Clarify Your Purpose, Understand your Self, Apply your Self toward Your Purpose

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 15, Issue No. 10a
February 1, 2017

By Dan Coughlin


If you want to make a significant difference at work, I suggest these three steps:

  1. Clarify Your Purpose
  2. Understand your Self
  3. Apply your Self to Fulfill Your Purpose

Clarify Your Purpose

You have to believe your work matters and that it is purposeful before you will pour yourself into it to the degree that will make a significant difference, the type of difference that will make a tremendously positive and lasting impact on an important outcome.

This is a working article. In other words, you will need to do some work beyond just reading the words. Please take five minutes and jot down your answers to this question:

If I do a great job with my work, what will be the benefits to the following people?

My Organization –

My Work Group –

Our Customers –

Our Suppliers –

My Family –

Myself –

Okay, go back and invest five more minutes in that exercise. Really clarify why your work matters greatly.

(Sources: Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and The Unheard Cry for Meaning.)

Understand your Self

If anybody wants to achieve anything, the first step is to figure out what the person has to work with to achieve the goal. The same is of course true if we want to fulfill our purpose at work. We first have to figure out what we have going for ourselves that we can apply to fulfill our purpose.

I’m allowed one fancy word per article. My fancy word for this article is individuation. It’s a really old word that Carl Jung used a lot. Individuation means “the lifelong process of becoming the complete human being you were born to be.” It means “waking up to your total self” and “actualizing the blueprint of the main elements of your personality.” It also means “discovering the uniqueness of yourself, finding out what you are not and finding out who you are.” (Source: Inner Work, pages 7 and 11, by Robert Johnson). Jung used the word “Self” to mean “the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego.” (Source: Wikipedia on “Self in Jungian Psychology”)

In this article, I’m going to focus on two parts of your Self: your Personal ID, and your personal needs.

Your Personal ID

The word personality seems to have taken on a limited meaning. People will say, “That person has a nice personality,” or “That person has a mean personality.” In that context, the word “personality” seems a very small snapshot of the person. In reality, the person’s personality represents the enormous scope of the individual.

I’m going to change the word “personality” to “personal-ity” to “Personal ID”. Every person has a Personal ID that is made up of his or her temperament and character.

Now I need to recommend an incredibly powerful book called Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey. This is the most useful book I’ve ever read on understanding people. The only concerning part of the book that I saw was it was first written in 1979 and then updated in 1999 so it says something like, “One day women will be great executives in business.” Obviously that day has arrived. Other than that, I think the ideas in this book are tremendously useful today. So here’s a brief synopsis of the book.

On page 20, Keirsey says that the two sides of an individual’s personality are temperament and character. He defines temperament as “a configuration of inclinations” and character as “a configuration of habits.” He says “character is disposition and temperament is pre-disposition. Each individual develops habits appropriate to his or her temperament…Temperament is the inborn form of human nature; character, the emergent form, which develops through the interaction of temperament and environment.”

Here’s my translation. You are hard-wired at birth with a given temperament. You had no choice in what temperament you received. You can’t change it. It’s not based on your birth order or your parents parenting style or your socio-economic surroundings.

According to Keirsey, there are four types of temperaments: The Artisan, The Guardian, The Idealist, and the Rationalist.

Here’s a brief explanation of each one, but again I encourage you to read the book, Please Understand Me II.

The Artisan – The creator, the maker, the doer. This person’s strength is tactics and getting stuff built or created.

The Guardian – This person protects and nurtures other people. Think of putting up guardrails. This person’s strength is putting together logical plans, following through on them, and making sure other people follow through on them.

The Idealist – This person is driven by ideas, purposes, causes, dreams, and visions of what can be in the future. Think of an Idea List. This person’s strength is diplomacy and moving other people with words.

The Rationalist – This person focuses on determining what makes the most rational sense. Think of a Rational List. This person’s strength is strategy.

Each temperament brings with it strengths and weaknesses. Accept yourself as you are with your temperament, and accept other people with their temperaments. If we try to change our temperaments or try to change other people’s temperaments, we are trying to do the impossible. Please don’t do that. It wastes an enormous amount of time and energy that you could be using toward making a significant difference at work.

To understand which temperament you have, you need to do another homework assignment. Go to and click on “Take the Test”. It’s a free personality test. It will take you about ten minutes to do it. Then you will receive your test results for free. Please write the result down. It will look something like “ISTJ” or “ENFP”. There are 16 different results. You will get one of them.

According to Keirsey, here is how to decode the result you receive:

SP – The Artisan Temperament

SJ – The Guardian Temperament

NF – The Idealist Temperament

NT – The Rationalist Temperament

You were born with your temperament. You had no choice. It is your key to making a difference in the world.

From your temperament evolves your character. Your character is who you really are today. Your character is made of your habitual ways of talking and the things you talk about and the ways you interact with other people and the attitudes you have toward different people and different situations. Your habits come from your beliefs. Your character is the beliefs that drive your habits. Your character is always evolving, but the evolution always stays within the confines of your temperament. You can change your beliefs, but at this moment they are what they are.

If you are really going to make a significant difference at work, you need to make sure you do your work by staying true to your temperament and character. For example, an Idealist would make a lousy Artisan, and an Artisan would make a lousy Idealist. You can’t be someone you’re not. You can’t do something well that you don’t believe. Approach your work from the perspective of who you really are as a person in terms of your temperament and your character, the beliefs that drive your habitual behaviors. We can waste a lifetime trying to be someone we’re not. Accept your Self as you are and apply that Self toward fulfilling your purpose at work.

Your Personal Needs

There’s one more aspect of your Self I want you to think about, and that is your specific needs.

Here’s your next work assignment. Take a few minutes and jot down your answers to these questions:

(Autonomy) How much freedom do you need at work? (Range: Tell me what to do and watch over me, Tell me the outcome you want me to hit and I’ll find a way to get there, or I’ll decide on what outcomes to go after and how to get there.)

(Competency) How much ability do you want to have? (Range: I can do this job, I can do this job well, or I have mastered the ability to do this job.)

(Recognition) How much recognition do I need in my work? (Range: My boss knows my name, I am acknowledged publicly for the work I do, or My title and awards are continually updated to reflect my current status in the organization.)

(Fulfillment) How much fulfillment do I need at work? (Range: I receive a paycheck, I enjoy my work, or I feel deeply fulfilled in doing what I do.)

(Relationships) What kind of relationships do I need at work? (Range: It’s socially fun to work with these people, I’m part of a great team that does great work, or I feel tremendously purposeful when I interact with these people.)

(Organizational Impact) What kind of an impact do you need to make on the organization? (Range: I’m a member of a team, I influence the way other people think in the organization, or I’m the final decision-maker on important topics.)

Now go back and read over your answers and add in any more thoughts you have.

Apply Your Self toward Your Purpose

Your Personal ID consists of your temperament, your character, and your personal needs. Your Personal ID (personality) is unique to you. It’s like your Social Security Number. No one else has your Personal ID.

Ok, it’s time for one more work assignment. Write out your answer to this question in a paragraph or bullet point format:

How can I apply my temperament and character toward fulfilling my purpose at work while still staying true to my personal needs?

Okay, try that again. Keep writing. Keep thinking, and then write some more. It’s not an easy assignment, but it’s also not an impossible assignment.

Only you can determine how to apply your Self, which is all of you, the whole kit and caboodle, toward fulfilling your purpose at work. Of course, the same is true for fulfilling your purpose in life beyond work.


Please take some time to clarify your purpose at work. Understand why your work matters.

Please take some time to understand your Self. Read Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey and take the test at Think about your character and the beliefs that drive your habitual behaviors. Think about your personal needs at work.

And then please think, really think, about how you can apply your Self toward fulfilling your purpose at work. It is how you will make a truly significant difference, a tremendously positive and lasting impact on an important outcome.


Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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