About Questions on Purpose


Questions on Purpose is a delving point for thought. Our posts aim, variously, to console, to inspire and to challenge those pondering the meanings in their own lives.

On this site you will find stories from people in the midst of finding their own sense of purpose (among them a Buddhist monk, a blind pilot and a modern philosopher) alongside thoughts on the ways we find meaning in our lives and work(s).

This project is a collaborative endeavour and we have a few guiding principles:

  • We are in the business of volunteering thoughts to provoke other thoughts - we are not necessarily trying to state a definitive point

  • We are committed to working in public and to sharing ideas not necessarily fully formed

  • We are interested in creating both harmony and dissonance for your own thoughts

  • We see purpose as a process and a journey, rather than a destination

  • We are not 'the ones who know’, we are merely curious people - others are welcome to contribute

  • We know that thoughts about purpose aren't clear cut or straightforward, but they are much more interesting because of that

    Emily & Matthew

    Questions on Purpose

Emily Shipp

My own journey to find purposeful work has taken me from Psychology to Existentialism and from non-profits to startups, freelancing and remote work. In the process I've read widely on meaning and purpose, on designing your life (and work) and on living differently.

In autumn 2017 I started interviewing people about purpose - how they've found it, wrestled with it, and sometimes found peace in the process. 

I have wondered so much about my purpose in life. But all that thinking got me precisely nowhere, except more confused.

Emily Shipp, Questions on Purpose

Emily Shipp, Questions on Purpose

Meaningful conversations with like-minded souls have made the biggest difference in my own search, and that is what this website is about.

Maybe you’ve got to a point where you’re feeling stuck, or you’re wondering what next. Or maybe you feel like you have all the elements of a good life lined up, but somehow it just doesn’t fit.

We have more options in our lives than ever before. It’s liberating and totally overwhelming at the same time. And when there are so many potential paths you can choose, how do you choose just one? How do you know you’re on the right path? — These are the questions that can get you so far inside your own head you can’t think straight.

The one thing I have learnt is that purpose isn’t a destination. I used to think think that one day I would ‘discover’ my purpose and everything would fall into place. But it’s not like that. It’s more complex, it’s more difficult, but it’s also much more interesting. It’s a journey and a process and it’s a lot more enjoyable when you can swap stories with others in the same situation.

I think a lot of us go through shades doubt about our purpose in life. It’s a disorientating place to be. But the more interesting thing is how people come through it. Sometimes that means living a different life in the end than the one that you thought.

Matthew Burgess

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States. Even before I first wandered into the cabstand for an afterschool job I knew I wanted to be a part of them. It was there that I knew that I belonged.”

The opening of Goodfellas is how the purpose journey is supposed to begin. From Serena Williams picking up a racket aged five to a teenage Mark Zuckerberg linking his family’s computers together to create an early social network, the archetypal story of a meaningful life is one that’s kindled by a childhood discovery and a moment when you 'just knew’.

Matthew Burgess, Questions on Purpose

Matthew Burgess, Questions on Purpose

It hasn’t been like this for me. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be lots of different things. At school, the list included astronaut, palaeontologist, actuary, missionary and lead singer in a stadium rock band. None of these have stuck. Since then I’ve been fortunate to have had an incredibly fun and varied work life, which has included such theoretically perfect box-tickers as journalism, television and DJing. But though these have been fascinating, fulfilling and at times transcendent, they have felt (in varying degrees) more like ‘doing' jobs than ‘being' jobs.

Despite the disparity, I can trace a connecting thread. Much of my work has somehow involved the the hunt for hidden elements, which can then be connected and recombined into something different and bigger. It’s the method behind making TV programmes, writing articles and crafting DJ sets. Author, curator and all-round font of inspiration Maria Popova calls this combinatorial creativity. She describes it as being like LEGO. The more bricks you have and the more you experiment with different ways of fitting them together, the greater the possibilities. With lots of possibilities come lots of choices. Maybe my sense of incompleteness is a function of a life characterised by branching pathways rather than straight roads.

I feel this might be a common experience for those on the purpose quest. We are fed narratives of linearity and straightforwardness when our realities are more tangled and multifaceted. A meaningful life does not often come with a set of instructions. There’s a lot of figuring out, experimenting and questioning. This can feel both dauntingly monolithic and frustratingly ephemeral. But though it’s a personal process, I don’t think it’s one we should face alone. I’m grateful for the opportunity to join Emily here at Questions on Purpose in the hope we can build a community, and shape a set of tools that will help more of us find where we fit. One question at a time.

If you've ever wondered about your purpose in life and work, share your story here.