Is Purpose Spiritual?

The path of purposeful living is, ultimately, a spiritual journey.

From birth onward, we are all getting older. But we are, hopefully, also growing whole – maturing spiritually. Aging belongs to the body, but purpose belongs to the spirit. Aging requires nothing special from us; spiritual maturing requires a path and a practice. Purpose is spiritual wisdom embodied.

The purpose path is not about self-absorbed soul-searching. It is about recognizing that we were given another day to live – TODAY – and along with that, we were given the choice to make a difference in at least one other person’s life. The power of purpose is the power of compassion. It alone is the greatest of all the gifts we have to offer.

We may not always see the results our lives have on others, but we can know deep down that we are making some contribution, large or small, to the larger common good. We can experience the felt sense that we make a difference, that our lives matter.


Most of us, simply because we are human, periodically ponder the question, “What am I here to do?” And, most spiritual traditions–Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—answer the question. They preach that compassion is the soul of purpose. And they teach us to love and care for our neighbors in contrast to focusing on ourselves.


People often use the words spirituality and religion interchangeably, but they’re not the same. Religion has more to do with following the practices and dictates. Spirituality is more individual, encompassing our personal experience with a Source or Higher Power.

The Spirituality in Healthcare Committee at the Mayo Clinic offers the following definition:

“Spirituality is a dynamic process by which one discovers inner wisdom and vitality that gives meaning and purpose to all life events and relationships.”

The Committee goes on to clarify that, “Spirituality as a dynamic process helps individuals discover meaning and purpose in their lives, even in the midst of personal tragedy, crisis, stress, illness, pain, and suffering. This process is an inner quest. This involves openness to the promptings of one’s soul or spirit, silence, contemplation, meditation, prayer, inner dialogue, and/or discernment. Spirituality empowers a person to be fully engaged in life experiences from birth to death.”

Often, I hear people claim, “I’m not very spiritual.” Spirituality has little to do with genius or gender, ethnicity or age. It is discovering what we truly care about. It’s uncovering the gifts within us and giving them away. It is being thoroughly used up when we die because we gave it all away while we were alive.


Purpose is a verb. It is spiritual practice embodied in lived day-to-day experiences. If we live daily as a “default self’—the self that is hiding behind a mask of approval and cultural consensus–we will always feel empty. We will fill our time, but it will never feel like fulfilling time. As we age, we need to unmask our default lives and uncover what part of us is an expression of our true self.

Growing whole begins with the genuine desire to connect with our true self and with the greatest good within ourselves and others. As we grow whole – mature spiritually – our lives become deeper, richer, and more meaningful.


Unlocking our purpose is, ultimately, a spiritual journey. For every person, of any age, who summons up the courage to ask this question, there are many more who plod on hoping that their answer will somehow show up without work or practice.

Charles Handy, in The Age of Paradox, wrote: “True fulfillment is I believe vicarious. We get our deepest satisfaction from the fulfillment and growth and happiness of others. It takes time, often a lifetime to realize this.”

If we live as victims, without maturing spiritually, we simply grow old, not whole. But, when we live with conscious choice, we can walk the path of purposeful aging, mature and wise and whole. Those are our only two choices.

Reflecting on this question is the heart and soul of the purpose quest. Reflection on it is as tough as it is inevitable. Yet, ideally, we should not let 24-hours pass without spending a few moments pausing to connect with the question: “What is life asking of me, now?”

Richard Leider, founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company, is the author of twelve books, including two best sellers, which have sold over one million copies. Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose are considered classics in the personal growth field.  Richard’s PBS Special – The Power of Purpose – was viewed by millions of people across the U.S.  His recent book is Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?: The Path of Purposeful Aging. His newest book is the 4th edition of The Power of Purpose: To Grow and to Give for Life with longtime co-author David Shapiro to be released December 2024.

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