Purpose – What Is The Fuss All About?


Purpose. This one word has been around for a while now, and there is no shortage of mentors, coaches, advisors and consultants extoling the virtues of being purpose driven. I wholeheartedly agree with what most of them say. However, my take on this matter is a bit different, and I have a feeling a lot of you are likely to have an opinion on this, and most of it is likely to be contrary to mine. But that is fine by me.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The image above shows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, proposed by Abraham Maslow in the early 1940s. It talks about the various levels of human needs starting with physiological (basic survival needs such as food, water, warmth etc) to self-actualisation (higher level needs such as altruism, creative, charitable etc). The fundamental principle of this theory is that the needs at a lower level of the pyramid must be met (and continue being met) before one can think of the higher-level needs. This makes sense and applies to all of us.

Direction of Focus at Each Level

Now, let us look at the Maslow’s diagram at a slightly deeper level. Upon observation, we will see that the focus of the first two levels is towards oneself (survival and safety respectively). The idea here is how does one survive? Once a means of survival has been established, the question moves to how to keep oneself safe and secure.

The third level (belonging) shifts the focus from totally towards oneself to a combination of self and others. We start looking for commonalities we share with others, we want to belong, and we desire acceptance. At the same time, we also want to accept others and make them feel loved.

Now, moving up, the fourth level moves the focus away from self to the outside world. A sense of prestige amongst peers, within society, within the community, and to feel respected by others. The focus is more about how others see us and what they make of us.

Finally, at the top of the pyramid is the self-actualisation level. The focus is now, no longer on oneself but on bigger things such as giving something back to the world. Perhaps a bit of charity, perhaps eradicating Malaria or providing electricity to rural India, or better sanitation in Africa. This higher-level focus is not the cause, but the effect of what has been fulfilled in the levels below.

Now, what does this have to do with purpose? Why have I made you go through around 400 words without mentioning purpose until the very end? I am guessing you’ve already got a hint. In any case, check this space again next week to see the full picture.

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