The Difference Between Goals and Purpose

I don’t watch much television, but I love how with new viewing options I can pick and choose what I want to watch and when… So I’ve been catching up on a couple of my favorite shows. One of those shows is The Wormhole on the Science TV network. I really appreciate programs like The Wormhole or like National Public Radio’s TED Radio Hour that can take seemingly disparate topics and discuss them in light of creative thinking and scientific research. These programs often present really big questions—often demanding that we think outside our normal perceptions of the world. Watching or listening to these programs often gives me a large sense of AWE.


A recent episode of The Wormhole—Season 6, Episode 3, which originally aired on May 13, 2015—had a segment that explored one professor’s exploration of the difference between “goals” and “purpose.” Professor Tony Burrow of Cornell University is inspired by research in multiculturalism and discrimination. But his overarching study showed some interesting results—that having a broader picture seems to ameliorate, or rather alleviate, the challenges that we create for ourselves in life.


The difference between “goals” and “purpose” initially seems like one of simple semantics. But when we focus on the definitions, distinctions appear… Goals, while sometimes laudatory and well-intentioned, are something that are meant to be terminal—they have an end-point intention for when they should be, or are hoped to be, accomplished. A defined purpose, however, is determined to have a broader framework, and is not something that, ultimately, a person can necessarily accomplish. Rather, a purpose orients one through the goals that one has set-out for themselves.


While goals may entail climbing and broaching walls and barriers that we see in life, a purpose tends to free us from the obstacles that confront us.


Having a purpose reminds people that where they are right now is not forever; purpose reminds us that we’re heading in a particular direction. To quote the program, “Having a purpose flattens the mountains between where we are and where we’re going.”


One of the benefits of determining one’s purpose is that it seems to subconsciously change how we see the world around us. In other words, if we can take a step back and see the greater purpose in our own lives, it becomes easier to understand that other people around us have purposes of their own, or even common purposes. It can give us a greater appreciation for others—purposes transcend things like skin color or nationality or religion, etc.


Can we cultivate purpose? Of course we can! It might even be vital in order to reorient oneself. It’s a big question: What is my life’s purpose? But it’s a question that seems worth asking… And the perfect kind of question one might use the tarot to help reveal our true purpose…

It might help us identify hindrances and roadblocks to allowing our true purpose to blossom…

It might assist us in navigating the path to realizing our true purpose…


Here’s a spread that might assist you:




Goal #1 Possible Terminus Outcome

Where Goal #1 seems to be headed

Goal #1

Nascency of PURPOSE

Hindrances to PURPOSE




Goal #2 Terminus outcome

Where Goal #2 seems to be headed

Goal #2

Posted in Psychology of Tarot, Tarot Reading, Tarot Spreads and tagged , , , .

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