Purpose The Gist of Purpose Parts of Purpose Purpose Fundamentals Purpose in Context Purpose as your Work Should You Quit Your Job Purpose Myths Hindrances to Purpose Benefits of Purpose Passion The Purpose Journey Clarify your Purpose Align with your Purpose Support your Purpose Purpose Practice and Exercises Purpose Resources

Hindrances to Purpose Questions Adults Ask Shoulds The Pursuit Success and Money School Structure Fit and Fixed Mindset Fear Happiness and Complacency Passion Honorable Mentions

All the hindrances up until this point have had many subtle layers and nuances to them. Even though we’ve gone in depth exploring them in this section, more digging could still be done! The following hindrances are a bit simpler in nature than the other categories. Below you can learn about how ignorance, prioritizing connection, and being a “cog in the machine” can be hindrances to purpose. They’re simple concepts that can make a significant impact if we don’t pay attention. Learn a bit about them so they don’t send you astray!

  • Ignorance – A lack of awareness of our beliefs/stories and automatic behaviors can block us from purpose by hindering our ability to accurately assess or align with what is meaningful to us.
  • Prioritizing Connection – Choosing connection over purpose is an easy and often confusing miss to make.
  • Being a Cog in a Machine – Sometimes, we can confuse our personal mission with the mission of an organization- and sometimes, the mission of the organization isn’t actually purposeful at all..


The above graphic is from the incredible blog “Wait But Why?” by Tim Urban. It does an excellent job illustrating a common experience of developing self-knowledge: the less we know, often the more we think we know. The more we actually know, the more humbled we are. Deeply understanding ourselves, our values, our dreams, our quirks and challenges, is essential to maximizing our potential to craft purpose in our lives.

Not knowing ourselves well can hinder our ability to develop purpose because we won’t understand our unconscious beliefs or automatic behaviors. Our unconscious beliefs and behaviors may then interfere with our ability to accurately align with what is truly meaningful to us. Our unconscious beliefs play a big role in the decisions we make. Self-inquiry and examination are important to making these beliefs conscious so we can dismantle them if they don’t serve our mission.

What’s an unconscious belief? It’s a belief about yourself or the world that you have never significantly questioned or examined. It is therefore “automatic” in a sense. They can also be referred to as “stories,” (albeit ones we are not aware of telling ourselves). There is an entire section of this site dedicated to stories called Your Storied Life.

Examples of unconscious beliefs/stories:

Conscious Belief + Behavior Unconscious Belief Unconscious Behavior How it blocks Purpose
“I need to get into a good college” + Studying hard to get good grades “If I’m not impressive/smart I will fail and my family will be deeply disappointed in me”
=Success will give me access to love and security. Failure will lead to rejection and insecurity/instability.
High levels of stress around school work; perfectionism in performance.
  • Not determining a personal definition of success
  • Following conventional “Shoulds” about life
  • Not being willing to fail
“Being rich is the way to have a good life” + climbing the corporate ladder “Without wealth I will be undesirable and have very little control over my life. I won’t be able to enjoy myself.” Ignoring/deprioritizing activities that bring joy and engagement when they aren’t linked to financial gain
“I should have found my life partner by now” + Spending a lot of time on dating apps “Not having a life partner by this time means there is something wrong with me or I’ll be alone forever.”
=Being alone is dangerous/implies unworthiness/makes life less enjoyable or worthwhile
Self flagellation, lowering standards for who you date, not investing in other meaningful pursuits, obsession over dating/relationships
  • Not determining a personal definition of success
  • Following conventional “Shoulds” about life
  • Pursuing ‘happiness’ instead of meaning
  • Letting Fear dictate your actions
“I should have figured out what I wanted to do with my life earlier” + maintaining status quo in your life and feeling stuck “Getting what I want isn’t possible” =
I’m not capable
Staying at a job or in circumstances you don’t really like. Not considering possibilities or giving significant, sustained effort toward what you want.
  • Not determining a personal definition of success
  • Following conventional “Shoulds” about life
  • Letting Fear dictate your actions

Examples 2 and 4 are good ones to showcase how our unconscious beliefs can influence purpose cultivation (#4 is also a Fear Fallacy—all of which are related to unconscious beliefs!). Believing something isn’t possible counts as a fixed mindset, and fixed mindsets disconnect us from possibility and self-perpetuate.

Aside from having unconscious beliefs that limit us, lack of self-knowledge in the sense of not having examined what we want or care about can be a huge hindrance to purpose. The below examples illustrate a little more deeply how a lack of self-knowledge can hinder or bolster purpose cultivation when we don’t take the time to consider what we want from our lives.

Lack of Self-Knowledge Blocking Purpose

Jared wasn’t quite sure what to do for work when he got out of high school. All the things he thought were fun weren’t obviously lucrative career options to him (he loved skateboarding, building models, and hanging out with his friends). He wanted to be independent as soon as possible from his parents and wasn’t stoked about a 4 year college degree because he didn’t particularly enjoy school. A friend of his had decided to become a dental hygienist and said the pay was good and you only needed an associates degree. He figured the investment was not bad for the outcome and decided to go for it.

A few years down the line he is a practicing hygienist and is living a comfortable life. While work is ‘fine,’ unfortunately the working environment isn’t really that enjoyable. He doesn’t feel stimulated by the work or see a growth path for himself- he doesn’t want to become a dentist.

How is Jared blocked from purpose?
Jared’s cultivation of purpose is hindered in this story because he has not taken the time to consider what he wants from life, what is meaningful to him, or what is possible. Because he hasn’t taken the time to consider this, he has ended up misaligned and feeling a bit stuck, unsatisfied, and perhaps even complacent. Perhaps he has a fear of failure and that has inhibited him from considering what he wants, since going after what he wants could put him at risk for failing to achieve it. However, he may not know this about himself. Right now his choices and behaviors are his best attempt at getting his needs met, which no one can blame him for. It’s a common occurrence for many of us. Pausing to contemplate his unconscious beliefs, related choices, desires, values, and strengths – all while connecting to possibility – would help Jared cultivate a more purposeful experience.

High Self-Knowledge Bolstering Purpose

Nate has spent a significant amount of time reflecting on his beliefs, behaviors, dreams, desires, and values. He knows that he values caring for other people and is passionate about food and nourishment. In his self-examinations over the years he’s noticed his insecurities about being seen as competent or worthy of success. Because he isn’t sure he is worthy of success he tends to shy away from applying for positions that he considers prestigious, even if he really, deeply wants them.

Nate has come across a director’s position leading a successful community co-op program in his city. The role aligns with his values and meets the criteria of his passions as well. Ordinarily he might pass by the position as ridiculously out of reach for him, but recognizing that that is an unserving pattern, he decides to give it his best effort.

How is Nate enabled in his cultivation of purpose?
Because Nate is clear about his values, dreams, and behavior patterns he is able to consciously engage with them and pursue a life that prioritizes purpose. He has identified his (previously) unconscious belief that he is unworthy and is therefore able to recognize his desire to not pursue roles as a consequence of this belief. Nate chooses to move forward in applying for the positions he really wants despite his fears, as he understands that they are ‘stories’ (and not necessarily reality) that limit his possibilities. Even if he doesn’t get the position, he understands that by engaging, experimenting, and being willing to fail will provide more learning opportunities and greater clarity for him.

Are You Lazy?

Do you ever describe yourself as lazy because you struggle to find enough motivation to pursue the things you think you want? Well- there is a possibility that this isn’t an indication of laziness. We talked about how lack of motivation could be an indication of fear in the Fear hindrance, but according to author Stephen Cope, ‘laziness’ may be a symptom of lack of self-knowledge.

Stephen Cope, an author, teacher, and kripalu yoga practitioner, speaks about the idea of self-knowledge and purpose in his book, “The Great Work of Your Life.” The book guides the audience through the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu epic that follows the relationship between the god Krishna and his disciple Arjuna.

Arjuna is trying to make important decisions about how to show up in his life, and especially in battle- should he fight? Should he refrain from violence? Arjuna is beside himself with indecision.

Krishna reflects to Arjuna that the root of his indecision is a lack of self-knowledge (which Stephen Cope paraphrases as the following):

“You do not know how to act because you do not know who you are.”

It is a powerful offering that intimate knowledge of our values, desires, beliefs, and dreams significantly impact our ability to live purposefully.

Related Concepts

There are many valuable resources on this site to support you on your journey to increase self-knowledge. Honestly, the entire site is geared towards this endeavor in one way or another- so working through the exercises in any and all sections of the site will aid you in your self-knowledge practice. Some specific resources that will be helpful are the following pages:

  • The Assessment Center – Use the most comprehensive, integrated, scientific assessment of well-being and flourishing ANYWHERE on the web to find out what areas you can learn more about yourself.
  • Your Storied Life – Exploring how the stories we tell about ourselves, our circumstances, and life itself impact what is possible.
  • The Discovery Cornerstone-One of the Cornerstones of Meaning, this collection of resources guides you to reflect on and learn about multiple dimensions of yourself.
  • Levels of Consideration– A page that explores the different depths with which we may consider life and meaning.
  • Happiness As A Hindrance – Investigate your relationship with happiness and explore how it may be holding you back!
  • Experimentation (in Purpose) – Learn about how to conduct conscious experiments in order to learn about yourself.
  • Clarify Your Values (in Purpose) – Try the exercises on this page to refine your understanding of your values.

“The awareness that our every action is a construct of some constellation of influences can be devastating at first.  We don’t know what is ours, and what has been handed down to us. We don’t know who we are. Eventually, this understanding frees us.  We let go of all that we’ve been holding and realize that we never had anything anyway.” – Ruth Zaporah, “Action Theater

Being A Cog-In-The-Machine

“Without a heart, it’s just a machine.” –Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines, like many other companies, describes its employees as a family. They have been recognized for decades as a desirable place to work with a wonderful employee culture and preach their value of having a lot of Heart.

Reading through their vision, you may have a thought of, “Oh yeah, I can get behind that. Connecting people to what’s important to them IS a valuable mission!” And, Southwest is doing other positive things for society on top of that.

So maybe you happily accept a position with Southwest, elated that you’re joining a company with a purpose you can get behind.

Or perhaps you decide to take a job at Danone, the $25 billion global food company.

Their site offers:

“At Danone, we believe that each time we eat and drink, we can vote for the world we want. This has inspired the definition of our long-term goals which flow directly from our ‘One Planet. One Health’ vision. As we strengthen our business model and nourish our dual economic and social project, we have every confidence we will deliver our business and financial agenda, as well as create and share sustainable value for all.”

This may also be a mission you can get behind, and perhaps it aligns with your values.

The tricky thing with working at places like these is that just because you agree with or believe in the company’s mission, there still isn’t a guarantee that their mission is YOUR mission. In fact, devoting all your time to an organization whose mission isn’t also your mission could actually hinder your sense of purpose.

It’s a delicate dance, honestly. Your job does NOT have to be the primary vehicle for purpose –however it is, admittedly, an excellent option. The linchpin of being in an organization that hinders your sense of purpose comes down to whether or not you experience meaning at work on a personal level, the value and uniqueness of your contribution,  and how much of your time and energy is consumed there.

  • Are you deeply aligned with your company’s values?
  • Is the way you specifically contribute to the organization tied into things you find personally meaningful?
  • Does what you do at work make positive contributions to the lives of others?

If not, you may be suffering from being a Cog-In-The-Machine: you’re dedicating your valuable time and energy towards something that isn’t personally purposeful for you and it could be blocking your opportunity to engage with and cultivate more purpose in your life.

Being a Cog-In-The-Machine is also easy to spot when an organization could easily find a replacement for you. This reality indicates that you are not essential to the operations of the company and your contributions are not unique to you as an individual. While such a situation is certainly not the end of the world and can apply to a huge swath of jobs, it can be a sign that your work is not properly fitted to your specific aptitudes, or aligned with what you, as an individual, are uniquely gifted to offer the world. The more specific to you your work is, the greater potential for impact you could have. Some questions to help you see if this applies to you are:

  • How much training/education was needed to get you to where you are / what you’re doing?
  • Might a new person bring some perspectives and other skills that would be as good, or even a bit better, then your current offering?
  • How replaceable are you? Is the work you do for this organization uniquely attuned to your specific strengths and skills? How essential are you to the operation?

In this article from Fortune Magazine, a successful employee from Playstation who left his work to join a purposeful startup discusses how finding work in which his contribution was unique and meaningful inspired his move:

“Therein lies the true problem. It’s not that these Fortune 500 émigrés are adverse to long work hours; they want an employer that appreciates their unique skill set, perspective, and talents. “I can fill a generic role as a product manager or leader and excel,” Kirk says. “But that’s less exciting to me than a company that says, ‘Hey, we don’t want just anybody for this slot. We need your specific experience, skills, and perspective.’”

Try This: The Impact Map

Use this activity to assess the impact of your work at your current job. Suss out if it aligns with any of your personal purposes or is taking up valuable time!

Learn more about the impact map and see examples:

Additionally, check out the below section of Purpose As Your Work to learn about the role of work in your life and how purpose does or does not factor into it.

“Refine what your job is for” will walk you through the top seven functions a job can serve in your life and details the possible benefits or drawbacks of prioritizing certain functions over others. The functions explored include Security,  Prosperity, Passion/ Joy, Purpose, Connection, Learning, and Freedom/Convenience.


The following snippet is from an article for Careercast.com where columnist Taunee Besson takes on a query regarding connection and satisfying work:

Q: For the last eight years I’ve been working at a job I hate. But every time I think about finding a new career, I stop short. My current co-workers are like family, and the thought of leaving them is very painful. Recently I’ve been approached for a position in another company doing work that sounds much more satisfying. Should I stay with my workplace “fam,” or leave them behind and jump to the more fulfilling job?

A: Having wonderful co-workers can lead you to choose a life of “comfortable misery.” It’s often easier to stay in an unfulfilling, but cozy, position than to take a risk and try to find a better job…

In breaking down this snippet, it must first be said that purpose does not have to come through your job. However, your job is a common place for people to cultivate purpose and an easy example for illustrating many of these concepts.

And now that that’s out of the way let’s assume this person’s job is where they practice purposefulness. It seems they’re in a sticky situation- do they choose the meaningfulness of their relationships or the meaningfulness of the actual work they’re doing all day?

Aside from this being a false dichotomy, we must consider the value of these relationships. The Love Cornerstone explains that love is a primary source of meaning in our lives. While it’s essential to a meaningful life to develop deep bonds with others, our relationships can actually hinder our development of purpose when they keep us from making a positive impact on the world outside ourselves.

It’s a thin, wiggly, moving line. How connection interweaves with purpose is a multidimensional consideration. One can find purpose in how they engage in their relationships. And, is the work you’re doing a distraction from that purpose? Does it possibly bolster it? Can you increase the impact of that form of purpose by channeling it through work that focuses on just that?

There are other approaches to addressing this debacle as well. One could work to improve the quality of connections both at work and elsewhere in their life. If you move on, you could put energy into maintaining the relationships you’ve “left behind,” and look forward to fostering new connections at the next place. You could also work to cultivate more purpose in your current job and addressing your complaints head on.

In this instance it could be a matter of maximizing the potential of your engagement with purpose rather than having one meaningful thing limit another.

Visit this page to learn about how all these terms refer to different things in case you need a reminder!

All in all, this hindrance is not the biggest, ugliest monster between you and purposeful living. People are a huge part of creating meaning in our lives. You may be personally fine with not maximizing your experience of purpose and instead investing in the comfort and joy of your relationships – even if they are buffering the blow of something you don’t find entirely tolerable.

What areas of your life do you stay involved in only because of the people?
What would it be like to explore more fulfilling options?
How could you keep those relationships alive and tended to if you were to choose to move on?

It’s essential to remember, if you find yourself in a situation similar to the CareerCast user, that relationships can be cultivated and tended to in many different areas of our lives. Remembering that we can foster new connections in a different environment is important to keep in mind.

Visit the Friendship section of the site for tons of resources on fostering high-quality friendship and use the friendship evals there (under the “Measure the aspects of friendship in your life!” heading) to assess your overall friendships and connections.

  • Purpose as your Work – Learn about how purpose can (or not) be involved with your job.
  • Refine What Your Job Is For – Learn about the different functions your job can serve and how purpose plays a role.
  • The Love Cornerstone – Explore the nature of love (platonic, romantic, and beyond) and how it creates meaning and joy in life.

That’s it for Hindrances!

If you made it this far, way to go. 🙂
Now, it’s time to move on to Passion, where we’ll develop an understanding that runs way deeper than the colloquial layer.

Hindrances to Purpose Questions Adults Ask Shoulds The Pursuit Success and Money School Structure Fit and Fixed Mindset Fear Happiness and Complacency Passion Honorable Mentions

Purpose The Gist of Purpose Parts of Purpose Purpose Fundamentals Purpose in Context Purpose as your Work Should You Quit Your Job Purpose Myths Hindrances to Purpose Benefits of Purpose Passion The Purpose Journey Clarify your Purpose Align with your Purpose Support your Purpose Purpose Practice and Exercises Purpose Resources