How to uncover your career purpose with 3 simple questions


“You don’t create your purpose, you uncover it.”

Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor,

and author of Man’s Search for Meaning

Knowing and living our career purpose is like vaccinating our self to be future ready. It can help us to thrive in the face of constant volatility and change. So how do we do know and live our purpose?

To see a short video about what we can learn about career purpose from concentration camp surviver Viktor Frankl watch below:

Our purpose can be derived from three areas: 

  • The first source is to reflect on what we were really passionate about as a child. I recently was in a seminar where we were asked, “What did you want to be when you grew up?” I wanted to be a park ranger, because when I was young I had a good mate whose father was a ranger. On school holidays we would spend the day with him swimming in creeks, and driving along beautiful bush tracks. Even though I didn’t pursue a career as a ranger, it’s interesting that my wife and I live right on a beautiful national park on Sydney’s North Shore. Perhaps that is why my company logo (below) features a tree because I really believe in the lessons that can come from nature.
  • Have you have learnt an important lesson through overcoming adversity? Overcoming a horrible 5-year depressive episode was a major contributor to my purpose. This is why I am so passionate about helping leaders and their teams to increase their mental resilience.
  • The third source is recalling your proudest career achievement. This is the area I’d like to focus on today.

In my workshops, I have people break into pairs and interview each other for 3 minutes about their proudest achievement. I stress for that time, one person will do nothing more than ask open-ended questions – and the other will answer.

I recommend that they channel their favourite TV interviewer, and for that period to continually probe the other person. The person being interviewed will answer any question asked about their career highlight. The core framework are these 3 questions:

  1. What were you doing?
  2. Who were you helping?
  3. How did they benefit from your help?”

You want to keep probing until you tap into their passion. I’ll give you an example. I was interviewing a man who nominated his proudest career achievement as setting up shops that sold sustainable products that minimized energy and reduced the carbon footprint. I asked him why he was proud of it, and he said, “It was the right thing to do”. I kept on probing about why he selected this example and he said, “Well the resources on our planet are being depleted and I am very concerned about global warming.” I kept on asking why, and all of a sudden, he said, “Because I love bush-walking, and I want my grandkids to experience the beauty of nature.”

As he said this you could see his eyes light up. Keep probing until you see passion in the interviewees eyes.  The amazing thing about this exercise is how much it lifts the energy in the room. People are smiling and laughing as they chat. It doesn’t matter what industry they come from or what time of the day it is – it lifts the room.

I was a headhunter and career coach for 15 years and I believe that asking people about their proudest career achievement is one of the most insightful interview questions ever. This is because it provides a strong hint about someone’s innate motivation.

The people who do the interviewing learn something very important about the interviewee.  You’d be surprised how many workmates don’t have this insight into each other.

I then invite people to write the first draught of their career purpose. To help people do this I share my example:

  • “I help leaders and their tribe increase their mental resilience and agility so they can thrive through change.”

I’ve also worked with people who work in operations within banks, and these are a couple of their examples:

  • “I help people and businesses to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities.”
  • “I provide advice and assistance to continuously improve our business.”

It’s their language, and it resonates with them.

I also worked with a group of financial planners – and one of them came up with this:

  • “I help people be worry-free about money so they can live their ideal life.”

As I ask workshop attendees to write their first draft, I remind them that progress is better than perfection. Purposes should be read regularly and updated as required.

To see a short video  with examples of people uncovering their purpose  and reading out the first draft, see the short video below:

So how do we know if we are living our purpose?

Maya Angelou, the wonderful American poet has this definition of success: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

If you are truly living your purpose statement, I believe that you will strongly agree with the 3 elements of that definition.

I recommend that at the end of each week, you rate yourself out of 10 for these 3 questions.

  • “Did I like myself this week?”
  • “Did I like what I did?”
  • “Did I like how I did it?”

If you aren’t happy with the answer, reset. Decide what you will do differently next week.

This exercise is part of a LEADING THRIVING TRIBES 2-3 hour workshop where leaders are shown how to create a culture that has equal emphasis on performance and mental wellbeing. If you would like to know more about this workshop, please email Jenny Thomson at

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