Tap into your sense of purpose


Robbie Stakelum suggests a method to help clarify your thoughts and find direction

Getting in touch with a sense of mission or purpose can feel incredibly existential, and challenging to do on your own. Csikszentmihalyi in his groundbreaking book Flow, argues that our brain is naturally set to deal with chaos. Our lives are so complex with competing interests vying for our attention that for many of us don’t know where to begin when it comes to structuring our thoughts.

In this article I’m sharing two practical tools that I often use with clients to help structure their thoughts to both make sense of their career and to forge a path that means something to them while achieving a sense of fulfillment. 

I use these tools with my clients, but the most effective part is the discussion we have after the exercises are completed, where we debrief and unpick thought patterns, beliefs, drivers, motivators and challenge the assumptions you have about yourself, your career or your context that are holding you back. While I strongly advocate for one-to-one coaching to help you navigate these exercises, I know that not everyone has the resources to access coaching, so I’ve provided some questions for reflection to help you process some of your own findings. 


The Japanese concept of Ikigai is where your passion and talents intersect with something the world both needs and is willing to pay for. The starting point is your passion not income. Happiness comes from within, I know it’s a cliche, but chasing money and materialistic goods doesn’t guarantee a happier life

“The Japanese concept of Ikigai is where your passion and talents intersect”

Thinking about what comes next in your career can feel overwhelming and it’s helpful to break it down into four smaller questions:

  • What do you love to do?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need?
  • What are people willing to pay for?

“Putting pen to paper is a fantastic way to work through complex thoughts”

The intersection of each of these domains can help you to dig deep on your passion, mission, profession and vocation, as outlined in the info-graphic below. This is an excellent visual exercise which is particularly useful for anyone who is finding it difficult to express or articulate all the thoughts swirling around their head. Putting pen to paper is a fantastic way to work through complex thoughts, and this exercise offers a unique and helpful structure.

“Draw out the four big intersecting circles”

Tips for Use:

  • Draw out the four big intersecting circles. Take up an entire sheet of paper for this exercise, you’ll want lots of room to write down your thoughts.
  • You’re going to start from the outside of each circle and work your way in, each time increasing the number of times the circles intersect.
  • Into each circle write down what comes to mind for each topic i.e what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for
  • Then consider each of the overlaps. Take time to think about how what you love intersects with what you’re good at to create your passion. Fill out this section of the grid. And repeat for your mission, profession and vocation.
  • Remember this is personal to you, so write down whatever comes to mind no matter how basic or far fetched.
  • Continue again by moving into the next layer of overlaps. Find ways in which passion and mission intersect, and similarly how do passion and profession, mission and vocation, and finally vocation and profession connect to one another.
  • Finally as you move into the final section, Ikigai itself, what connects and brings everything together? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a clear job. It can be a broader checklist including sectors you’d like to be in, functions you’d like to work, people you’d like to work with, the type of work environments you thrive in.

Questions for Reflection:Here are some reflective question prompts for this exercise. I’d suggest writing your answers out on paper.

  • What is the most striking thing about your Ikigai graph?
  • What most surprised you and why?
  • What have you learned about yourself?
  • Why type of careers/jobs/functions are you now considering?
  • What happens next?
  • What do you need to do differently to achieve your Ikigai?

Pits and Peaks

Ikigai is a great exercise for brainstorming for the future, but some clients need support in diagnosing the past. This exercise is particularly helpful for recognizing the factors that have made your past (and present) jobs feel like a success or failure.

Pits and Peaks is one of my most used tools. The purpose here is to assess what makes you happy at work. 

“Pits and Peaks is one of my most used tools, the purpose is to assess what makes you happy at work”

Tips for Use:

  • Take an A4 Sheet of paper. Draw a graph, with both an x axis and y axis.
  • Along the x axis mark out your previous jobs, in chronological order starting with the oldest and ending with your latest job.
  • Number the y axis from 1–10, as shown above, this is a happiness scale.
  • Then divide y axis in half, marking above 5 as your work peaks aka when you were happy and below 5 as your pits aka when work wasn’t good.
  • Take a few moments to think about each job you’ve had. Decide where you’d plot that job on the graph, along the scale of 1–10.
  • Write down an explanation for each position given. Think about what made you happy, excited, passionate or what made it a negative place to work, highlighting what you didn’t enjoy about the work.
  • Connect each of the dots, and you should end up with a graph that resembles a mountain range with peaks and pits of varying degrees.


Questions for Reflection:

With a coach, or if you don’t have one consider a friend, reflect on the graph and answer some of these questions. If you decide to do this alone, I suggest writing down and answering each of the following questions on paper.

  • What do all the jobs in the peaks have in common?
  • What do all the jobs in the pits have in common?
  • What makes you happy at work?
  • What is important for you when it comes to work?
  • When did you perform at your best?
  • What do you want to avoid in future jobs?

I also recommend clients to repeat this exercise in their current job. And replace the x axis with Monday to Friday, and at the end of each day plot how you felt about the day on a scale of 1–10, this can help you understand what elements in the current job you like and motivate you and conversely get specific on what you don’t like and why.

I hope these two tools help you to find clarity around what comes next for you in life, and empower you to tap into a sense of purpose or mission in life. 

Robbie Stakelum is a Brussels-based coach, supporting clients feeling lost and disconnected to find a sense of purpose by capturing clarity and building balance. Want to work with Robbie? You can find out more about his coaching practice, set up a free discovery call or find out if coaching is for you by checking out www.robbiestakelum.com or get in touch direct with Robbie by email via robbie@robbiestakelum.com