help your critical thinking e.g. what do I love to do? What need can I satisfy? What am I really good at – my strengths? What will people pay for? Another strategy is the five whys – once you’ve answered the first why – ‘why am I here?’ follow with four more whys, and once you’ve answered all the whys, the how will be easier to figure out.

Step 5 – Write stuff down; keep notes, a journal, a scrapbook of what you are learning about your life and what’s important to you, your values and boundaries, things you will do and things you won’t. Come up with phrases that describe your purpose succinctly and relate this to what it does for people, how it makes them feel, how the world benefits because you pursue this purpose. Think about how your purpose in reflected in your current life. Is there anything you need to change?

Up to you2

Lastly, to take the slogan of a well-known brand a step further ‘just keep doing it!’

Or a phrase I like to use, because this one’s about you and how you live your life, ‘make it personal!’




Resources used and links to useful sites:

A in-depth step-by-step guide to finding your purpose

TEDx talk: Find your purpose in 5 minutes (for me this sounds more like a way to craft your elevator pitch than to develop a meaningful purpose. However it’s a great quick reflection that will help to clarify why you do what you do and I like that it focuses on service to others)

Fifteen questions to guide you towards discovering your personal mission

An interesting take on why having purpose matters and how to find it

Research on the health benefits of having a sense of purpose

Purpose in business

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