Mountain Stream Coaching in words with M stylized as mountains and S stylized as stream
word cloud of the terms defined in the article.
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Purpose, Mission, Vision, and much more.

This article takes a pause in my life design series to define key terms from the first four stages of the seven-stage life design process.

To organize the nearly 30 terms, I grouped them by which of the following questions they answer:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I hold most dear?
  • What motivates me to get up in the morning?
  • Where am I going?
  • How will I get there?
  • What emotions or feelings would I like to experience?
  • What will survive me after I am gone?

The more essential terms for life design are in boldface. The minimum set of terms necessary for completing Stage Four in the life design process (Bedrock & Vision) are in all capital letters.

If the American Psychological Association (APA) defines a term, their definition appears first.

Some distinctions I believe are important; for example, mission (how) versus vision (destination). Other distinctions I try not to get caught up in; for example, purpose versus why, or vision versus long-term goals.

For learning by example, I share my own response to many of the terms.

At the end of this article, there is a section for the benefits of having a defined purpose, mission, and vision.

Who am I?

Personal Identity: An individual’s sense of self-defined by (a) a set of physical, psychological, and interpersonal characteristics that is not wholly shared with any other person and (b) a range of affiliations (e.g., ethnicity) and social roles. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Personality: The enduring configuration of characteristics and behavior that comprises an individual’s unique adjustment to life, including major traits, interests, drives, values, self-concept, abilities, and emotional patterns. Various theories explain the structure and development of personality in different ways, but all agree that personality helps determine behavior. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

A 2015 study by Drs. Nathan Hudson and Chris Fraley showed that personality can be intentionally changed through goal-setting and sustained personal effort. Research from Drs. Christopher Soto and Jule Specht show that personality changes accelerate when people are leading meaningful and satisfying lives. (Source: Personality Isn’t Permanent: Break Free from Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story, by Benjamin Hardy)

Refer to Mountain Stream Coaching Resources webpage for a large collection of personality assessments.

Attitudes: A relatively enduring and general evaluation of an object, person, group, issue, or concept on a dimension ranging from negative to positive. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Mindset: A state of mind that influences how people think about and then enact their goal-directed activities in ways that may systematically promote or interfere with optimal functioning. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Your mindset is a set of beliefs that shape how you make sense of the world and yourself. It influences how you think, feel, and behave in any given situation. (Source: Verywell Mind)

A mindset is an established set of attitudes of a person or group concerning culture, values, philosophy, frame of mind, outlook, and disposition. (Source: OED Online. Oxford University Press. From Wikipedia)

I am generous in defining mindsets beyond the most well-known Fixed and Growth mindsets popularized by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. See Nine Mindsets for Your Life Design Journey.

Personal Knowledge: An understanding of or information about a subject that you get by experience or study. The state of knowing about or being familiar with something. (Source: Cambridge Dictionary)

Strengths: In the context of life design, “A strength is an activity that strengthens you. That you look forward to doing. It’s an activity that leaves you feeling energized, rather than depleted. A strength is more appetite than ability, and it’s that appetite that drives us to want to do it again; practice more; refine it to perfection. The appetite leads to the practice, which leads to performance. (Source: Marcus Buckingham)

Learn more from and Indeed Career Guide.

Refer to Mountain Stream Coaching Who Am I? assessment article for why it is important to focus on strengths and not on weaknesses.

Refer to Mountain Stream Coaching Resources webpage for strengths assessments.

Talent: An innate skill or ability, or an aptitude to excel in one or more specific activities or subject areas. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

In the book StrengthsFinder 2.0, author Tom Rath notes that the 34 themes in the StrengthsFinder assessment results are talents, not strengths. These talents become strengths with “time spent practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base.”

Skills: An ability or proficiency acquired through training and practice. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Some less common terms in life design that also answer the Who Am I? question are the following, in alphabetical order:

Essence: In philosophy, the presumed ontological reality at the core of something that makes it what it is and not something else. The concept of essence is relevant to discussions of personhood, including questions of human agency and of the self. It is thus important for personality theories. The view that human beings have certain important essential characteristics is known as essentialism. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Learn more from Psychology Today and The Diamond Approach Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom.

[added 7 February 2024] Dharma: In Hinduism, the social laws and customs that must be followed to achieve the right path of spiritual advancement. In Buddhism, the term has multiple meanings, including the truth as set out in the teachings of the Buddha, and norms of behavior and ethical rules. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

According to Suneel Gupta in Everyday Dharma: 8 Essential Practices for Finding Success and Joy in Everything You Do

The Bhagavad Gita says what each of us has a dharma, or a "sacred duty." My grandfather...believed that we all have an essence, something inside of us that was uniquely assigned by the universe. This goes deeper than talent or skill. It's a calling. An inner necessity. When you're expressing your essence, you're in your dharma. You come alive in a brand-new way. You feel confident, creative, and caring. You are no longer asking for permission to do what you love. You are serving others with energy and kindness. Dharma = essence + expression. 

Self: The totality of the individual, consisting of all characteristic attributes, conscious and unconscious, mental and physical. Apart from its basic reference to personal identity, being, and experience, the term’s use in psychology is wide-ranging. [Refer to the APA reference for a summary] (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Soul: The nonphysical aspect of a human being, considered responsible for the functions of mind and individual personality and often thought to live on after the death of the physical body. The concept of the soul was present in early Greek thinking and has been an important feature of many philosophical systems and most religions. Because the existence of the soul has resisted empirical verification, science has generally ignored the concept. The term survives in the general language to mean the deepest center of a person’s identity and the seat of his or her most important moral, emotional, and aesthetic experiences. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Vibe: The mood of a place, situation, person, etc. and the way that they make you feel. (Source: Cambridge Dictionary)

Zone of Genius: The range of activities that give us natural pleasure and proficiency. The sweet spot where our talents meet our passions. (Source: The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, by Gay Hendricks. Via

What do I hold most dear?

Beliefs: An association of some characteristic or attribute, usually evaluative in nature, with an attitude object (e.g., this car is reliable). (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

For life design purposes, we are interested in strongly held beliefs that influence our behaviors.

Some strongly held beliefs may be limiting beliefs that factually aren’t true. For example, a belief that “I am unworthy of love, attention, or recognition.”

Some strongly held beliefs may illustrate bias. For example, a belief that people of a particular race or ethnicity are somehow inferior to people who look and culturally behave like you.

Other strongly held beliefs are more neutral or positive and explain how you think the world does, or should, work. For example, a belief that all human life is sacred.

CORE VALUES: A moral, social, or aesthetic principle accepted by an individual or society as a guide to what is good, desirable, or important. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Learn more from my Personal Values Workbook.

My top five values are Service, Learn and Share, Well-Being, Integrity, and Excellence.

Principles: A fundamental rule, standard, or precept, especially in matters of morality or personal conduct. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Principles are how you put your values into practice.

For example, “I care deeply about understanding the needs and wants of people around me.” (Source: One Life to Lead, by Russell Benaroya)

What motivates me to get up in the morning?

PURPOSE: The mental sense of a goal or aim in the process of living or in existence itself. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Your overall reason for being. What gives your life meaning. Similar to your ‘Why’; however, often more general and worded as an objective, in contrast to a motivation.

Your purpose may or may not align with your employment. Sometimes a job is just a job, and your sense of purpose is found outside of your employment. Psychologically it is important to have a purpose, it just doesn’t have to be your job. 

My purpose is to make the world a better place by positively impacting others. To live a life of service, to give back, and to pay it forward.

WHY: Why you do what you do. Your motivation for living. Your why is often more specific than your purpose.

‘Why’ is popularized by Simon Sinek’s wildly successful TEDx talk and book Start With Why.

The Why Institute claims that there are nine archetypal whys:

  1. Contribute: To contribute to a greater cause, make a difference, add value, or have an impact. (This is my overarching purpose or why)
  2. Trust: To create relationships based on trust.
  3. Make Sense: To make sense out of things, especially if complex or complicated.
  4. Better Way: To find a better way and share it.
  5. Right Way: To do things the right way in order to get results.
  6. Challenge: To think differently and challenge the status questions.
  7. Mastery: To seek mastery and understanding.
  8. Clarify: To make crystal clear and understandable.
  9. Simplify: To decrease complexity.

In a 19 July 2023 webinar, Gary Sanchez from the Why Institute suggested that purpose is where our why is applied. He believes that we only have one why; however, we can have more than one purpose covering different areas of your life. As seen below, I do not hold myself to a single why.

My why, as it relates to my coaching business, has several components:

  • To provide for others what I missed having for myself during times of major life transitions—for example, going to business school, two unplanned job losses, and the subsequent job searches. There is no doubt that if I had a life coach during these transitions, I would now be significantly wealthier and feel more fulfilled.
  • To give my life a sense of purpose, as described above.
  • To fill a desire for deep human connection in a period of my life where I could be experiencing isolation and loneliness.
  • To keep myself mentally and physically active well into my later years. Consistent with my ADHD diagnosis and desire for longevity, I am unable to live a sedentary life.
  • To provide a supplementary income while having a flexible schedule. Because of my career setbacks and overspending, I see a financial shortfall as I contemplate living well into my 90s. Although income is not my primary motivation to coach, it is a factor.

Your purpose and your why may change over time.

Passion: A strong enthusiasm for or devotion to an activity, object, concept, or the like. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

What lights you up.

My passions include time with my beloveds, life coaching, psychology, helping others, vintage cars, trail running, bicycling, sea kayaking, offshore sailing, and hiking.

Leaning into a passion can lead to a vocation or calling; however, I do not believe that work must be fueled by passion in order to have meaning at work.

“Follow your bliss” is a related phrase. Learn more…

Calling: Individuals with a calling orientation [to work] often describe their work as integral to their lives and their identity. They view their career as a form of self-expression and personal fulfillment. (Source: Psychology TodayLearn more…

Where am I going?

VISION: A mental image of something or someone produced by the imagination. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

What you aspire to have and to be in your life after a defined time period.

I like to use one-year, five-year, ten-year, and lifetime time periods.

A vision can be as simple as a short phrase, or as long as a multipage narrative. Especially if going for length, consider answering questions like:

  • What do I really, really, want? Learn more from Proctor Gallagher and Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
  • What value or gifts am I giving to the world?
  • What would my life look like if I got out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t fail?
  • What are all five of my senses experiencing? (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch)
  • Who am I with?

A well-written personal vision statement contains different aspects of your life both personal and professional, spiritual, and day-by-day oriented. Reminding yourself of your statement will help you live a more balanced life. (Source: BetterUp)

It can be helpful to use personal, present-tense statements such as “I am” or “I have” because it’s easier to project yourself into your future success this way. (Source: BetterHelp)

A future blog will cover visioning exercises in more detail.

Learn more…

The short version of my vision:

  • One year: I am a highly skilled life coach. I have a financially viable coaching practice. Our son has a long-term career direction.
  • Five years: We have moved back to the Midwest. I am well-known within my coaching niche. I am working five days a week in my coaching practice. Our son is out on his own and in a long-term relationship.
  • Ten years: I am beginning to wind down my coaching practice after positively impacting 1,000 people in my coaching career. I am working four days per week. We have a camper van and/or a 27 to 34-foot sailboat and make frequent, up to one-month-long, overnight trips in them. Even though I am now well into my 70s, I am still an active trail runner and bicyclist.

[added 7 February 2024] Arete: A concept in ancient Greek thought that, in its most basic sense, refers to “excellence” of any kind—especially a person or thing’s “full realization of potential or inherent function.” (Source Wikipedia

Arete is central in the MacSparky Productivity Field Guide. Author David Sparks uses Arete “as the perfect version of me” for each role he plays. His roles include husband, father, MacSparky (owner of his business), student (as a life-long learner), responsible human (for example, paying his bills), and spiritual human. 

Long-term Goals: The end state toward which a human or nonhuman animal is striving: the purpose of an activity or endeavor. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

After creating your personal vision statement, you will have a clear long-term goal that will help you set short-term goals and actionable steps to achieve it. The long-term goal will mostly remain stable throughout the years and will inform short-term goals that will change as time passes. (Source: BetterUp)

It is important that your goals follow the SMART framework: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound.

Leon Ho, Lifehack CEO, advocates for SMARTer goals, goals that also include why:

Many people fail to achieve their goals because they may not truly understand why they want to achieve certain goals. Understanding why you want to achieve...goals can help you make the distinction between what you want (your perceived goal) vs the purpose behind the goal you are setting. This way you can make adjustments to your goals to ensure they actually align with the purpose behind the goal.

Learn more…

Alternative terms for answering ‘Where Am I Going?’ include ambition, aspiration, desire, life achievement, and life dream.

Desire is the starting point of all achievement. But this desire has to be more than just a vague wish. It must be an intense burning desire so strong that in our mind the goal is already attained and no obstacle can prevent it becoming physical reality.

(Source: Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill)

How will I get there?

MISSION: What you do and for whom. How do you intend to move towards your long-term goals and vision, in alignment with your core values, purpose, and why? How do you serve? Who do you serve?

For example, my mission is “To help people discover what’s next and go after it.” I do this via individualized one-to-one Life Coaching where Life Design is a central component. I serve anyone who is facing a major life transition. That said, my clients tend to be at one of the bookends of their career; either young professionals or retirement-age.

Your mission is more specific and more likely to change than your purpose or why.

Learn more…

Habits: A well-learned behavior or automatic sequence of behaviors that is relatively situation-specific and over time has become motorically reflexive and independent of motivational or cognitive influence—that is, it is performed with little or no conscious intent. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Some of my keystone habits are: using a daily note in my Obsidian note-taking app) for task management, interstitial journaling, gratitude, and what could have gone better; daily meditation, daily 90-minute trail running or bicycling, flossing my teeth after evening meal, not snacking after evening meal, doing yoga three times per week, connecting with my wife and son throughout the day when they are home, calling my mother at least once a week, and getting at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Learning: The acquisition of novel information, behaviors, or abilities after practice, observation, or other experiences, as evidenced by change in behavior, knowledge, or brain function. Learning involves consciously or nonconsciously attending to relevant aspects of incoming information, mentally organizing the information into a coherent cognitive representation, and integrating it with relevant existing knowledge activated from long-term memory. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Growth: The development of any entity toward its mature state. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Wayfinding: In the context of life design, wayfinding is a metaphor borrowed from physical wayfinding by humans or other animals. Absent a map, the traveler uses a compass or other directional clues to move toward the desired destination.

Paying close attention to our internal sense of being pulled in a certain direction…Wayfinder coaches focus on listening to the inner pull before we set goals, and listening continuously as we set about achieving them…You don’t have to radically change your life. Just add a little of what pulls you forward, and subtract a little of what pushes you backward, every day. (Source: Martha Beck)

Many authors describe our purpose, mission, and vision as either an internal compass or our North Star, which we use to “navigate” through our lives.

Wayfinding is the ancient art of figuring out where you are going when you don’t actually know your destination. For wayfinding, you need a compass and you need a direction. Not a map…Since there’s no one destination in life, you can’t put your goal into your GPS and get the turn-by-turn directions for how to get there. What you can do is pay attention to the clues in front of you, and make your best way forward with the tools you have at hand. (Source: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans)

Pathfinding is another navigational metaphor encountered in life design. In pathfinding, the emphasis is on identifying a path (i.e., a clear plan) that leads towards your goal or vision.

What emotions or feelings would I like to experience?

Emotions: A complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioral, and physiological elements, by which an individual attempts to deal with a personally significant matter or event. The specific quality of the emotion is determined by the specific significance of the event. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Feelings: A self-contained phenomenal experience. Feelings are subjective, evaluative, and independent of the sensations, thoughts, or images evoking them. They are inevitably evaluated as pleasant or unpleasant. Feelings differ from emotions in being purely mental, whereas emotions are designed to engage with the world. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Learn more about the latest scientific evidence about emotions in Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett: How to Understand Emotions, Huberman Lab podcast 16 October 2023 episode.

As a measure of life design success, some of the most frequently cited emotions and feelings are:

Happiness: An emotion of joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Fulfillment: The actual or felt satisfaction of needs and desires, or the attainment of aspirations. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Meaning: The cognitive or emotional significance of a word or sequence of words, or of a concept, sign, or symbolic act. This may include a range of implied or associated ideas (connotative meaning) as well as a literal significance (denotative meaning). (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

Meaning in life “may be defined as the extent to which a person experiences his or her life as having purpose, significance, and coherence.” (Laura King, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, via Heintzelman & King). Meaning refers to how we “make sense of life and our roles in it.” (Source: Ivtzan et al. via

Well-being: A state of happiness and contentment, with low levels of distress, overall good physical and mental health and outlook, or good quality of life. (Source: APA Dictionary of Psychology)

There are many other positive emotions and feelings that one might aspire to, or experience, in a well-lived life. A partial list, in alphabetical order, drawn from 4 of the Most Important Positive Emotions and What They Do (Psychology Today), What Are Positive Emotions in Psychology? (, and other sources:

  • Admiration
  • Affection
  • Amusement
  • Astonishment
  • Awe
  • Calm
  • Cheerfulness
  • Confidence
  • Connection
  • Contentment
  • Delight
  • Eagerness
  • Elevation
  • Enjoyment
  • Enthusiasm
  • Excitement
  • Euphoria
  • Gratitude
  • Hope
  • Inspiration
  • Interest
  • Joy
  • Love
  • Optimism
  • Peace
  • Pleased
  • Pride
  • Relaxed
  • Relief
  • Satisfaction
  • Serenity

What will survive me after I am gone?

Legacy: When a person dies, the mark the individual left on the world represents that individual’s legacy. While a person’s legacy can involve money, the concept of legacy is much larger than the value of an individual’s estate. It is about the richness of the individual’s life, including what that person accomplished and the impact he or she had on people and places. (Source: Love to Know)

Why Are Purpose, Mission, and Vision So Important?

Now that we’ve come to the end of the definitions, why bother with all of this? Purpose, mission, and vision provide the following benefits:

  1. They provide a sense of direction. They increase focus and improve decision-making by providing a filter for what is important and not important.
  2. They fuel optimism and hope.
  3. They provide inspiration.
  4. They increase motivation with a reason to act.
  5. They provide meaning to life. People with increased meaning are happier, exhibit increased life satisfaction, and report lowered depression. (Source:
  6. They improve physical health and longevity. (Sources: American Heart AssociationJAMA, and The Lancet)
  7. You’ll feel braver and stronger. (Source: The Full Life Framework)
  8. They help you live a balanced life. (Source: BetterUp)
  9. Adolescents who feel a greater sense of purpose in life are happier than their peers who feel less purposeful. (Source: Ratner et al. via PsyBlog, premium subscription)
  10. A strong sense of purpose in life helped protect against loneliness during the height of COVID-19 (Source: Yoona Kang et al. via PsyBlog, premium subscription)

Over To You

Do you have any disagreement with any of the definitions above? Have you, at minimum, defined your values, purpose or why, mission, and vision? If not, what is holding you back? If yes, how has making these items explicit served you in your life?

NOTE: Links to books are Amazon affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission on any purchases.

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