Four Steps to Turn Your Purpose Into Goals

by Leanne Sowul
published in Writing

In my last Be Well, Write Well post, I launched a 3-part series designed to help busy writers find their rhythm. In our first post, we focused on finding our WHY, the purpose behind everything we do. We created purpose statements that brought the elements of our working, family and inner self pieces into a cohesive whole, allowing us to tap into the heart of what really matters to us. Our WHY helped us find the clarity necessary to direct our passions effectively. 

In today’s post, we’ll explore part two, the WHAT. In this step, we’ll take our purpose statement and break it down into practical, achievable goals. 

I’m going to take a moment for honesty here: this step was the hardest for me. Once I found my purpose statement, I was so excited that I wanted to do all the things that it encompassed. But that’s simply not realistic. In order to turn my WHY into my WHAT, I first had to step back and take a reality check. How much time did I have to devote to each of my priorities? How much energy would it take? Was I leaving myself enough space to live my life, mistakes and all? Most important for me, would the next step ease my natural anxieties by giving me direction, or would it increase my anxieties by putting too much pressure on me? I decided to write down all of those worrisome questions and return to them at the end of this step, a self-check to ensure balance. 

Step 1: Structure Your Plans

Start a document with three columns. In the first column, write down “WHY: Purpose.” Underneath, write your purpose statement. After editing, my statement ended up as one universal truth followed by three qualifiers: one for my writing life, one for my teaching life, and one for my home/family life. For example, here’s what I created for my writing life: 

As a writer, I impart perspective, empathy and faith in humankind. I create complex characters rooted in a strong sense of time, place and family, who are growth-minded, tenacious and fiercely optimistic. 

I was proud of this statement and felt that it reflected my deepest-held values. But the statement held little practical use. How could I break it down into achievable goals? I started by labeling the second column “WHAT: Goals.”

Step 2: Make It Practical 

Decide on a timeline for your goal-setting. I’d suggest something longer than a month but shorter than a year; I map my goals seasonally. (In my mind, there are five seasons. January-March is Winter; April-June is Spring; July-August is Summer; September-November is Fall; and December is Holidays. I can elaborate on this odd system in a future post.)

Next, decide on how many goals you need to feel as though you’re making progress toward your purpose statement. Consider the breadth of each goal as well. If you’re mapping out writing goals that connect to your mission to tell a family history, it might be reasonable to conduct seven interviews but only write three essays. Only you will know what’s reasonable for your schedule and energy levels. 

Step 3: Write It Down

Fill in the chart you’ve made. There will be only one purpose statement, but there might be several goals listed next to it. For example, here’s what I listed for writing goals in the Fall:

Major goal: Plan, produce and submit draft 5 of WiP 

Minor goal: Brainstorm essay topics that include elements of perspective, empathy and faith 

Minor goal: Read most-recommended personal essays from New York Times list

Minor goal: Update and add to list of places to submit essays and short memoir pieces

Note that in this section we’re not yet working out HOW to accomplish these goals. That’s in the next section (and next column!).

Step 4: Reflect

Once I’d hammered out my goals, I took a moment to reflect on the questions I’d had earlier. 

Had I accurately predicted my time and energy levels? Was I leaving myself enough space to live my life, mistakes and all? Only time would tell, but making the goals last over a period of two to three months seemed like there’d be space for anything that might arise, barring catastrophe or major illness. To ensure that my next round of goal-setting would be more accurate, I could keep track of the time spent on each goal and tally up at the end of the season. 

Did the goals increase my anxiety? Reading the goals made me feel energized. I couldn’t wait to get to the final step: making habits to support the goals!

Next month, tune in to our final installment of the series: HOW (habit formation). (My favorite!)

Leanne Sowul is an award-winning music teacher and writer whose writing has appeared in such publications as Hippocampus, Mothers Always Write, Confrontation, and Hudson Valley Magazine, and in live performances such as Read 650’s “The Great Outdoors.” She also writes the “Be Well, Write Well” column for DIY MFA, where she helps writers live full, happy lives while pursuing their creative dreams. In 2017, Leanne won both the Scott Meyer Award for personal essay and the All-American Dream Champion Award for music teaching. She writes historical fiction and memoir, and is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary Agency. Connect with Leanne at, via Facebook at Words From The Sowul, and on Twitter @sowulwords.

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