Why Have a Life Purpose? 5 Reasons You Should Have a Purpose

This is part 2 of a series on how to discover your real purpose in life. If you haven’t done so, read part 1 first: How to Know If You are Living Your Life Purpose NOW

Water droplet ripple in pool

“When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.” ~ Seneca

“Having a purpose is the difference between making a living and making a life.” ~ Tom Thiss

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” ~ John F. Kennedy

Have you ever wondered, What is “life purpose”? Is it some woo-woo thing that only people who meditate and chant in a cave “get”? Is it some religious term for holy saints and enlightened? What exactly is it?

Well, there are multiple interpretations of what life purpose is. For the deeply spiritual, they may call it a spiritual calling; for the religious, they may see it as a higher instruction from God.

Beyond religious connotations, a life purpose is simply your life’s message. It is the message you wish to drive in the world during your existence on Earth (and beyond ;) ). Having a life purpose applies to all of us, whether we are religious, non-religious, or atheistic.

Other terms for life purpose can be “life direction,” “purpose statement,” and “life mission statement,” all of which mean the same thing.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, or older. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you do. As long as you wish to live a more meaningful and conscious life, a life purpose is for you.

Examples of a life purpose are,

“To inspire and unleash creativity in every individual, one person at a time.”

“To help women discover their worth, break their barriers, and realize their hopes and dreams.”

“To educate and enable people to achieve their best health and hence, live a happier and healthier life.”

(The last one is actually the life purpose of one of my course participants Farah, who discovered it after reading this purpose series and taking the Anti-Procrastination Course. She subsequently started her holistic health business where she now teaches Zumba and helps people to achieve their best health!)

Why Have a Life Purpose?

Some people may ask, “Why have a life purpose? Why not just live life as we know it and ignore everything else? Why not chill out and relax until we die?”

Well, here are 5 reasons why I feel every person needs a purpose:

1. Life purpose is the starting point of life

Man with arms outstretched

Firstly, let’s face it — the reason you’re reading Personal Excellence isn’t because you’re looking for shopping tips or celebrity gossip. Chances are, you’re reading Personal Excellence because you see the importance of personal growth… your growth. Deep inside, you are passionate about being your best self and living your best life, and you feel that the material at PE can help you achieve that.

Well, a life purpose is the first step toward living a truly conscious life of your creation. While you can be busy with a million goals and tasks every day, when you don’t have a clear purpose (one that you believe in with your heart), you may well be barking up the wrong tree. That’s because your goals and tasks may well have nothing to do with your higher purpose in life, which means that you can pursue your current goals and tasks for 10, 20, 30 years, then realize down the road that… hey, this isn’t what I really want after all. As Stephen Covey once said,

Now, when you define your purpose, a purpose that shakes your heart and stirs your soul, that’s when conscious living begin. That’s because you now know what you stand for and your place in this world. While it doesn’t mean that everything suddenly becomes rosy and all your problems disappear (see Myth #1 above), at least you now have a strong clarity of what you want to drive in this world. This subsequently helps you to set long-term goals that move you in the right direction (toward your purpose), in turn rippling out to your short-term goals, then action plans, then daily actions.

In short:

Life purpose → Long-term goals → Short-term goals → Action plans → Daily actions

Hazy purpose or no purpose → Hazy, random goals → Hazy, random action plans → Hazy, random daily actions or constantly busy with others’ agendas, or

Clear purpose → Clear long-term goals → Clear short-term goals → Clear action plans → Clear daily actions ✓

The latter scenario is what you want and what I want for you.

2. Clarity on important vs. unimportant

When you know your purpose, you can instantly differentiate between the important and unimportant. The reality is that most people today are so caught up with a million things that ultimately do not make a difference in their lives. Earn more money! Get a house! Get a second house! Get a car! Get a second car! Get a fleet of cars! With your purpose, you no longer get inundated by these societal goals. You can cut through the BS and get right to the things that truly matter in creating your highest existence.

For example, after I found my purpose, I realized that almost all the goals that I had been working toward, largely due to societal conditioning, were pointless in the grand scheme of things. From getting top grades (for the sake of it), to getting a well-paying job, to climbing the corporate ladder, to earning a ton of money, to buying a house, to buying a car, to looking good, to finding a partner, to starting a family (for the sake of it), these weren’t important in living my highest life.

Rather, what I saw as important was the ability to pursue my purpose. To raise the world’s consciousness and help others to grow. This was what I deemed to be the most important thing (for me) to pursue in the world, even today.

The great thing is that frontloading the work and investing a few months of my life to first discover my purpose allowed me to get working on it right away. As opposed to wasting some 20, 30 more years of my life pursuing things that I thought I wanted and needed, I could start paving the path toward my highest life — even if I couldn’t do it right away.

So after 2.5 years, Personal Excellence was born. Today, it’s my 7th year running PE, and PE grows bigger than ever. We have half a million visitors and about a million pageviews at the blog every month. The great part is, despite running PE for 7 years, I feel like I’m just getting started. This is what I see myself doing this for the rest of my life, and I look forward to at least 5-6 good decades with all of you. (More on my purpose story at a later part.)

I often talk about the 80-20 rule on PE, which is the principle of prioritization where you focus on the 20% big rocks that’ll give you maximum change and fulfillment. However, one can’t know what their 20% big rocks are unless they are clear of what’s truly important to them. This starts from knowing your purpose. When you discover your purpose, you can direct your focus to the real important things. Instead of wasting your time on inconsequential tasks and goals, now, you can focus on your 20% big rocks. Big rocks that matter not to others, not to the society, not to the world, but… to you.

3. Live a life of direction and meaning

Happy girl

When you pursue your purpose and work on your 20% high-impact goals, you’ll readily see your life lit with direction and meaning. As opposed to wasting your time in a job you don’t love, now you can work toward a career or set up a business that better fits your purpose. As opposed to being around people who are not compatible with you and your goals, now you can find like-minded people and hang around them instead. As opposed to living a random, “live by the day” existence, now you can create your life of highest meaning. And that, itself, is magic.

This is what happened to my recent 1-1 coaching client Anna. After she found her life purpose a few months ago, she began the steady process of transiting to her ideal life. Even though she started off in an unideal place (she was and still is working in a job she doesn’t like, IT security), we quickly worked together to identify her long-term goals, short-term goals, and game plan to realize her purpose. From there, she identified a certification course to equip the right skills to pursue her purpose, started her Facebook page for her business, built her blog, gained initial traffic, got her initial clients, found her tribe, and just informed her company HR about her plans to depart in a few months’ time, to pursue her purpose.

Now, none of this is some temporary fad or “3-minute fever” — she knows this is what she wants to do. She now lives her life more fulfilled than she ever had. In her words, “I feel like I was born a fish and for the first time in my life, I’ve jumped in the ocean to swim with my fish friends. :) ” This is a stark contrast from when I first met her at the beginning of our sessions, when she was very frustrated and unhappy as she wasn’t doing what she loved. What Anna has experienced is what will happen to you too when you discover your true purpose and work toward it.

4. Constant drive and passion

When you pursue your purpose, you’ll gain this incredible burst of energy that never seems to run dry.

The ability to pursue my life purpose fills me up with so much energy, drive, and passion that I’m constantly excited every day. :) Every morning, I bound out of bed, excited at what I can do and create in this world. At night, I dread going to sleep because I would much rather be living out my purpose than spend 6-8 hours out of commission! It’s as if I have 24/7 access to a well with unlimited energy! This was how I felt when I first pursued my purpose in 2008; believe it or not, 6 years later today, I still feel the exact same way! And I doubt it’s ever going to change. :)

On the other hand, when you aren’t living true to your purpose, days become a drag. Weekdays come and you do what’s needed; weekends approach and you look forward to them. Then the week starts and you wake up to Mondays with resistance and boredom, waiting for weekends to come again. This was actually what happened to me in my last few months prior to quitting my job to pursue my purpose. While I did everything in my day job with dedication and perfection because that’s simply who I am, I wouldn’t wake up bursting with excitement to get to my task list. In fact, my day job was increasingly painful and unbearable to me as the weeks passed by, because I felt I could do so much more with my purpose.

If you find yourself looking forward to weekends and vacations as opposed to what you actually do each day, it’s time to think about whether your work is something you seriously care about, or whether it is simply a means to an end (for financial stability, to support your livelihood, to have the money to buy things you don’t need). What you want is to pursue something of highest meaning to you, and for this to happen, you’ve to first start with, “What is my purpose?” (Which we’ll get to later.)

5. Achieve success (in your terms!)

Many people clamor for success as an end in itself. However, I want to highlight that success is a natural effect of doing what you love (and having clear goals, plans, and skills), vs. something you aim for as an end in itself.

What do I mean? If you’ve read my article 10,000 Hours To Develop Talent, you’ll know that “talent” isn’t so much something that’s inborn, but something that’s cultivated through time. Whether it takes 10,000 or 20,000 hours of hard work, the point is that everyone starts from somewhere, and it’s through consistent hard work in honing our craft that we then become “talented” in an area.

Now, clocking 10,000 or 20,000 hours of hard work in a domain is no easy feat. If you consider that we’re productive for at most 4-5 hours a day (i.e., not doing admin stuff, not being distracted), that’s about 8.5 years to clock 10,000 hours. 8.5 years! That’s 8.5 years to develop talent, which will subsequently maybe help you to achieve success in your field. Who’d have the energy to turn up for work every day and push through in a field that he/she doesn’t care 100% about for 8.5 years, if not an emotional-less robot? (And robots need to recharge too!)

As opposed to aiming for success as an end for itself, doesn’t it make more sense to first identify what you truly care for, and then to direct your energy to make this a reality? This is where your purpose comes in. When you discover your true purpose, you will naturally want to devote your life to pursuing it, because it’s what gives you the most fulfillment. You will naturally want to spend time doing it even when you don’t have to, because you care. You will naturally get better and better at it, even if you start at 0 skill level, simply because the time you dedicate will give you the experience and necessary skills. Because of that, success becomes imminent. You will excel and soar in whatever you set yourself to do.

Part 3: Real vs. False Purposes

In the next part, I’ll talk about the difference between false (imposed) purposes and real purposes, and signs that differentiate between these two. It’s crucial to know the difference as we work on your purpose discovery later in the series.

In the meantime, let me know what you think in the comments section — I look forward to hearing from you!

Images: Water droplet in pool, Man arms outstretched, Happy girl

  • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

    Hi Yan! Thanks a lot for your kind comment! :) I love the quotes as well – they definitely help set the right tone and stage for the message of the post!

  • Blog for Beginners

    Wow, this is one of the best and insightful article on personal development I’ve came across recently. Couldn’t have written such an insightful article myself.

    Indeed, without purpose, we are losing the right direction and that will eventually bring us nowhere, in life or in business. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to live out on other people’s purpose.

    Oh, those quotes are superbly awesome. Thanks for sharing with us.

    To our success

  • Keith

    Having a defined purpose in my life makes a difference in every area in which I consciously pursue it. Here’s an example:

    A few days ago after work I was fueling my car up at a gas station I normally avoid because it tends to have “bums” around it. It was the most convenient place to fill my tank though, so I stopped there.

    Sure enough, not a minute after I pulled up, a homeless man approaches and starts talking to me. Ordinarily in these situations I’d avoid or ignore this man, or try to weasel my way out of talking to him somehow. Prior to the past two years of my life, I’d think nothing of just plain lying to him to get rid of him. He’d be a pebble in my shoe.

    For me, my purpose is to bring these 4 words into the world in my every action; love acceptance, freedom, and enlightenment. Those words are what I choose as “my way of being.” When my actions are not aligned with that way of being, I know that I am not living my purpose and that I am not being the person I wish to be. So when this man started talking to me, my auto-pilot kicked in and I was repulsed and started to think of how I would get out of talking to him. Then I became conscious of my reaction and purposefully asked myself “am I being love, acceptance, freedom, and enlightenment?” The answer was no, and so in that instant I made another conscious action; I chose to be love, acceptance, freedom, and enlightenment and acted in accordance with being those things.

    I looked this man in the eye and said “Hi!” as I would with an old friend or loved one. I allowed myself to be present to my automatic feelings and reactions to my interactions with this man, and chose not to act upon those things and instead act according to those 4 words. We ended up talking for about 5 minutes, all the while with me speaking to him as if he were an old friend instead of a bum, stranger, or lesser being.

    His name was Bill. He’d been in prison and was released recently. He started writing poems in prison and kept doing it after being released, instead of going back to his life of drugs and petty crime. He said his poetry wasn’t very good but that he was still working on it. He wanted to write things that made people happy and brightened their day. He wanted to set an example to young people who were tending toward the darker side of life that they can choose not to make the mistakes he’d made. Bill was a very nice man, really polite, and very uneducated. He was putting his best foot forward, maybe as a ruse to get money from the people he approached, or maybe because he was sincere. It isn’t my place to judge his motives. He seemed pretty genuine to me but had obviously been hurt a lot and had been bitten in the past. It seemed that he felt the need to appear a certain way to the people he approached as a kind of survival mechanism. In those moments, he didn’t seem comfortable or happy, but in the moments when he seemed genuine, his face lit up and you could see inside his eyes there was a human being inside desperate to get out and show itself to the world. I think we all feel this way at times.

    By stopping and consciously choosing to live my purpose, I saw humanity in a man I’d ignore without that purpose. I saw beauty that the vast majority ignore every day.

    I let Bill share a couple of his poems with me and he was right, they weren’t very good poems. But they were beautiful because they were the truest expressions of who he was that he could create at that time in his life. I bought the poems he shared with me for $1 each, and thanked him for sharing them with me and wished him luck in the future, happy holidays, and told him not to give up with his poetry if it’s what helped him cope with his circumstances. I told him to keep making people’s day better and trying to make them feel happy.

    He smiled as he walked away. If his purpose was to make others happy, he had done so by living his purpose and if my purpose is to bring love, acceptance, freedom and enlightenment into the world, I had done so by returning the favor and making his day.

    That is what purpose gives to your life and the lives of all whom you touch. If Bill’s poor poetry makes me feel happy, that will carry on to my friends and family when I return home from work, and so on and so forth. It’s a great thing!

  • Craig

    If you do not choose the purpose of you own life then somebody else will choose it for you.

  • Diana

    ” If life really has no meaning for you, isn’t it logically better to end it than to wait for your time to end?” – did you really said that in a public article!? Wow…there are people that are in bad moments in their life questioning the meaning of life and they can be very easy to convince taking wrong steps and what you said in that paragraph it can be misread. Think about it…not trying to offend. I do think you have some good points in your writings. Thanks.

  • http://www.rejuvenateyouressence.com/ Theresa

    Awesome Article Celetine! You couldn’t have said it better! Everything resonates and to shining our lights and illuminating the world! Keep up the great work!

  • Jackie

    Thank you for sharing Keith! That is an endearing story, and I’m really glad I got the opportunity to read it tonight, it makes me feel very warm and humbled to know that wonderful people like you are adding to people’s day. Thanks for sharing

  • http://hackmyheart.com/ Calae

    I love the opening picture you have here – how beautiful!

    I really can’t wait to read the rest of the revisited series (hopefully this time, I’m not responding too quickly haha!)! I’ve been trying, in general, to focus on that “20% of tasks” as best I can without a solid life purpose, but I find myself deeming a lot of things “important.” I recognize that everything important to me isn’t necessarily that 20% I should focus on, but it’s really hard to tell what truly belongs! And sometimes I feel such resistance to do what I think may actually be within that top percent, that I can’t help but think I may be wrong and forcing something on myself that I don’t actually want. Eep!

    Thanks for writing this article again, I can’t wait to see the series continue! =D

    PS: Very unrelated, but you mentioned not wanting to sleep in order to continue pursuing your life purpose, and it reminded me of another article of yours. In one of your posts about your water-fast I believe, you said one of the benefits you obtained was that you needed much less sleep…only a few hours, if I recall correctly. I was just curious if this was still the case, especially since you maintain a vegan lifestyle? I would have asked on the article where you said it, but the comments were closed due to the age of the article. =)

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Dearest Calae, thank you for your comment and question! I’m more on a vegetarian than vegan diet atm — it’s difficult to sustain on a vegan diet in Singapore, only because of food options societally than anything. Most foods here have dairy, even if in trace amounts. So I try not to have milk/egg/etc. if I can, but my diet at the moment is really vegetarian not vegan.

      I haven’t been clocking my sleeping hours but if I were to put a number to it, it’s anywhere from 6-8 hours. I definitely sleep less when I have time-bound stuff to get to (like 2-4 hours or even no sleep if I have a workshop or course etc.) and not feel tired because I’m running on excitement/adrenaline, but this is not a norm so 6-8 will be the better reference. I believe if I move to a raw food diet next time, it’ll probably reduce. But not in the near term though.

      I believe defining your life purpose will definitely help in identifying your 20% big rocks. I’ll be adding additional pointers in the later parts to assist in finding one’s purpose, especially with regards to your point about not being able to hit full emotional resonance.

  • Danii Turnbull

    Touching story Keith. Living without judgement is a rare and beautiful trait and clearly alive within you.

  • Ken Soh

    Thanks Celes for your inspiring article! a quote comes to my mind ‘I think, therefore I am.’

    Outcomes are preceded by actions/inactions and actions are preceded by thoughts. It is when we start to control and direct our thoughts that we start to have any chance of shaping our destinies to the outcomes we desired

    In the same fashion, the passion in our hearts and our values precede our thoughts. We all have a choice what values system to adopt, the ability to choose is more than what many will think they can, and that people are all products of the current society.

  • Francis

    Thanks for the message Celes…what you said in this article is so true. In my job, im always looking forward to weekends when it’s still monday and sometimes i felt bored and sometimes heavy, leading me to procrastinate everytime i wake up because i can’t see what my purpose is in my job…This article is really a big help…Thanks again…

  • Dana

    Hi Celes!

    And what if your life purposes were always completely different at different stages of your life?

    Say, when i was at school i was dreaming to become a diplomat and was very intetested in politics, in uni my views and vallue changed completely and i was very interested in spiritual research, then photography, then family life, now writing and phylosophy..

    And each time my heart was shaking and soul singing.. But after some time i felt like im done with this purpose im not interested anymore..

    May be they all were not global enough… Or why is it happening?