With Martin G. Moore

Episode #201

Finding Your Purpose: How important is it?

I recently came across two articles on the role that purpose plays in your career.

The first, by Marcus Buckingham, proposed the idea that finding a career with purpose is actually a lie. The second, by Tom Rath, argued that without purpose, there will be negative consequences for your long-term prosperity, happiness, and wellbeing.

Which of these is true? Are both true to some extent?

 It feels as though purpose has become a panacea—“Follow your purpose”, we’re told. These days, it almost seems as though pursuing anything other than your life’s true purpose is somehow frowned upon.

In this episode, I look at the role that purpose plays in your career, and what else might matter. I also give you some ideas for putting ‘purpose’ into perspective, so that your career can be fulfilling, no matter what.


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Episode #201 Finding Your Purpose: How important is it?

Recently, I came across two articles on Business Insider, which piqued my interest. They were both written by men who were authors, consultants, and celebrated thought-leaders in their closely related fields. The first was written by Marcus Buckingham, whose article proposed the idea that finding a career with purpose is actually a lie. The second article was from Tom Rath, who postulated that at some point you must have a purpose or it’s going to affect your long term wellbeing, prosperity and happiness.

Which of these is true?

Are they both true to some extent?

I love a good intellectual challenge, so I decided to dive in and try to figure out what the basis was for these vastly different conclusions. I’ve had a feeling for a while that purpose has become a panacea: “Follow your purpose,” we’re told. These days, it almost seems as though pursuing anything other than your true purpose is frowned upon. And it’s probably fair to say that the generations coming into the workforce now are far more purpose-driven than I ever was. Today, I’ll look at what the research says, and I’ll share what I’ve learned through my own experiences.


Purpose drives wellbeing 

Tom Rath is an author, researcher and academic. His best known book is StrengthsFinder 2.0, and it’s a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Rath consults on engagement, wellbeing, and of course, our strengths. What he says is that, at some point, you have to go beyond the pay-check,“You deserve a job that serves your life, and you deserve a life that serves your job, career or higher purpose.”

At this stage, I have to tell you, I found myself mildly triggered by the word deserve. It’s my very strong belief that I deserve nothing, except the things that I’m prepared to diligently pursue myself. No one owes me anything. Life itself owes me nothing. We all make our choices and we get exactly what we deserve as a result of those choices.

Having said that, Rath’s research is incredibly interesting. He looked at purpose from the perspective of general health and happiness. Of the 39 activities that were nominated for the study, only one rated lower than work – and that was being at home, sick in bed. Rath’s view is that bad jobs actually shorten human life expectancy. In fact, a bad job could be more detrimental than being unemployed. Now, mental approach and framing has a lot to do with this – Rath suggests that we shouldn’t think of work in terms of a pay-check, but rather in terms of improving other people’s lives.

He undertook a longitudinal study of a number of people over a nine year period. People who had a strong sense of purpose in that first year, were both financially better off and happier at the end of year nine. According to Rath, we tend to set low expectations for ourselves. We are our own worst enemy. We take a course of studying or a job based on the money, and it’s not until much later that we think about our purpose. I’m absolutely sure that’s true.

Purpose is a lie

Marcus Buckingham’s best known book is probably his first, which was called First, Break All The Rules which he released over 20 years ago. In 2011, he also released a book on strengths called StandOut, so he has a very similar background to Tom Rath.

It was actually Buckingham’s article that caught my eye. He says, “Purpose is a lie.” That’s a pretty strong statement. But he’s not rubbishing the concept of purpose: having purpose is definitely a good thing. It’s more the case that overly focusing on purpose is distracting, and it even makes one feel guilty.

He uses some industry examples to demonstrate this: nursing and teaching are two industries that rate high on purpose. But the day-to-day stresses of the job regularly spit people out. Buckingham’s view is that purpose is far less important than the tasks that fill your day. He says that some of the most successful people he knows haven’t figured out their true purpose yet – and I’m sure that’s true too.

To get real joy and satisfaction, you should find out which tasks give you joy and bring you energy. The ones that move you into a flow state, where you can be doing them for hours on end and just not notice the time flying by. Buckingham calls these “red threads”. They’re the tasks that energize you and that you can get lost in. Now, this is super interesting. I can entirely relate to this. The concept of having work that you enjoy is critical. And I suspect that there’s also something to the view that there’s a certain pressure that comes with focusing too much on trying to find your life’s purpose.

It’s an unspoken pressure that comes from all the books, blogs, articles, and podcasts that talk about pursuing your true purpose. It’s almost as if, unless you’re pursuing your true purpose, you are somehow less worthy than those people who are. But what are we actually talking about here?

Don’t forget the object of the exercise: to live fulfilling, worthwhile, and happy lives. There are lots of elements that contribute to this which are too numerous to get into here. But I do love the quote from Dale Carnegie, who wrote the classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He said, “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.”


We each find it in completely different ways. Now, here’s where we get to what I consider to be a very important distinction. There’s a big difference between having a purpose and living your life’s purpose – and confusing these two things can be quite dangerous. You could spend a lot of time agonizing over your life’s purpose, all the while watching your life pass meaninglessly by without a purpose.

Having a purpose is awesome. It gets you out of bed in the morning and it puts a spring in your step. For example, I know people who find deep purpose in their job, working for a company that delivers renewable energy projects. They can see that they’re speeding our transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a low carbon future. It is noble, it is worthwhile and no doubt, brings deep satisfaction.

I know what I’m going to say next isn’t fashionable. But interestingly, I found purpose in my executive roles – even when they weren’t perceived to be such noble pursuits. Many people were quite judgemental that I ran a company that predominantly operated coal-fired power stations – but that company provided an essential service.

Without my company’s assets running efficiently, people would’ve paid many multiples higher for their electricity. They would’ve worried about intermittent blackouts and losses of lighting and air conditioning. Industries that rely on stable, secure energy supply wouldn’t have been able to operate, and their customers wouldn’t have been able to benefit from the products they produce…

Historically, cheap and reliable energy has brought prosperity and a higher standard of living to hundreds of millions of people globally. But I also knew – being very pragmatic – that the only chance I had to personally influence a sensible transition from carbon-based energy to renewable energy, was to do it as an ‘inside job’.

Quite separate from this, was the purpose I carried from industry to industry, company to company, and role to role. That purpose was to improve the lives of the stakeholders of the company: customers, staff, suppliers, and shareholders. Running a business more efficiently, producing outcomes that may have been previously unheard of – these things fulfilled my purpose to have real impact. Was it my life’s purpose? Well, no – but there was purpose in what I did. It was ‘a’ purpose. Discovering my true nature and purpose was a different matter altogether.


Neither Buckingham or Rath talk about satisfaction being derived purely from making money. They both see it largely as a transactional process that doesn’t satisfy our real desires or drives. I believe in that one hundred percent , but let’s not get silly about this.

I’ve never been driven purely to acquire wealth. I’m not materialistic, and the older I get, the less meaning it has in my life. I’ve always seen money as a byproduct of doing the right things with the right intent, and doing them really well. Excellence in performance and superior results are rewarded. But I have to say, life is so much better when money is not one of your dominant concerns.

Money gives you choices, options, and flexibility. Being able to live comfortably and not worry about how you’re going to pay the bills is incredibly valuable. And until that concern is removed, you’ll be forever trapped at the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, never being able to focus properly on self-actualization. And this is critical if you want to pursue your purpose.

You don’t need to have a billion dollars in the bank – and if you’re miserable now, then the billion dollars won’t make you any happier. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your purpose should be the only thing, and that money is unimportant. Although Buddhists may argue this point with me, I really believe that in our developed world, money is an essential enabler for a life of fulfillment.


When I left school, I started out studying law at the University of Sydney – and I have to tell you, I had zero purpose. I didn’t particularly want to be a lawyer, and found the law itself to be rather dull. Anyone who studied federal constitutional law in Australia will know exactly what I mean: no purpose, no fun. The fact that I never completed that degree was entirely foreseeable – some might even say, inevitable.

Then I moved into the burgeoning field of computer programming and software development – and this is long before tech was cool. Once again, clearly not my life’s purpose, probably not even ‘a’ purpose. I developed software programs for financial processing in banks, for passenger load predictions in airlines, and for trade waste analysis in water supply utilities.

But I really enjoyed what I was doing – this is the classic red thread that Marcus Buckingham described. And I was really happy doing what I was doing… until I wasn’t. I got bored with the technical nature of software development, and I wanted to grow and to be challenged.

So I moved into project management. Much tougher roles, leading people in much more challenging environments – I loved it! I stretched myself and I learned quickly. Lo and behold, quite accidentally, purpose was starting to creep in, as I could see the impact a well run project could have on everyone involved. Every day, I came to work with high energy, even when the going was at its toughest. This really filled my cup for a few years.

But then, of course, I needed a new challenge. My red threads were once again, becoming a little dull. I realized that as much fun as I was having running software development projects, it wasn’t making a material difference. IT was awesome, but it wasn’t where the action was. It wasn’t the main game. So in 2001, I decided to put a plan in place to break out of IT and into mainstream business.

Was this my life’s true purpose? Well, no, not really. I was just looking for another red thread – and I found it. This was the start of a number of years of pursuing my C-level roles, which eventually led me to my defining corporate role as Chief Executive of CS Energy. Right throughout this time, I found purpose every day and many red threads to pursue.

I had an incredibly satisfying and rewarding corporate career, but it wasn’t an expression of my true nature and purpose. I worked out in 2007 that I was put on this planet to do something different, but I didn’t know what form it was going to take or how to enact it until 2018, when I started this business with my daughter, Emma.

My life’s purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally. And although I didn’t know it at the time, everything I did leading up to this moment was channeling into my purpose – even though I had no idea what that was. All the red threads, all the things I learned about finding purpose in my work, prepared me perfectly for my higher calling – and I didn’t work it out until I was in my mid-fifties. So don’t panic if your life’s purpose hasn’t yet revealed itself to you.


1. Play to your strengths

Your strengths are a combination of two things:

  • What are you good at?

  • What do you enjoy doing?

If you’re going to find the red threads, the tasks you really love working on, that make your job fun and interesting, play to your strengths. This is a no regrets move, so start here.

2. Don’t force it 

You can’t just allocate some time, and sit down on a Saturday afternoon with a piece of paper, a pen and a nice gin and tonic to work out your life’s purpose. It’s a process of deep introspection and discovery. And when you first find your true nature and purpose, it may be entirely unclear as to what that actually means – so don’t force it.

Don’t feel insecure or inferior just because you haven’t yet discovered your purpose: most people never find it. Take your time, and have faith that it will come.

3. Don’t wait for it either

If you ignore it all together, you may find that the years slip by and you’ve effectively painted yourself into a corner. You’re trapped by your circumstances, and it’s too hard to break out and do something else. Be mindful and aware without being compulsively obsessed. We all have a true nature and purpose that’s waiting for us to uncover.

4. Find purpose in what you do before you find your life’s purpose 

There’s a huge amount of purpose to be found in the little things. This is the distinction between a purpose and your life’s purpose. I found purpose in making people’s experience better, bringing greater satisfaction and value to customers, helping an organization to perform better so that it was more likely to be self-perpetuating.

5. When you do find your purpose, act sensibly 

Finding your purpose can actually be dangerous. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you might follow your purpose right off the edge of a cliff. Knowing what you’re meant to do and being equipped to do it are two entirely different things. If your true purpose requires you to run a business – as many of them do – then you’d better work out how to run a business before launching headlong into your purpose with romantic notions of success.

The side of the road is littered with the corpses of people who had a clear purpose, but couldn’t manage a pig to get dirty. Remember, it took me 10 years to go from knowing my purpose to actually being able to execute on that knowledge.

6. Until then, do the stuff that you enjoy and that makes you money 

Follow your strengths, find your red threads, and find purpose in the little things. Do what brings you joy and satisfaction. And never work in a toxic environment – life’s way too short.

The concept of purpose is as essential as it is fascinating. But don’t be caught up in the hype that makes you feel that you are somehow less, if you aren’t living out your true purpose every day. Find the things you enjoy in your work, make enough money so that you can free yourself up to think about higher order pursuits, and… be patient!

Your purpose will come, and you’ll then have a much more difficult choice to make: Now that I know what my purpose is, do I have the courage to pursue it?

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