How personal transformation unlocks us to truly act with purpose


Creating a sustainable society requires a journey of personal discovery and a heavy dose of self-inquiry, says Nick Kettles.

Having become conditioned to blindly accept that our primary purpose is as consumers, and that we should derive personal meaning from what we consume, it begs the question, how do we begin to re-tie our sense of Self to a larger context?

This is potentially a life long journey. Understanding what having a life purpose truly is and how it can be mobilised for the greater good is no bad place to start.

Typically the way change agents find their purpose is that the inertia of society provides the initial spur to develop a vision of the world they’d like to see, and the mission – plans
and projects – that will fulfill it, quickly follows. Having something constructive to do in the face of despair feels good, and, ‘on purpose’.

Yet, this sense of purpose can quickly fade, if additional emotional capital is required to overcome the road blocks put in place by what often seems insurmountable opposition. I am sure those already engaged in working towards a more sustainable and just society know exactly what this is like.

However, there is another, more energising, way of considering life purpose.

By positioning the ongoing exploration and integration of who I
am as a whole person, including my relationship to the earth, as my life purpose, then my commitment to creating a more sustainable and just society can emerge from a deeper level of engagement. The idea of having a purpose in this way can be represented by a river: the ongoing river of meaning of my life, where the deeper currents can flow through and carry to fruition many interim plans and projects.

This is certainly not an invitation to waste precious time indulging in navel gazing, while the ice caps continue to melt.

This approach is simply more energising, because it’s the first step towards becoming a self-authoring human being, where I am not at effect or a victim of the world around me – a burden no one should have to carry for too long.

Once I recognise the relationship between who I am and what I do, unfolding iteratively as I take action and learn more about who I am becoming, I am empowered to take full responsibility for the role my own transformation plays in changing the world.

Like Heidegger’s metaphor of ‘being’ as akin to the ‘clearing’ that the tip of a ski makes cutting into fresh powder snow, I too am never static, and can be continuously recharged by the light of new awareness that my actions catalyse. I get to really live ‘being the change’ as a dynamic process, not just play lip service to it, as a slogan on a T-shirt for example.

Ironically, this points to the true meaning of the word integrity: the state of being whole and undivided. I am in integrity with myself therefore, when I acknowledge that having purpose arises from my quest to understand and integrate who I am being in direct relationship to what I am doing.

This process is also integral to my ability to foster the equitable relationships required for any project to reach fruition, and therefore makes success more likely. The more I experience an integrated sense of Self, the less I have to defend or protect, and so the scope of what I consider my personal world where it merges with society and environment also expands. The potential for my experience of belonging to others including those I might see as enemies, can also deepen, and in turn I am inspired to reach out to do more. (This is something we’ll discuss at greater depth in the next edition.)

At a time when human potential is being wasted as much as the Earth’s precious resources, our investment in being on purpose by embracing the intrinsic connection between our inner and outer worlds, could never be more important.


  • Reading about how this process unfolds is no substitute for practicing this process 1,000 times: daring to know, daring to succeed; prepared to fail and start again.Dare to be unashamedly yourself. As every note in a symphony or instrument in an orchestra is different, commit to define your unique difference. Ask yourself, above all, what are the top three qualities or virtues you value the most? Similarly, what are the skills and talents you are most passionate about?
  • Reflect on how these values and skills combine to provide a clear compass of where you can contribute in the world. For example, my commitment to the values of clarity and understanding combined with a passion for language drives my contribution as a writer and speaker.
  • Dare to act. Doing so is essential in getting the feedback so essential to further deepen your awareness of who you are. Over time, an increasing sense of congruence will guide you in which choices will best serve the further actualisation of your purpose.

Nick Kettles is a writer, consultant, and trainer of Co-Active Coaching, with the Coaches Training Institute. To find out more:


Photo credit: Padurariu Alexandru