There is a connection between our purpose and our actions. If we are to achieve our purpose, we must not only take action but we must take right action. Otherwise we are apt to end up in the wrong place and the wrong time.
When Purpose and Action Are Misaligned
In November 1975, a group of convicts in a prison in northern Mexico began digging a secret tunnel. Their objective was to come up on the other side of the prison wall and freedom. You could say their purpose was to secure their freedom and digging the tunnel was an action toward that purpose.
Unfortunately, for them at least, maybe not the rest of us, in April 1976, they broke through . . . into a nearby courtroom. In fact, the same courtroom where most of them had received their sentences. Needless to say, the surprised judge returned all of the convicts to jail. (*)
Purpose and Action
Our hapless prisoners learned the hard way what happens when action and purpose are out of sync. They started with a purpose. (Not exactly what we could call a noble purpose but a purpose nonetheless.) And they went to work on an action that they thought would fulfill that purpose. However, at some point, their actions took a wrong turn, literally, and they failed in their initial purpose.
There is a connection between our purpose and our actions. If we are to achieve our purpose, we must not only take action but we must take right action. Otherwise, we are apt to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. How can we be sure our actions and our purpose are in alignment?
The Purpose+Action Partnership
First, consider the partnership between purpose and right action.
It must begin with purpose. As we’ve discussed before, our purpose takes three forms: Unique, Universal, and Ultimate. Each of us has a Unique purpose: to contribute our personal Service based on our individual combination of talents, skills, strengths, interests, and abilities. And all of us have a common Universal purpose: to realize our potential and give our best in Service to the world. And our Ultimate purpose? Well, that is to be our best moment to moment to make a difference. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
The partnership must also include action. For our discussion, think of Excelerated Action™. Excelerated Action™ encompasses three practices:
Excelerated Productivity™ — improving efficiency and effectiveness
Excelerated Discipline™ — doing what you say you will do
Excelerated Movement™ — taking right action in pursuit of your goals
For the Purpose+Action partnership, when we speak of action, we are specifically referring to Excelerated Movement™. Without movement, action is incomplete because growth occurs by moving forward. No movement, no growth. [Broome]
Purpose Without Action
Of course, it is possible that you could have a purpose but not act on it, not move. However, purpose without action is unproductive. [Blair] Small steps lead to the goal BUT you must take the steps. The noblest of purposes is of little value if it is not followed up with action.
Finding your purpose but not moving on it is like preparing the car for a trip but leaving out the final vital step. You check the oil, check the tires, fill up with gas, get all the luggage packed, get the TripTick from AAA (remember those?) but then you never use the ignition to start up the car. All that preliminary effort is of little value if you don’t put the car in motion. You need both purpose and action.
Action Without Purpose
So, purpose without action is unproductive but action without purpose is counterproductive. [Blair] This behavior carries a high degree of risk and a low probability of success.
Starting off without a purpose is like jumping in the car and heading off down the road without any idea of where you are going or why you’re going there. How will you know when you’ve arrived? It’s highly likely you’ll end up somewhere that is nothing like where you wanted to go. And you may run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. It’s why you need both action and purpose.
When Action and Purpose Are at Odds
Finally, there’s the possibility that your actions and your purpose are not in alignment. You think you are acting “on purpose” but the outcome shows otherwise. You’re like the prisoners digging an escape tunnel but popping up in the middle of a courtroom. Oops!
You may not realize that your actions won’t lead to your intended purpose. In fact, you may not even be able to tell at first. You’re just digging away at that tunnel, thoughts of freedom in your head, but no way to concretely tell you’re heading in the right direction.
So, think before you act. Look ahead. If your actions seem to help you live your purpose, continue doing what you are doing. But check in from time to time to be sure you are still on course.
Finding Your Purpose
Of course, integrating action and purpose presupposes that you know your purpose. It is your purpose – the thing you came here to do – that makes you unique. You brought something with you when you came here that makes you uniquely suited to fulfill your purpose. No one else who has ever been born or who will ever be born can fulfill your purpose – if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.
Purpose is not something you select or choose or decide on. Purpose is a thing you discover. It is there all along, you only need to find out what It is. [McWilliams]
How do you know when you’ve identified your life purpose? Here are some clues.
- You feel a strong connection with the purpose you’ve written down.
- You have a great desire to fulfill it.
- You feel deep pleasure when you act in accordance with it.
- Your interests naturally go in that direction.
- You feel if you do this, it will give your life meaning and inspiration.
Putting Purpose Into Action
As you begin to combine action and purpose, there are four areas to consider. [Pavlina]
- Purpose is what you should do.
- Needs are what you must do.
- Your unique abilities (skills, talents, training) determine what you can do.
- Desires represent what you want to do.
When you put these criteria together, you can set specific goals, formulate plans, and design steps that you can move on. You’ll do what you love, do what you’re good at, meet your needs, and live from your purpose. It’s a great incentive to put your purpose into action.
How To Begin
If you are not already using action and purpose together in a productive partnership, why not begin to do so and reap the benefits? Here are some steps to help you get started.
- If you haven’t yet discovered your unique purpose, find what that is. (And remember we all also have a universal purpose and an ultimate purpose.) The Find Your Purpose worksheet can help with this.
- Reexamine your goals, in terms of your purpose, needs, abilities, and skills. Are you on track to fulfill all of these? You’ll be more motivated if your goals are “on purpose”.
- Do you need to adjust or reset a goal to bring it more in line with your purpose? Here are some ideas to consider.
Action With Purpose
And so it’s important that your actions and purpose align and work together. Because if you have purpose without action, you’re going nowhere. You’re stuck in place.
If you have action without purpose, you’ve no idea where you’re going. (But you’re making good time!)
Purpose with the wrong action is unreliable. You think you’re going to Charlotte but you end up in Atlanta.
But when you have purpose with right action, now you know where you want to go and you’re moving in the right direction. Chances are great that you’ll reach your destination. Right action and right purpose – it’s the key to living a fulfilling life of meaning, purpose, and Service. In fact, it’s living your Excelerated Life™!
Have you found your purpose? Are your actions and purpose in alignment?
How could you make the two more compatible?
Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Excelerated Movement™ — taking right action in pursuit of your goals — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
Blair, Gary Ryan. Everything Counts! Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010.
Broome, Michael. Be A Liver Of Life, Not A Gall Bladder. Charleston, SC: Advantage Media Group, 2006.
McWilliams, Peter. Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life In School – But Didn’t. Allen Park, MI: Mary Books / Prelude Press, 1994.
Pavlina, Steve. “The Meaning of Life: From Purpose to Action.” Steve Pavlina. StevePavlina.com, June 22, 2005. Web. April 24, 2023.