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The Essential Difference Between Purpose and Goals

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The Essential Difference Between Purpose and Goals

Quentin Finney is a graduate of the 2016 Newfield Certified Coach Training Program.

When I was young, my sense of purpose was linked to my goals. Many people feel this way, that their purpose is to achieve their goals. When I did achieve my goals, I felt like the cat that catches its tail. Now what? I realized that this definition of purpose wasn’t enough. Without a deeper level of understanding of why we are on this planet, we cannot feel truly satisfied by what we do.

Most high-performers are very goal-focused, and they don’t always understand why they are setting the goals they set, besides alignment with an extrinsic motivator. For example, they may be executives who have responsibility for increasing shareholder value; therefore, that becomes their purpose.

The problem is that when things stop running smoothly, or it seems you won’t get to your goals, extrinsic motivators are not the ones that will carry you through. That is why it is important to get an understanding of what your intrinsic motivators are, of why you do what you do.

In coaching, you get to start finding out what these are by being asked some “wicked” questions. These are the ones that make you catch your breath because you don’t have an answer and haven’t really thought about them before.

For example:

  • If you take yourself away from this context (e.g., work), and no longer have this role (e.g., manager) pursuing whatever goals your position calls for, why do you do what you do?
  • What would you differently than what you are doing now?
  • What brings you energy?
  • What drains it?
  • Do you find your work energizing or draining?

The energy question can be tricky: crossing a goal line can give you a bump of energy, and a feeling of fulfillment. But, what was the energy cost to get there? I’ve seen that extrinsic motivators and focusing on pursuing those is actually an energy expense and is why burn out happens. When you are aligned with what you are doing at a deeper level, that energy cost feels a lot different—often like no cost at all.

Finding intrinsic purpose doesn’t mean we have to get rid of goal setting. It just means that now you have a decision touchstone—something that will help you evaluate whether your goals are in alignment with your purpose. I have found my purpose to be to reduce suffering in the world.

So, when I reflect on a goal I ask myself:

  • Does this help me reduce suffering?
  • How does this help me do that?

If I don’t see that it does or how it does, then that alerts me that maybe it’s not the right goal to be setting.

These questions help you structure your life in a way that is aligned with purpose, which creates energy, joy, and fulfillment.

Often the way we see the world is transparent to us: we don’t see that we have “glasses” on, that we have a way of looking at things that is not the only way. Often our limits and “the way things are” are actually stories we tell ourselves. Coaches and mentors in my life have been crucial in helping me see things other than the way I was seeing them and in showing me that I can question the stories I tell myself.

When we question our stories, it becomes possible to distinguish which are self-limiting beliefs and which are who we are. We begin to be and act from a more rooted place. We stop chasing our tail.

Want to learn more about our course offerings? Check out our Foundation Course for transformative personal development and the first step towards becoming a Certified Coach.

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Author: Quentin Finney

Quentin Finney is a conscious business leader, coach and change agent, especially focused on improving the ways people mindfully connect with themselves and one another. In the tech sector since 1999, he has held various consulting, sales and leadership roles with Red Hat, Google, EMC, Northrop Grumman IT, and four startups. A former Marine officer with graduate studies in Authentic Leadership, Quentin currently serves as a mentor for Watson University scholars and as board chair for Veteran's PATH, a non-profit focused on providing mindfulness-based transition support for veterans as they rejoin the civilian world and uncover new paths of service.

Comment ( 1 )

  • Vinay Kumar

    Quentin, enjoyed reading your post. Thank you. As I read what you shared, the following quote by Victor Frankle came to mind.

    “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
    ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

    Vinay

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