Are You Goal Focused or Purpose Driven?

It’s still early in the new year and goal setting is rife! Many are still integrating their New Year’s resolutions into their lives. The plan the board approved back in the fall has objectives that need to be met.  Individuals are receiving targets from their leaders and are putting plans in place to hit them.

Each of us is different in the way we tackle our targets and I am fascinated by the variety of approaches that people favour.

There are those who are doers.  Those that always “get it done”. This type of person is most focused on the task at hand and how best to do it.  They typically have tried and true ways of accomplishing their tasks and generally have a good record of completion.  To these people, the task is the goal and it is a straight line from here to there.  We would probably look at these folks as highly productive but less than flexible.


There are those who are target shooters. A target shooter wants to know precisely what success looks like, but isn’t too concerned about now how to get there.  They have a confidence in their own capabilities that they will indeed get there and don’t need a lot of guidance. Given a few opportunities, they might try multiple different ways.  When I think of examples, I think of project managers, engineers, etc.


There are those those who might be more visionary or strategic, in that they understand that there is an objective to achieve, but that it has a bit more breadth to it than a single goal.  They understand that there is a bigger picture and that when you set out in the direction of the vision, you don’t always end up exactly where you set out for.  This sounds a bit like how we might describe a good manager, and in fact a manager might break their strategy down into individual goals for others.  But I also think of architects, designers, even doctors in this category … those that understand that there are multiple acceptable outcomes.


Then there are those who see past anything that is a goal or a strategy. Certainly they understand the need to have them and use such devices in their own work and life to guide them forward.  But on the way to achieving one goal, they begin to see what is next and what might be beyond that.  They, at times, abandon strategies or goals along the way as they see that they no longer serve their key driving force – their purpose.


I can’t help think about Simon Sinek and his book titled Start With Why.  In it he discusses how people, leaders and companies can focus on things at various levels.  The first example above speaks to “how” we go about doing things.  The next two examples speak to “what” we do, but tend to stay away from the “how“.  In the final example, we are looking at the power of “why“, as we view our goals and strategies merely as stepping stones to help fulfill our purpose – our statement of “why we are here”.

I think I live in all of those modes every day. There are lots of tasks in my life that it is all about the “how“… brushing my teeth, making coffee, etc. Other times its about the “what” … writing a blog post, cooking dinner, spending time with family.

But I overwhelmingly know that when I go for more than a few days where I am not consciously in my “why” space, where I am deliberately thinking about fulfilling my purpose in life, that I start to feel depleted and less energetic.  I may find myself less optimistic about my future and in fact dwell more in the past lamenting what was or what I failed to do.   The opposite is true as well.  My zest for life comes from knowing my purpose and consciously living into it.  When I’m doing that, all the issues in life seem to come into proper perspective and I can focus on trying make a contribution.

This isn’t just a work conversation.  There are plenty of stories of assembly line workers who do the same task (the “how”) hundreds of times each day.  Let their great joy comes from their purpose in life which may reside in another aspect of it such as their spirituality, their connection with other people, their role as a parent, an artist or something else.  But it might be a work conversation.  There are those whose purpose is to invent, to organize, to facilitate agreement, to counsel, to teach, to lead – and it becomes their career.

In fact, while I believe that we probably have a default mode that cross the boundaries of varying aspects of our lives, all of us can call on differing modes depending on what aspect of life we are currently focused on. What it often comes back to is one question:

Do you know what your purpose is?

So do you?  How would you describe it? How do you keep it front of mind? What do you do when it temporarily slips away from you?  How do you get it back?

If you don’t know your purpose, don’t feel bad.  Many don’t.  And it tends to become more important in the second half of adult life. But if you feel a growing need to discover your purpose, consider a coach to guide the process of discovery.  You’ll be glad you did!!


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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

6 thoughts on “Are You Goal Focused or Purpose Driven?

  1. When I read your post I was reminded of the fable of The Three Brick Layers:

    “Once there were 3 brick layers. Each one of them was asked what they were doing.

    The first man answered gruffly, ‘I’m laying bricks.’

    The second man replied, ‘I’m putting up a wall.’

    But the third man said enthusiastically and with pride, ‘I’m building a cathedral!'” — Author Unknown

    We need to know our why, yet we also need to choose our attitude.

  2. There was a scene in the movie ‘Lincoln’ where Lincoln describes to an aide that there is no point in setting your compass to true north without also having strategies to deal with any encountered swamp, dessert or chasm along the way. If you head inflexibly directly to true north, then you may just end up sinking in a swamp. On the flip side, if you get off track (by changing direction to avoid the swamp) you may lose sight of the prize and think the changed direction is now the way to go. Specifically, the ‘swamp’ or ‘changed direction’ he found himself in was the civil war. He was being pressured to end the war, when his main purpose was to end slavery. Controversially this scene may be artistic licence and not be factually correct. However, i think it is an example of the theme of this post, and reinforces the concept (even when we encounter obstacles) of always keeping an eye on our purpose … our ‘why’.
    Thanks for this post. I found it uplifting.

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