What Is Core Purpose?

Graeme Cowanresilience

Part 3 in a six part series on resilience.

Resilience is your ability to ‘bounce back’ from trauma or unexpected events and continue along your path.

In my first blog post on resilience, I looked at what resilience is and why it is important.

Having looked at what resilience is, I focused my second blog post on how resilience is manifested.

But resilience without core purpose is like navigating a forest without a map – you don’t know where you’re going in the first place. Are you ‘bouncing back’, or just bouncing around?

Andrew Zolli’s book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back doesn’t specifically define core purpose. Zolli illustrates the concept of resilience using a metaphor:

“If we cannot control the volatile tides of change, we can learn to build better boats.”

Extending (and maybe torturing) that metaphor – if resilience is the boat we build for ourselves, core purpose is the captain. The captain of a boat has developed the necessary seafaring qualities, knows the capabilities and limitations of the boat, has a set destination in mind and knows where, why and how to get there. The sturdy boat of resilience will weather the storms along the way and deliver captain and cargo safely.

So if resilience is the boat designed to protect and transport the captain of core resilience, what is the ‘stuff’ the captain is made of that makes him fit to captain the boat in the first place? A helpful article by Dr Gail M. Wagnild, ‘Discovering Your Resilience Core’, identifies five essential characteristics of resilience:

  1. Meaningful life (purpose)
  2. Perseverance
  3. Self-reliance
  4. Equanimity
  5. Coming home to yourself (existential aloneness).

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail, and I’ll give my own take on each characteristic.


Meaningful life (purpose)

This is highlighted as the most important quality, laying the foundation for the others. I agree wholeheartedly. This is the engine of core purpose. Personally, I use the whYcode™ system.

Your whYcode™ is the confluence of your values, your strengths and your passions. It is your purpose, your spirit, your life force. A life congruent with your whYcode™ is essential for negotiating the peaks and valleys on your life journey.

David McLelland, a psychology professor from Harvard was fascinated by what qualities helped people thrive. He developed a test that could predict with great accuracy which graduates would have a thriving life 20 years later.

Essential factors were: these people were not motivated to achieve social indicators of success, they set moderate goals that were meaningful to them (50:50 chance of success), they daydreamed about achieving these goals, they engaged in both optimistic and pessimistic thinking, they sought advice from mentors before making a commitment to that goal. (McClelland, Motivating Economic Achievement, 1969).

I will write more about your whYcode™ in a separate series of blog articles.



Never giving up and never giving in, perseverance is the quality that enables us to overcome perceived obstacles and challenges that can thwart or throw us.

For the non-resilient, repeated failure or rejection can knock us off-course and cause us to abandon our objectives. Resilient people analyse their failures and rejections, learn from them and draw strength from the lessons learnt, developing courage, emotional stamina and solidifying purpose. This may mean proceeding along the same path, effecting modifications in light of lessons learnt or trying to achieve the same goal via a different, but no less adequate, method.



Tying in with perseverance, self-reliance is born out of life experience. Through repeated trials and testing your limits, you develop a confidence in yourself, with knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses and what you are and are not capable of doing. You also identify when you can do things alone and when you may need some extra help from outside, with the confidence to ask for that help when needed.



Equanimity means your ability to maintain a state of balance and composure, to avoid extreme responses to situations. A feature of high emotional intelligence, development of equanimity will alter your perspective on the world. Equanimity yields more possibilities that may be closed to a mindset dwelling on the negative or exclusively focusing on the positive, acceptance of both good and bad outcomes and an openness to learning from all outcomes and from the wisdom and experience of others.


Coming home to yourself (existential aloneness)

Many of us don’t like to be alone with our thoughts. Indeed, we live in a world geared almost exclusively towards distracting us from being alone with our thoughts. There’s always something to do to distract us from focusing on what we’re feeling or thinking right now. Why do you think so many people find meditaton difficult when they first try it? It goes against what we’ve been conditioned to do – really experience and acknowledge this sense of aloneness.

An unforeseen event that knocks us off-course, particularly if it shakes the very core of our existence – the death of a family member or loved one, or the failure of a significant personal project, for example – can cause us to question whether who we are and what we do has any meaning anymore.

Suddenly, nobody and nothing around us can assist us in making sense of this ultimate sense of aloneness (but not loneliness) that is an undeniable fact of our existence in this world.

Part of core purpose is accepting who we are and being able to live with ourselves. Whilst this does not mean shared experiences or relationships are unimportant, it does mean that we cannot define ourselves by reference to the external, and that any attempt to do so dooms us to a futile existence of external validation of our intrinsic worth, which only we can know ourselves.

Existential aloneness is the recognition that each of us has our own intrinsic worth, not defined or measured by any external standard. Accepting and embracing this can lead to a wonderful sense of freedom, as we realise that we are not bound by the judgments of others nor do their judgments alter the fundamental fact that each of us in this world has our own contribution to make to the society in which we live. No matter what happens, we can always return to this fundamental sense of existential aloneness and not only be ok with it, but to take comfort in this, avoiding despair at perceived external failures or setbacks.

Putting theory into practice

There’s a lot more that could be written about each of these characteristics, but I just wanted to give you an overview of what core purpose is. In the next blog article in this series, we’ll look at how to determine your core purpose – what’s involved will surprise you!

Do you recognise this characteristics? Do you agree that they constitute core purpose? How have they helped you weather the ups and downs of life? Please share your experiences with us!