Photo by Danica Tanjutco on Unsplash

The most popular question John Maxwell receives when he is on the road speaking and coaching is: “How do I become successful?”

John’s reply usually goes something like this: “You cannot achieve what you have not defined.” John’s response is designed to help the questioner begin the journey to discovering his or her purpose.

John says this because he has learned from experience that the problem for most people who want to be successful is not that they can’t achieve success; it’s that they cannot define their purpose.

That’s challenging for many of us, because we often picture success as looking like someone else.

We find ourselves pursuing the wealth of Bill Gates, the intelligence of Albert Einstein, the athletic ability of Michael Jordan, or the imagination of Walt Disney. When becoming someone else is our picture of success we eliminate the possibility of becoming who we are meant to be.

So how do you discover your purpose in life? How do you discover the person you were created to be?

Here are some questions I ask myself to help identify my purpose:

1. What am I searching for?

I have heard John Maxwell say many times, “When I see people who are tired before their time, lagging with their life, and complaining about their circumstances, I know that they have no purpose.”

All of us have a strong desire buried in our hearts, something that speaks to our deepest thoughts and feelings, something that sets our souls on fire. Searching for that fire will bring perspective that will help you establish priorities.

2. Why was I created?

Think about your unique mix of abilities, the resources available to you, your personal history, and the opportunities around you. If you objectively identify these factors while considering the desire of your heart, you will be well on your way toward discovering your purpose in life.

Each of us is different. No one else in the world has exactly the same gifts, talents, background, or future. That’s one of the reasons it would be a serious mistake for you to try to be someone other than yourself.

3. Do I believe in my potential?

John Maxwell says, “Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their capabilities. They vary in their desire to reach their potential.”

To reach your potential, you must first believe that you have it. If you don’t believe that you have potential, you will never try to reach it. And if you aren’t willing to work toward reaching your potential, you will never be successful.

President Theodore Roosevelt gave great advice on this when he said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

4. When do I start?

To put it simply—NOW! However, this seems to be the most paralyzing question for many people.

Some people never try to discover their true purpose for living. They live their lives from day to day allowing others to dictate what they do and how they do it.

Others know their purpose, yet never act on it because they are waiting for inspiration or an invitation to get started. They don’t realize that the most dangerous temptation is delaying your discovery of purpose.


Here’s the bottom line: If you don’t understand your purpose, you cannot be successful, because success begins with purpose.

I believe that God created every person for a purpose. I also have come to know that it is our responsibility—and our greatest joy—to identify it.

Work to discover your purpose. Don’t wait; start today! You will find the fulfillment and success you want in life.


  1. Fred Warner on November 30, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Courage gets you in the door, determination keeps you in the room.

  2. Peter on November 30, 2018 at 9:56 am

    Beutiful write up

  3. David L. Craun on December 1, 2018 at 8:48 am

    Knowing your purpose, having a direction for your life, and understanding your values and what is really valuable in life will lead to the path of success. A foundation of faith and understanding the role of grace keep us in the race of life.

  4. Frances D on December 7, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Great article. Thanks for the push this morning.

  5. Christiana Beckham on December 7, 2018 at 11:26 am

    This read was inspiring !

  6. Dave Grassmann on December 9, 2018 at 7:47 am


  7. Niya G. on December 10, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Wonderful article!

  8. Cynthia Marshall on December 10, 2018 at 11:11 am

    You can start NOW!

  9. Kathy Bergeron on December 10, 2018 at 11:33 am

    This article lets each one of know that success is defined by different people in different ways. We have to determine how we define success then seize upon the opportunities that come our way.

  10. Lekisha Bacon on December 10, 2018 at 11:53 am

    Very Very Informative message. Confirmation! Thank You

  11. Robert on December 12, 2018 at 1:36 am

    Inspirational blog!

  12. Susan on December 12, 2018 at 1:43 am

    Good reading and inspirational one!

  13. Moaz Khan on December 13, 2018 at 5:09 am

    It is very useful information also inspirational blog.
    Thanks and keep it up

  14. Louise on February 15, 2019 at 1:31 am

    Very motivational blog!

  15. Danica Tanjutco on April 6, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    I am such a huge fan of Mr. John Maxwell. This is also such a beautiful piece. Was excited to see that my photograph has been used on his blog, ahhhhh! Such a fan, and more power!

    • Jason Brooks on April 7, 2019 at 4:33 pm

      It’s a great photograph, Danica! Thanks for putting it on Unsplash so we could find it!

  16. […] John Maxwell, many of whose books I have read calls the WHY, purpose. Click here and read this article by John. […]

  17. shawn on May 11, 2021 at 12:18 am

    Oh, this is insightful. You cannot achieve what you have not defined. You make me think about my future, my purpose, and what kind of ‘success’ I wanted. Thanks. 🙂

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