The Importance of Having a Purpose Greater Than Yourself

Jim TresselTo live a successful and fulfilling life, you must work for a purpose greater than yourself.

I talked a lot about this principle in my book, Old School Grit. The main point is that you have to have a compelling reason for WHY you’re doing what you do. This reason has to be a driving force that carries you forward when the going gets tough.

A paycheck isn’t a good enough reason. Personal glory isn’t a good enough reason. Proving someone wrong isn’t a good enough reason.

In the short-term, these reasons can fuel you forward. In the long-term, that motivation will dwindle and you’ll lose your enthusiasm.

You have to live for a purpose much greater than yourself.

Jim Tressel, the former football coach at Ohio State and Youngstown State, illustrates the power of purpose with the following story…


In 1991, our Youngstown State team won the national championship in Division 1-AA. When we arrived home after the game, 10,000 screaming fans met us at the Youngstown airport.

When we stepped off the plane and tried to make our way through the throng to the bus that would take us back to campus, an older gentleman pushed his way through the crowd to get to me. I could see in his eyes the hardness of the years that had passed.

With tears streaming down his face, he said, “This is the greatest day in my life since V-E Day.”

This man had probably lived in Youngstown his whole life. After World War II, he’d probably worked in the mill, probably lost his job when the economy turned, and his family had no doubt struggled.

It appeared that between the time of the Allies’ victory in Europe and our team’s victory on the football field, things hadn’t gone very well for this man. But to know that our team had brought such joy to his heart, and to all of Youngstown, was a huge bonus for us.

Every great team I’ve ever been a part of has at some point come to the realization that our winning or losing affects more than just those of us in the room.

You must understand that ANY endeavor is a group journey. When you play for more than just the guys on the field, you can achieve the inner satisfaction and peace of mind that come from being part of something much larger than yourself.


— Jim Tressel, from his book (with Chris Fabry) The Winner’s Manual

When you believe that whatever you’re doing is tied to a purpose much bigger than yourself, great things start to happen. You’ll work harder, you’ll be more resilient, and you’ll be a lot prouder of what you’re doing with your life.

Take a step back and ask yourself why you do what you do. If what you do on a daily basis isn’t tied to a purpose greater than yourself—a purpose you feel really good about—it may be time to do something else with your life.

As the late great basketball coach Jim Valvano once said, “A person does not become whole until he or she becomes a part of something bigger than himself or herself.”