The Difference Between Purpose and Goals


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by Jayaram V

It is important in life to have a central purpose so that you can build your life around it. It is also important to have a purpose for every action or project you undertake, so that you will not only know what you are doing and why you are doing it but also how to use your energies and resources in the desired direction to achieve the best results. It also propels and sustains your motivation besides helping you devise proper strategy and define appropriate measurable goals.

On the surface, life has no explicit purpose. No one is everyone is born with a predefined purpose. We create purpose either under guidance or pressure from parents and peers or due to circumstances and social pressures we experience. The purpose one may have in life is mostly defined by the environment in which one lives. Beliefs and values play a vital role in shaping it. In the following discussion, we focus upon the difference between purpose and goals and their relative importance in our success and happiness.

The purpose is not the same as goals. A goal is what you aim to achieve. The purpose tells you why you have the goal and why you want to achieve it. It is always good to have goals that are backed by a purpose. At times, you may have goals without a noticeable purpose of your own. It can happen in work situations when you are compelled to meet certain deadlines but do not feel involved or included.

In those circumstances, you may  feel alienated, driven and demoralized. The purpose gives you one or more reasons to achieve your goals or accomplish your chosen ends. Therefore, having a purpose in life or in any effort is important. With that, you will have clarity and the feeling that you are in control of your life.

However, it is important to remember this. Although the purpose provides you with a reason to engage in some action or pursue a goal, it is not the same as reason. A reason can always be thought of after an action has been performed. Sometimes, it can be a mere excuse to justify an action. The purpose has to exist before you commit to an action, and in most cases, it reveals your intent.

Each goal has a defined end. Since it is also measurable, you will know when and whether you have accomplished it. The purpose has no defined and measurable end. It is a driving force, which keeps you moving in a certain direction and provides you with the rational to engage in certain actions. It is usually shaped by your needs, values and beliefs, and you will not easily know whether you have achieved it to the extent you wanted or desired.

However, if you have done everything that you could possibly do and given your best, you may experience a sense of fulfillment or even self-esteem, which is an indication that you are progressing in the desired direction. Sometimes your purpose may be to just give a shot to achieve a particular goal, knowing that you have certain limitations or you wanted to overcome certain mental blockages. In such circumstances, even if you fail to achieve your goals, you may feel fulfilled because you achieved your purpose.

For example, you may want to achieve self-sufficiency. It is your purpose. For that, you may set a few monetary or health goals. Similarly, a woman may start dating men because she wants to get married and settle in life. The purpose is to get married and settle in life, and the goal is to find a suitable person for that through dating. Thus, as you can see, a purpose provides you with impetus and direction to achieve predetermined goals.

You may also read Creating a Purpose Driven Life

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