The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Positive Approach To Pursuing A Purpose  

People love to have a sense of purpose. They love to do something they believe in and work towards achieving a stimulating goal.

Sometimes this may involve pursuing a short term purpose, such as completing a satisfying task. Sometimes it may involve doing something each day towards achieving their life goals.

There are many approaches to exploring this theme. If you type ‘How to find your purpose’ into a search engine you will find hundreds of references.

Some build on the philosophical and practical approaches outlined by writers such as Viktor Frankl and Richard Leider. Some mention topics such as pursuing your passion. Some focus on how you can use your talents to serve other people.

Different people develop a sense of purpose in different ways. Here are some of the most common routes they follow towards taking this step.

This article explores a positive approach to clarifying a purpose. Imagine that you want to explore this route in your own way.

You can start by focusing on your personal strengths and positive goals. You can then translate these into a clear purpose, follow your principles and work towards achieving your picture of success. Let’s explore some of the ways you can take these steps.

Personal Strengths

There are many way to find your strengths. When doing so it can be useful to focus on the deeply satisfying activities in which you feel alive or do fine work.

Why take this route? Sometimes a person can be good at something but no longer find it satisfying. Such a person may find themselves pigeon-holed at work and always be given certain tasks to complete.

The person may feel duty driven to do such tasks, but no longer find them rewarding. This can lead to them being a reliable employee, but they no longer feel stimulated. Bearing this in mind, here are some exercises that can help to find your strengths and do satisfying work.

Clarifying what gives
you positive energy 

Energy is life. This exercise invites you to list the things that give you positive energy personally or professionally.

These may include doing certain activities, being with certain people, following certain passions, doing certain professional projects or whatever. Here are some of the answers that people give when doing this exercise.

The things that give
me positive energy are:

Encouraging people … Spending time with our children … Cooking for friends … Caring for animals … Showing kindness … Nurturing gardens … Building boats … Teaching wellbeing.  

Helping people to find satisfying work … Fixing certain kinds of problems … Making things better … Working on new ways to treat cancer … Mediating disputes … Leading pioneering companies.

The activities that give you positive energy – even when you simply think about them – can provide clues to your strengths. So, if you wish, trying completing the following exercise.

Clarifying your
successful style

Everybody has a successful style of working. They often demonstrate this when translating their strengths into action and doing satisfying work.

This is a long exercise, but it can be worthwhile because it highlights your preferred way of working. The exercise invites you to do the following things. 

Describe two or three satisfying projects that you have done in your life. 

The word project can be used in its widest sense. For example: writing an article, organising a fun run, launching a web site, solving a particular problem, leading a team or whatever.

Describe each of these projects in turn and the things that made them satisfying.

Try to be as specific as possible, especially about the things that made them satisfying. Looking at these projects, can you see any recurring patterns? These often provide clues to your preferred style.

Describe your successful style of working – the principles you follow when doing satisfying work.

Describe how you can follow these principles in the future.

You may, for example, find it satisfying to do something you really care about, set a stimulating goal and work with motivated people. You may also prefer to work with a manager who gives you freedom within parameters, follow a certain rhythm in your daily work, build in quick successes, work to a deadline and present your work. 

Alternatively, you may have a totally different successful style. You may also have two successful styles: one when you are working alone, one when working with other people. See what the exercise reveals.

Different people uncover different patterns when doing this exercise. Alison is somebody who expresses a recurring theme in her life. She loves to:

Create stimulating environments in which people can achieve peak performance.

“That sounds a common theme,” somebody may say.

Yes, it is. But Alison’s special contribution is the way she expresses this vocation through various vehicles to do valuable work.

During her life she has, for example, run arts festivals, led great companies and mentored creative performers. Alison is a superb orchestrator who follows her successful style when pursuing her vocation. This often involves her taking the following steps.

She finds something she feels passionately about … She sets a stimulating goal – it must score at least 8/10 on the stimulation scale … She clarifies the strategy and gets the resources required to do the job.

She gathers talented people who want to embark on the adventure … She encourages them to use their strengths to make their best contributions … She ensures they stay on track and deliver the goods … She then encourages people do something extra to add that touch of class.

Alison’s projects often have a sense of performance – something brilliant that must be delivered by a certain deadline. Whilst calm on the surface, she is adrenalin-driven.

The difference between her and many other driven people is that she likes her team to take the credit. She is happy for others to plant the flag on top of the mountain.

Alison follows this path when pursuing her vocation. As mentioned earlier, the red thread in her life is to:

Create stimulating environments in which people can achieve peak performance.

Whilst she sometimes loves doing creative work alone – such as photography – she gets an even greater kick from enabling people to produce something magical. She is now focusing on how she can follow these principles even more in the future.

You will, of course, have your own successful style. Clarifying this style – plus the things that give you positive energy – can provide materials for the focusing on the next theme.

Clarifying your strengths

There are many ways to find your strengths. Here are some of the questions it can be useful to explore.

What are the deeply satisfying activities in which you deliver As rather than Bs or Cs? When are you in your element – at ease and yet able to excel? When do you flow, focus, finish and then, as a by-product, find fulfilment? 

When do see the destination quickly? When do you go ‘A, B … and then leap to … Z’? What are the activities in which you see patterns quickly? Where do you have good personal radar and seem to know what will happen before it happens?  

Where do you have the equivalent of a photographic memory? What are the activities in which you have natural self-discipline? When do you score highly on drive, detail and delivery? What the activities in which you always do the basics and then add the brilliance? 

When do you make complicated things look simple? What are the activities in which you are calm and solve problems by focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results? What are the activities in which you reach the goal and then add that touch of class? 

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the deeply satisfying activities in which you deliver As.

These may be particular kinds of projects, tasks or other activities. Try to be as specific as possible and give concrete examples.

Describe the activities in which you deliver Bs and Cs.

The B activities are probably those that you can do reasonably well. They are not your As, however, or maybe they were once but now you get bored doing them. The C activities are those in which you have little aptitude or desire to learn.

Describe how you can build on your strengths in the future.

Positive Goals

Imagine that you have clarified some of your strengths. The next step is to explore your personal and professional goals. Here are two exercises on this theme.

Clarifying the top three positive goals
you want to focus on in your life

This exercise invites you to start by brainstorming the positive things you want to do in your life. Here are some answers that individuals give when exploring this theme.

I want:

To provide a happy childhood for our children … To encourage our children to build on their strengths … To help our children to learn from positive models … To help our teenage children to find and do work they love. 

To maintain a sense of gratitude … To continue to have a healthy lifestyle … To keep following my passions and learn how to manage the painful things in life … To experience living in Asia, South America and the United States.

To pass on knowledge that helps people to shape their future lives … To build a pioneering company … To keep stretching myself and achieve peak performance … To do work that helps to build a better world.

Start by brainstorming ideas. Then try whittling these down to the top three positive goals that you want to focus on in your life.

You can, of course, write these in headline terms and then add examples that bring these to life. So the final format may look something like the following.

Clarifying your lifetime
picture of success 

This is a similar exercise. It has a slightly different approach to setting goals, however, by clarifying your overall lifetime picture of success.

Everybody is different and everybody has different pictures of success. What is your picture?

Imagine you are looking back on your life in later years. What are the things that you would like to have done by then that for you will mean you have had a successful life? What will help you to feel a sense of peace?

The exercise invites you to start from your destination and define your overall life goals. People often cover three themes when doing this exercise.

Positive Relationships

They focus on how they want to be remembered as a parent, partner or friend.

Positive Memories

They focus on how they want to enjoy life, pursue experiences and have no regrets.

Positive Contribution 

They focus on how they want to follow their vocation, do good work or make a positive contribution to the world.

You may prefer to clarify your life goals in another way. Whatever approach you take, however, clarifying these goals can act as a long-term compass.

You can bear in mind these aims when making key decisions. When given the opportunity to take a new job, for example, you can ask yourself: “Will taking this step help me to achieve my longer-term picture of success?”


People love to have a sense of purpose. They love to do meaningful things in their lives and work.

Many people’s primary purpose, of course, is simply to get access to the basics of life. They spend their days focusing on how to get food and be healthy.

Many other people have access to these basics. Some then simply want to accumulate money, but some want to go further. They want to give to others and pursue a satisfying purpose.

Here are some of the ways that individuals describe their sense of purpose. They may, however, express these in different ways.

I want to be kind in my daily life and work … I want to help people to build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success … I want to show people the power of slow thinking … I want to spread positive news across the planet.

I want to enable people to shape their futures … I want to create enriching environments in which people can grow … I want to create beautiful things that bring people joy and give them positive memories for life. 

I want to help people to see what they have in common and find peaceful solutions to conflicts … I want to ensure that as many people as possible have access to clean water … I want to develop pioneering technology that provides people with cheap renewable energy.

Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, spent much of his life helping people to find their meaning in life. Below is a video from 1972 in which he explores this theme. He said:

Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfilment. 

Some people may have a number of overlapping purposes. This is important to bear in mind if a person starts agonising about trying to find the one big thing they should focus on in their life.

Seth Godin underlined another key point. He said that it could sometimes be more fruitful to focus on what we care about rather than being too concerned with our calling. Here is a short piece he wrote on this topic.

Seth Godin

In search of your calling

I don’t think we have a calling. I do think it’s possible to have a caring.

A calling implies that there’s just one thing for you, just one thing you’re supposed to do. 

What we most need in our lives, though, is something worth doing, worth it because we care.

There are plenty of forces pushing us to not care. Bosses, systems, bureaucracies and the fear of mattering.

None of them are worth sacrificing something as important as caring.

The desire to serve others is another common theme when developing a sense of purpose. Many people believe in the philosophy described by Rabindranath Tagore.

There are many ways to clarify how you want to serve others. One approach is to explore the positive things you want to give to people during your time on the planet. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme.

The Positive Things I
Want To Give People

The positive things I want to give to
people during my time on the planet are:




your purpose

As we have seen, there are many ways to begin developing your purpose. We will soon move on to the exercise that invites you to take this step.

Before doing this, it can be useful to revisit several of the earlier exercises. These have invited you:

To clarify the things that give you positive energy, your successful style and your strengths. 

To clarify your positive goals and picture of success.

To clarify the positive things that you want to give to people.  

Looking at the answers that you have given, can you see any recurring theme or themes? Bearing these in mind, what may be one of the things you feel really compelled to do in your life? Can you summarise this in a one-liner?

Different people give different answers to this question. The answer I give, for example, is:

I want to be a positive encourager and help to build a positive planet.

Some individuals answer by describing the philosophy they want to follow. Some describe a personal strength they want to use to serve others. Some describe a specific passion they want to pursue.

As mentioned earlier, there are some things to bear in mind when describing your purpose. It is important: 

To focus on something you feel really compelled to do.

To begin clarifying your purpose by writing a one-liner that begins with the words ‘I want to …’

To recognise that it may take a lifetime to get the wording right, but this one-liner can give a pointer to your purpose.

Here is the exercise on defining a purpose. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific thing you really want to do. 

Describe the specific things you want to do to translate this purpose into action.

We will revisit this second part – translating the theme into action – later in the article. For the moment, however, it can be useful to begin thinking about the specific things you can do to follow your purpose. Here is the exercise.


Imagine that you have developed a sense of purpose. What are the principles you want to follow to translate this into action? Let’s look at some people who take this approach in their own way.

The Dalai Llama says, for example: “My religion is kindness.” He therefore tries to express kindness in his daily life. He does this when communicating with people, giving television interviews and doing other activities.

Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, highlights one of her principles in the title of her book Everybody Matters. Whether the person is poor or a President, she aims to be warm and make the person feel the centre of her world.

She aims to show the person they matter, to show respect and to listen to their story. When appropriate, she does what she can to help them to achieve their potential. Here is a video of her talking about her memoir Everybody Matters.

Different people believe in following their own chosen principles. Looking at my own life, here are some that I try to follow.

I want to be a positive encourager in my daily life and work.

I want to encourage people to build on their strengths and achieve their picture of success. 

I want to pass on practical tools that enable people, teams and organisations to achieve ongoing success. 

The next step is for me to translate these principles into daily actions. It means focusing on the actual things I can do to encourage people, identify their strengths and, when appropriate, help them to achieve their goals.

This involves making and rehearsing the action plans. It then involves doing my best when being with individuals, facilitating mentoring sessions or running workshops for teams.

You will have your own set of principles. If you wish try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe your purpose – the specific thing you really want to do.

Describe the specific principles you want to follow to pursue your purpose 

Describe the specific things you can do to translate these principles into action.

Picture Of Success

Imagine you are clear on your purpose and the principles you want to follow. What are the goals you want to achieve by taking these steps? What is your picture of success? Let’s look at the path that one person took pursue his aims.

Richard St. Barbe Baker chose to dedicate his life to showing people the value of planting trees. This epiphany came about at a young age.

Writing in his book My Life My Trees, he describes how in 1894, at the age of five, he had an unforgettable experience that charted his future path. After much coaxing, his nurse allowed him to explore the woods by himself. He continues:

No explorer of space probing the secrets of other planets could have felt more exultation that I did at that moment.

Soon I was completely isolated in the luxuriant, tangled growth of ferns which were well above my head. In my infant mind I seemed to have entered a fairyland of my dreams.  

I wandered on as in a dream, all sense of time and space lost. I became intoxicated with the beauty all around me, immersed in the joyousness and exultation of feeling part of it all.

I had entered the temple of the wood. I sank to the ground in a state of ecstasy; everything was intensely vivid – the call of a distant cuckoo seemed just for me. The overpowering beauty of it all entered my very being.

At that moment my heart brimmed over with a sense of unspeakable thankfulness which has followed me through the years since that woodland re-birth. 

I was in love with life: I was indeed born again, although I could not have explained what had happened to me then.

Richard was a changed person. Returning from his walk in the woods, he found the commonplace things in life had a new beauty.

The bread he ate tasted crustier and more delicious. The grumpy old gardener looked like a favourite uncle. His parents gave him even more affection than they had done the previous day.

At least, that was how it seemed. Twenty-six years later he translated this passion into his life’s work.

He visited Kenya in 1920. Enlisting the backing of chiefs and elders, he started a programme that led to planting over one million trees. He then co-founded The Men of Trees and was invited to speak around the world.

After helping President Roosevelt to establish the Civil Conservation Corp, he instigated the Save The Redwoods campaign in California. He also started the Green Front action group, returning to Africa to develop re-forestation work in the Sahara. During his life Richard is believed to have personally planted many millions of trees.

He focused on a crystal clear vision. He wanted to save the Californian Redwoods. After crossing America and seeing the trees for the first time in 1931, he wrote:

It was here that I came upon superb trees representing the supreme achievement of tree growth in the world today. Here it seemed that my search for the beautiful had ended.

This, I decided must be known as the Grove of Understanding. It was here that I visualised international plays and youth gatherings. What better setting could there be in which to plan the better world of tomorrow?

Richard then set three goals that he worked towards during the rest of his life. These were the following.

To save the trees for posterity.

To provide a magnificent backdrop where young people could meet and marvel at the beauty of the Redwoods and the planet.

To inspire young people to work together to hand over this legacy to future generations.

Here is the first part of an interview with Richard. This was filmed in 1981.

Some people, like Richard, have a grand vision. Many people, however, set shorter-term goals. They then translate these into a clear picture of success.

Imagine that you have begun to develop a sense of purpose and the principles you want to follow. It can be useful to look ahead and translate these into specific goals.

You may want to keep building a loving family, help students to take charge of shaping their futures or enable people to find satisfying careers. You may want to write a book, make films, build a pioneering company or deliver a stimulating project.

Looking ahead, what are the real results you want to achieve? What will people be saying, thinking and feeling that will show you have reached these goals?

Bearing these things in mind, what is your picture of success? What wll be the benefits – both for yourself and other people?

There are many ways to find and follow a purpose. This article has explored the positive approach. Here is the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe your purpose – the specific thing you really want to do.

Describe the specific results you want to achieve by pursuing your purpose and following your chosen principles.

Describe the specific benefits of achieving these results.


    Leave a Reply

    You can use these HTML tags

    <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>