Why Purpose Matters and How to Discover Yours

UPDATED: May 22, 2024
PUBLISHED: November 6, 2020

Years ago, I was living the American dream as it had been sold to me. I had a high-powered career at Disney, a big house, the best cars, a wife and two amazing children.

But I was miserable.

I was successful, but I wasn’t significant.

I was working for a great company, but I sat at my desk every day from 9-5 overcome by the frustration of stifled potential. What choice did I have, though? I had a family to support and a mortgage to pay. My bills were screaming louder than my dreams.


During this time, the movie The Lion King had just come out. I was deeply impacted by the scene where the clouds in the sky part and Mufasa’s spirit appears to his son, Simba. Mufasa’s fatherly voice booms, “Simba! Remember who you are. You are more than what you have become.”

That line changed my life.

I knew I was more than I had become. I had just lost my way.

In the movie, Simba was forced to run away and, for a short time, lived a carefree life with his friends Timon and Pumbaa. However, he knew in his heart that he was meant for more. He knew he needed to return to his people to take his place as king, no matter how scary, no matter the cost.

Like Simba, I knew I needed to dig deeper to find my true purpose. I needed to go inside myself to find the answers. But I was afraid to make a change—to take a risk, to fail, to let my family down. I was scared of losing what I’d worked so hard to build over the years. I was afraid to shed my expensive, outer mask.

So I asked myself three questions:

  1. What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  2. What would I do even if nobody paid me to do it?
  3. What makes me come alive?

In my heart, I knew I wanted to speak and write. I wanted to consult and coach. I would do all of these things if nobody paid me to do them. I would do all of these things if I knew I couldn’t fail. Because these were the things that made me come alive.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve now spoken to more than 1,600 organizations and consulted with a dozen companies in 45 countries. I’ve written nine books and personally coached more than 100 managers and leaders around the world, and I absolutely come alive every single day doing what I love.

We all want to live in what I call a universal assignment, the point at which your talents, skills, abilities and gifts intersect with a void or a need in the world around you.

That is, as best I can imagine, the true definition of purpose we should all aspire to seek. But like anything else in the journey of success, it isn’t a fixed point that you arrive at and stay forever. The world changes too often. We change too often. It is the constant search for that point that keeps us on target.

Here are several guideposts to illuminate your path as you seek your purpose.

Pique Your Curiosity

Never underestimate the power of curiosity. A desire to know and learn, curiosity ignites your mind, forcing it to come alive.

I’ve always loved learning, but after my first year, my parents could no longer afford to pay for me to finish college. When their money ran out, so did my status as a college student. On my own for the first time, I found myself living in a crime-infested neighborhood and working a job that only paid $5.10 an hour. I was in big trouble. Thankfully, I’ve always been a voracious reader with a curious mind, and that paid off for me. I sought out motivational books that provided insight into a better future and found a mentor who saw something in me and fostered my growth.

When you admit that although you don’t know something, you’re eager and willing to find out about it, you release your potential to achieve incredible things. You become open to the possibility of your purpose.

Inquisitive people ask questions, seek answers, wonder how things work and try fresh approaches to old problems. You can easily recognize them by their behaviors. I refer to this phenomenon as “vujà dé”—the opposite of déjà vu. It means examining a problem or a situation with fresh eyes and an open mind, often resulting in a creative and innovative solution.

Curious people are constantly searching for “new” information. You’ll find them in bookstores and libraries, sitting on the floor, absorbed in a book about some seemingly random subject. They proactively solicit feedback from their managers, spouses, friends and co-workers. They ask profound and insightful questions.

Strive to take in fresh information. Consider your sources and then expand them. Find someone who inspires you and ask them what they’re reading, watching, listening to.

Curiosity naturally leads you to learn, unlearn and re-learn. Philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “In the future, the learners will inherit the earth, while the learned will find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

When we’re dead and gone, people can judge us on what we accomplished. Until then, it’s up to us to keep searching for what we’ll accomplish next. Your curiosity puts you in the driver’s seat.

Examine Your Motives

If your motives are pure and honest, you will experience forward momentum. If they’re not, your purpose will remain locked up.

A decade ago, when I relocated to Orlando, Florida, I made a list of the city’s key leaders. These were the men and women whose names carried enough weight to open doors and close deals. My goal was to leverage their community status and, in turn, gain access to their contacts—the movers and shakers. I showed up at every event like Johnny-on-the-spot, trying to be seen and heard, but never connecting with people. Why? Because my motives were cunning, and they could sense it a mile away.

It was when I began working with a life coach that I managed to change my course. He saw right through me. He immediately recognized my performance-driven behaviors as a need for external validation in order to feel confident. It was clear that I was deriving my self-worth from what others thought about me.

When I left Disney, I set out on an expensive chase to increase my self-importance. Then one day I woke up and realized it was a total joke. Someone had sold me a bag filled with holes. I’d achieved some measure of fame in my small sphere of influence; however, if the truth be told, I was a wannabe famous person who was overexposed but underdeveloped in character.

My life coach helped me learn that permanent and real validation comes from within. When your confidence is unshakable and unaffected by the way others react to you, this authentic confidence leads to authentic motives, which creates authentic connections and authentic results.

I increased my confidence by being willing to pay the price to develop character and a spirit of excellence. Give instead of take, be kind, and care for someone who can do nothing for you.

I invite you to do the inner work of examining your motives, no matter what the situation. Failing to do so risks building your life on an unstable foundation, so rid your system of backstabbing, politicking and attempting to control outcomes. When you’re obsessed with achieving a particular outcome, you’re disconnected from your spirit. Instead, consider living your life with detached intention. When you’re open to different outcomes, you’re aligned with your spirit. This inner peace releases your purpose and attracts what’s in your best interest.

You’ll recognize your purpose when time ceases to exist and there’s an alignment of your head, your heart and your hands. Purpose isn’t external; it’s something you own inside.

Ignite Your Intuition

Intuition is knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes. Call it a hunch, or your sixth sense—it’s when you simply know you were meant to walk a certain path or make a specific decision. You don’t know why you know, you just do.

When I let my intuition guide me while speaking before a crowd, I fall into a state of uncomplicated joy, knowing that I am making a difference in these people’s lives. I forget to look at the clock because I am in an effortless flow, doing what I love. Adding value to the word costs you nothing, but will earn you everything.

Listening to and following your instincts is key to becoming purpose-driven. When you live with purpose, you become more intentional about what you do and how you do it. While many people depend on hard data, schooling and experience to make decisions, I invite you to remain open to what your intuition might be telling you, especially if it’s different from what logic indicates. There will also be times when you simply don’t have enough information to make a good decision—what do you do then? Get quiet, listen to your gut and go with it.

Going against the grain—especially in corporate cultures where companies tell you, “Bring us your brains, but check your heart at the door”—isn’t easy. Whether the world approves or disapproves of you following your intuition, you’re the one who has to live with your choice. You’ll know that your instinct is on target by the peace you’ll feel in your soul.

Evaluate the Core Areas of Your Life

If you feel trapped in your 9-5 job, if you feel under-skilled, inexperienced and undereducated, you’re not living in your purpose. How do you process this and identify your purpose?

I felt this way once. On paper, I had the job of my dreams, but I was just going through the motions. In my heart, I knew that I didn’t want to be there anymore, and I was spinning my wheels.

I reached a place professionally where I no longer wanted to work for my employer. I showed up late, took long lunch breaks and left early. I didn’t fully participate and did just enough work to keep from getting fired. I was there physically, but I was emotionally and intellectually unavailable.

One day, I decided to stop living beneath my potential, and I gave myself permission to be intentional. I knew that I needed to move more deeply into who I wanted to become. For me, that meant leaving the organization—but then what, and how would I get there? I looked within my core areas for the answers.

The core areas of your life are personalized to you and your purpose. Only you can truly define them—mind and body, family and friends, spirituality, finances, career.

Start by doing some soul-searching. Ask yourself personal questions about your life as you see it: How are you doing in the core areas of your life? Are you excelling in some and lacking in others?

For example, career is a core area where many people struggle. If this is you, ask yourself: What am I good at? What are my special talents, skills and abilities? Then take it outside of yourself: What do I want to do?

What external problem, situation or need nags at you? What opportunities, careers or vocations are you interested in but haven’t pursued? Seeking your truths within the core areas of your life, both inside and out, will help you walk a purpose-driven path.

Develop High-Impact Habits

One of the most crucial things you can do to live on purpose is to develop high-impact habits. These are the behaviors and actions that move you farthest and fastest in the direction of your heart’s desire. High-impact activities accelerate the process of unleashing your purpose. On the flip side, low-impact habits drain your energy, your enthusiasm and your efforts, and they delay and prevent you from finding your purpose.

Develop a habit of being a steward of your time and energy. What you do with these two resources will determine the outcome of your life. Time is our most precious asset, and yet we tend to let it slip away on activities that don’t move us forward. How much time do you spend watching TV, answering emails and surfing the internet? I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve wasted far too much time on those three things, and all it is, is noise.

I remind myself daily that if I’m going to live my purpose and reach my goals, I can’t let these low-impact activities consume my day. This habit has transformed my life, and I want you to try it: Guard your energy and protect your spirit during what I call the “hour of power.” Every morning, devote 20 minutes to meditation, 20 minutes to exercise and 20 minutes to reading aloud.

We live in an electronic world that moves at the speed of light, and we’ve forgotten how to focus. This morning ritual will open your mind, heart and spirit to your purpose like no other. Meditating centers your energy and intention on how your day will unfold. Exercising invigorates your body and creates momentum. Reading focuses your mind, and reading aloud expands your vocabulary and increases your confidence.

Putting It All Together

Living your purpose means waking up every morning excited. The moment your feet hit the ground, you can’t wait to make a difference in the life of another. You’re excited to solve a problem, put a smile on someone’s face, identify a solution to an issue, and you go to bed at night with the internal satisfaction that you were your most productive self that day. You brought your best self to work and gave it 100 percent.

In my book Release Your Brilliance, I lay out a simple, three-step exercise to help you discover your purpose and then design your life around it:

1. Ask

Ask yourself, How can I use my purpose to make a difference?—and your subconscious mind will open to the universe and its possibilities.

Try to start each day with some quiet time to yourself, in meditation, prayer or with your morning coffee. Give yourself the space to ask yourself this question every single day.

2. Seek

Actively look for answers to how you can use your purpose each day. Look for the path that you’re supposed to take. Do your research. Understand that you may have to follow a lot of rabbit trails, some of which will take you to dead ends. That’s OK; it’s all part of the process.

The path to living out your purpose isn’t always obvious or clear-cut. Go online, watch videos and listen to podcasts. Read every book you can get your hands on that calls out to you. Seek guidance from people who can help you live your purpose.

Once you’ve opened your mind and heart to the possibilities of the universe, pay close attention to the people who show up. They are there to either teach you a lesson, challenge you or help you on your path.

3. Knock

And keep knocking.

When you come upon a door of opportunity that you intuitively believe is for you, you must knock. If you want to find out what’s on the other side of the door, you have to push it open and step through.

Every single day take one small step that moves you in the direction of your purpose. Write down your goal, then break it down into smaller goals, and then even further into small, actionable steps. I promise you, these will add up quickly.

Believe within your spirit that this is why you are here. Make the decisions and choices that bring into your life the things that will help you fulfill your purpose. There will be times when you lose your footing or take a wrong step, and that’s OK. Each step, whether right or wrong, will teach you something and lead you closer to your purpose. Listen and pay attention to each one.

Follow these three steps purposefully and consciously every single day, day in and day out. If you do, I promise that you will wake up one day just a few short years from now and your life will be completely transformed—because you’ll be living your purpose.


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has been updated for freshness.
Photo by Yuricazac/Shutterstock.com

Simon T. Bailey

Simon T. Bailey is an international speaker, writer and personal transformation strategist. He is the author of Shift Your Brilliance: Harness the Power of You, Inc., and Be the SPARK: Five Platinum Service Principles for Creating Customers for Life. When he’s not working, he enjoys rooting for the Buffalo Bills (his hometown team).