The Inner Journey Series, Step #6: Identify Your Higher Purpose

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 20, Issue No. 11a
April 1, 2022

By Dan Coughlin



As we make our way on this inner journey, we work our way through surrendering selfishness, embracing virtue, sticking to our morals, and identifying our higher purpose.

A higher purpose is why a person is here at a given time.

A person’s higher purpose can change as life circumstances change. When caring for an aging ill parent or a child with a serious disease, a person’s higher purpose can be to focus on that one person. Perhaps a higher purpose could be trying to help young people learn valuable lessons for later in life regarding teamwork, communication, caring, and treating each other with dignity. Or if a person has a very low income and is trying to clothe and feed six children then the person’s higher purpose may be to focus day after day on trying to be extremely disciplined in their spending.

Another type of focus may be to try to make a difference for a very large group of people. I often think about the people who started and who work at M.A.D.D, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Susan Komen Race for the Cure and Alcoholics Anonymous. These are people trying to make a lasting impact in the lives of many people whom they will never meet.

What is Your Higher Purpose?

On the road to inner excellence, identifying your higher purpose provides clarity on how you can gather your internal forces of passions and talents and values and direct them toward something you consider to be extraordinarily important.

One challenge is that no one else can tell you what your higher purpose is or should be about. Only you can decide this. There is no right answer or wrong answer. No one should ever feel that someone else’s higher purpose is better than their own. This is not a contest of comparisons. Each of us has to land our own higher purpose.

This is another key area where I encourage you to use your tools of reflection, discussion, prayer, discernment, and decision. Just as an archeologist has to dig to uncover valuable remnants from the past, so too do you need to dig to uncover your higher purpose.

Here a few questions that might help you in identifying or reidentifying your higher purpose:

  • Beyond just existing and enjoying life, why do you think you are here right now?
  • If you could make one difference in the world that you are not currently making, what would it be and why do you want to make that difference?
  • If you already have identified your higher purpose, who would be worse off if you stopped working to fulfill it and why do you feel they would be worse off?
  • Is there an idealistic dream you had as a youth that could help people in some way today if you stirred your energies toward realizing it?

Please allow yourself the time and the energy to really pour yourself into answering these questions. It might take a week or two, or even much longer, for your answers to emerge. I encourage you to just start putting words on paper, or if you are a visual person start gathering images, until a clear answer starts to emerge.

Little by little you will mine out this golden jewel within you, which is your Higher Purpose.

My Own Journey with Identifying a Higher Purpose

This has been a life-long search for me.

In grade school I used to go to the YMCA with my siblings to learn how to swim. I had a dream of starting an organization like a YMCA where people could come to learn how to swim and lots of other things like teamwork and rope climbing and working together.

In college I applied for a job as the director of a local youth soccer program. I wrote a paper for the interview called, Soccer Heaven. My idea was to create an organization where young people between the ages of 5 and 14 could meet to do their homework and learn life skills like goalsetting and action plans and self-esteem building and play soccer. I thought this would be a great way to prepare people for high school, college, and beyond where soccer would play just one part of their development. I didn’t get that job.

After college I was a college head soccer coach for five years. My focus was not primarily on winning games, but rather on recruiting players from all over the country and bringing them together to develop them as individuals and as a team.

Then starting in 1990 my focus moved to teaching high school students ideas on self-confidence, self-discipline, goalsetting, and achieving their goals.

By 1998 I realized that business people in for-profit organizations were willing to pay me for fulfilling what I thought was my higher purpose. So I have spent most of the last 24 years being paid to do the very activities that I did before on a volunteer basis or for a small amount of money. During 18 of those 24 years I volunteered to teach classes to middle school students at my local church on Christian spirituality.

And now I’m 59. What is my higher purpose? Why am I here now?

I still have my day job as an executive coach, seminar leader, and guide for strategic business meetings. But there is something deeper and higher that is bubbling inside of me.

I want to help anyone around the world who is willing to listen and to do the hard work involved to develop themselves to fulfill their own higher purpose. I want to serve as a helper, a guide on the side, for these people. I very, very much want to help people go on the inner journey that can flow into them becoming more effective as individuals, better at whatever they do, better leaders, better team-builders, better managers and executives, and better at fulfilling their higher purpose, whatever that might be.

My dream is that every person regardless of any label that anyone might try to place on him or her can identify and fulfill their higher purpose.

Ideas – Thoughts – Actions – Habits – Character – Destiny

Starting back in 1985 I have seen several variations on the same concept, which basically says, “When we hear an idea it becomes a thought in our head. If we hold on to that thought, it becomes an action. If we stick to that action long enough, it becomes a habit. Eventually our habits become our character. And our character becomes our destiny.”

When I first read that in my first month after college graduation, it stuck with me. The starting point of changing our destiny is by focusing on certain ideas. And that became my life’s work and my higher purpose. I’ve tried over the past 37 years to search for useful ideas and then to combine and hone and teach the ideas that I thought would be useful for other people on their journey to fulfilling their higher purpose.

And that is where my life’s higher purpose is taking me:

To teach ideas to people of all ages all around the world and from all of life’s various situations and circumstances who want to really dig in and take the work seriously on their road to fulfilling their higher purpose.

I can’t say exactly how this is all going to unfold. The first step for me, and for you, is to identify or reidentify our higher purpose.

Don’t worry how you are going to fulfill that higher purpose. For now, just focus on identifying your higher purpose.

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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