Defining Your Purpose

woman looking up at sky

Three Levels of Vision

There are three levels of a personal vision or rules to define your purpose, all equally important—why, how and what.

  1. “Why” do you exist? What is your personal mission or your purpose? As you step back from your day-to-day routine, how do you define what your life is about? Answering this question creates context for your actions and gives your life meaning and purpose.
  2. “How” will you live? What will be the rules or principles by which you’ll conduct yourself? This question is about how you “show up,” your standard of conduct or how you interact with the people around you.
  3. “What” are your goals? What do you want to create or accomplish? What are the tangible outcomes that you are committed to achieving?  Achieving goals is how most people define success.

Most people focus on the “what” more than their “why” or “how.” But if your goals aren’t aligned to the questions of “why” and “how” (the bigger questions of your life) then you’ll fail to find deeper meaning and satisfaction in your life. In my book, The Hero’s Choice: Living from the Inside Out, Donald talks to Hal about the importance of purpose.

The Importance of Purpose

Hal squirmed. “I got a good education, built a business, and married a good woman. We have three beautiful children. We live in a nice home in a good neighborhood. We’ve afforded just about anything we wanted. Until recently, I enjoyed a good reputation. But now I have a gnawing sense that there’s more to life.” He grinned. “Since meeting you.”

Donald laughed. “Indeed. At some point, many people come to the realization that success doesn’t automatically lead to happiness and fulfillment. In fact, their success begins to feel hollow.”

Hal laid back on the rock, pulled his backpack under his head, and gazed at the blue sky. “Sounds like my high-school buddy, Duane. He was the most popular guy in my class. Voted Most Likely to Succeed. The whole thing. He went to a prestigious college, then Harvard Law School. Boy, did I envy the guy. It seemed like he got whatever he set his sights on. He even stole my high-school sweetheart.” Hal laughed. “He graduated at the top of his class and was hired by a red-hot law firm and shot straight up their ladder. I even see his name in the paper, once in a while, because of the high-profile cases he works on.”

He was quiet for a moment. “I ran into Duane not long ago, and we had dinner. I sat in awe as he described some of the cases he’d won. He told me about his Ferrari, his home in Hawaii, his travels. I was so envious I felt worse and worse as the night wore on. Then he told me he was on his third marriage and hardly had a relationship with his two kids. The sadness in Duane’s voice made me look at him, not his watch or expensive suit. I noticed the strain in his face and the weariness in his eyes, and I suddenly felt sad for the guy.” Hal was quiet again as he watched a hawk circle high above his head. “He’d missed out on a lot in his race to become rich and famous.”

Donald nodded. “That brings up a distinction. There’s success, or achieving a predetermined outcome. And there’s fulfillment, the sense that life is full and meaningful. When success doesn’t lead to fulfillment, most people redouble their efforts, believing that accomplishing even more will bring them their elusive prize. What they don’t realize is that success and fulfillment are not the same thing.”

Hal sat up. “Wow. I guess I’ve known that … but I see how much I’ve been caught up in the trappings of success.” He rubbed his hand along the hard, coarse granite surface on which he was sitting. “But I hope we don’t have to give up success to find fulfillment.”

Donald tossed another small rock over the ridge. “Nope. In fact, most of us would have a hard time finding fulfillment if we didn’t set goals and go after them. We have to get out there in the world and mix it up—but we also need to remember that success has to do only with outer, material things, and fulfillment has to do with our inner or spiritual world. We have to pay attention to both to be happy.” He turned toward Hal. “The more important journey isn’t the one out there. It’s in here,” he said, pointing to his chest. (pp.156-157)

Discovering Your “Why”

The journey “in here” that Donald is talking about has a lot to do with discovering your “why” and “how.” In my last blog, Make Big Plans, I talked about finding your purpose in a particular role or responsibility. Today, I’d like to expand on that theme by writing about the importance of a bigger “why,”  understanding your life purpose.

Your purpose can be thought of as your reason for being and defines the contribution you want to make to the world (community, others). As such, it connects you with something bigger than yourself by helping you focus on a larger good, something bigger and outside of yourself. Living from purpose means that you stop living mechanically. It means you live with intention and experience yourself as creator in making a better world.

A purpose, unlike a goal, is not something you ever achieve. Rather it defines the direction of your life.  For example, Mother Teresa’s purpose was to relieve pain and suffering, a task that will never be finished. That’s okay. The intent of a purpose statement is not completion but rather meaning and direction. It captures what you consider to be most important about your life and helps you set goals and priorities (the “what”) as you go about your day-to-day life.

Examples of Purpose Statements

Let me give you a few examples from people I’ve worked with in the past few years:

  •  I use my positive energy to create a beam of light where ever I go, always leaving every situation and soul in a better place than I found it.
  • To inspire and guide others in their process of learning to live their highest potential, through my caring, my actions and my words.
  • My purpose is to gain knowledge and learn truth wherever it is found.
  • I am to be caring towards all men and use the feelings of my heart to express gratitude and to express to others that they matter and they make a difference.  I am to live my life to be a shining light to my family … and to others. By living my purpose, I will bless the lives of others, lift spirits, teach truth, encourage and lead others to righteous living, and honor my God.
  • My purpose is to be, to love, to live, to celebrate, to honor, to cherish, to cry, to forgive, to mold, to lead, to share my talents, to hope, to dream, to provide and, yes, to find a way.
  • I am a soulful breath of life; a resilient, free-spirited paradox; a shooting star, grounded in unconditional acceptance.
  • My purpose is to shine the light I want to inspire. I open my heart to follow divine guidance as I soar with love and enthusiasm; leading with intuitive intelligence, compassion and kick-ass confidence.

Your purpose is not something you invent as much as discover through thoughtful reflection on your life, your deepest values and what you most care about. I’ve also found that my purpose has changed through the years. I’ve refined it as I’ve had more life experiences or changed from one era of life to another. It doesn’t have to be static. It can grow with you.  So even if you have done this exercise in the past and already have a statement, use this time to ponder that statement and how well you live it or how you might refine it.

An Exercise to Discover Your Purpose

To begin (or continue) thinking about your purpose, reflect upon the following questions. Write your thoughts in a journal.

  1. What are your natural interests?
  2. What brings you joy?
  3. What have been some of your greatest successes?
  4. What do you consider to be your most important personal qualities?
  5. What would you do if you could not fail?
  6. If you had six months to live?
  7. What would be missing if you were not in this world?
  8. What contribution do you want to make?
  9. Why do you exist?

Reflecting on your responses to these questions,  brainstorm thoughts about your personal purpose. Write several drafts until you have included all the elements that feel right. Then write a sentence or short paragraph that captures these thoughts. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect and it will continue to evolve over time, perhaps even change as you enter different stages of your life.

Learn more about purpose and how to live a happy and abundant life by signing up for my highly rated video course (average rating of 4.8/5 stars).



  1. David Fullmer

    Dear Allen,

    Thank you for these “deep” thoughts of introspection…reminds me of what I believe Socrates said,”…the un-examined life is not worth living.”

    Thank you for these big questions that help with the “why” and the “how” of life.

    David C. Fullmer
    808 393 7723

    Fullmerism: “At any given conscious moment, we are only one thought a way from a better course of action.”

    • Roger Allen

      Hi David,

      You’re welcome. How is life? Let me know how you’re doing.

  2. Gifty Amoah


    • Roger Allen

      I hope the distinctions and process I’m recommending have been helpful to you, Gifty.



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