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Renewing Our Purpose

  • Practice issues

Ang Bee LianMs Ang Bee Lian, 28 April 2021

Dear Social Service Practitioners and Leaders,

We are often asked: is it important to document what transpires in social service interventions? How much information should we retain in our records when time is a limiting factor? On-the-job training as well as education and courses have given practitioners good guidance on documentation. However, it does not resolve the ever-present tension of how much we should document our cases with clients and families.

Having a sense of purpose is extremely important when we consider the work we do. It keeps us grounded and motivated in times of adversity, when we are faced with challenging and seemingly impossible tasks, or cases that seem to have no solution in sight. Research has shown that being able to cope with and embrace life’s uncertainties are strongly tied to having a deep sense of purpose in life. A strong sense of purpose allows us to treat adversities as part of the journey to achieve this purpose, and create meaning in all that we do, motivating us to overcome difficult challenges.

To understand the importance of purpose, we must first know what it means. New York Times bestselling author, Simon Sinek, writes in his book, Start with Why, “Your WHY is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you” (Axtell, 2018). Purpose is the inner compass that provides us the drive to do the work that we do and the energy to persevere. It reminds us why we are doing what we are doing and allows us to continue to find joy and meaning in our work.

A Diminishing Sense of Purpose

However, this sense of purpose may fade out over time. As some of us reach the mid-point of our career or life, it is common to feel a diminishing sense of purpose when work starts to become more mundane and repetitive. For others, we may feel a greater sense of stress, despair and lack of motivation from the growing workload. This is further compounded by the current pandemic, where plans were abruptly changed and many new challenges surfaced. However, at the same time, these challenges encourage us to rethink our purpose, serving as an important push for us to renew this purpose and remind ourselves why we started out in the first place.

How to Re-find Our Purpose

Asking Questions

To find our purpose, we first need to start by looking within. Asking questions aids in our self-reflection on purpose and life, just like how we ask questions to clients to understand their circumstances. As Burch suggested, we can start by considering more personal questions like the following (Burch, 2020):

  • What are your intrinsic strengths? What are some of your unique and positive attributes?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What do you care for
  • What are your principles and values?
  • What is the reason that you entered this profession?
  • What was something that you previously did that you may wish to revisit?

Once we have a better understanding of ourselves, we will be able to better discover our values in life and find out what activities we are willing to invest time and energy into. From here, we can start to craft our purpose in life and frame it such that our purpose is a goal that we want to achieve. For some, this purpose could be about making a positive impact in someone’s life, to build a better community or to share knowledge and wisdom with others. It could also be more individualistic, like focusing on your learning process or achieving certain milestones at work. Regardless of what your purpose is, once we are aware of it, we can pen the steps to achieve this purpose. Be clear and specific about the steps that you will take. Note the actions you will take to fulfil your goals and break them down into small steps to make the path less daunting (Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, 2017).

At the same time, you could also zoom out and see the bigger picture and review how your purpose aligns with your organisation’s mission. Find specific areas in your organisation that are aligned to your purpose and come up with ways to fulfil your purpose. Being able to see yourself contributing to the organisation will imbue a sense of meaning and fulfilment into your daily work. If you find that what you are currently doing no longer aligns with your purpose, there are multiple avenues for you to explore other options as long as you seek these opportunities.

Mentoring and Coaching

Being able to do the above is not easy. Although not essential, engaging a life coach or mentor will be a great help in this process. The support you receive from mentors and coaches will stretch you beyond your comfort zone, especially when you face difficulties in aligning your purpose with your organisation’s mission. A life coach or mentor can help you discover your strengths and goals. They will keep you accountable on the steps that you have to take to achieve your aspirations (Miller, 2020). A life coach or mentor can also provide new and different perspectives, helping you discover new things about yourself and the work you do. They may even find other ways that can align your purpose to your organisation’s mission (Bundrant, 2019). It is recommended to seek your own coach or mentor and initiate the mentor-mentee relationship, rather than be assigned one formally where the coach or mentor may not suit your style and beliefs.

For Leaders in the Social Service Sector

Having a team of members with a strong sense of purpose is important to effectively realise the organisation’s mission. With this shared sense of purpose, members would be motivated to put in their best efforts in their work, improving productivity and quality of services delivered (Gatty, n.d.). This positive work culture would also give team members a sense of purpose and dignity in what they do.

To achieve this, leaders could take time to get to know members and understand their needs. Tailoring learning opportunities to every individual will help them realise their potential. Leaders could be flexible and allow for small changes in organisational structures and the workplace environment, to provide ample time and space for members to find their purpose in their work. When members can try out different things at work, they gain more opportunities to discover their interests and talents that they were not aware of.

Leaders can also step forward and mentor others, sharing knowledge and wisdom gleaned from past experiences. A long-term mentorship is more effective as you would be able to understand your mentee at a deeper level and thus provide better support. Having a less-structured mentor-mentee relationship, where you connect with your mentee in other ways apart from one-to-one sessions, such as having meals in a group setting, will allow for a more honest and open discussion about your mentees’ goals and desires. It is also important that the messages that you send to your mentees are timely and are able to support their learning, to help open doors for them to develop as a person.

Living a Purpose-driven Life

Finding your purpose can be challenging, but it is worth the effort. Being able to be purpose-driven enables us to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. When we are equipped with a strong sense of purpose, we become more open to improving ourselves and to work towards our goals despite the obstacles that stand in the way. We are motivated to give our all in everything we do and develop into better versions of ourselves.

Remain Vigilant

Admittedly, many of us work with limited resources and feel that this might lead to a higher chance of slip-ups, though this is not always the case. However, if missed steps happen to align with other circumstantial factors, seemingly small mistakes can be grievous. Consistency, discipline and mindfulness are thus extremely important traits for good case management. After-action reviews should thus be studied carefully by current and to-be practitioners as they offer invaluable insights to how critical SOPs are followed as the case develops. Practitioners should also remain vigilant in practising good documentation and monitoring potential neglect cases.


    Axtell, P. (2018, March 5). Purpose: The Foundation of Motivation (Part Four). Retrieved from What’s Next’s website.

    Bundrant, M. (2019, May 26). Benefits of Life Coaching: 33 Impressive Facts You Need to Know. Retrieved from iNLP Center’s website.

    Burch, R. (2020, May 29). 3 Questions to Help You Define Your Purpose. Retrieved from Career Contessa’s website.

    Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. (2017, April 25). Evaluation Guide: Writing SMART Objectives. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

    Gatty, A. (n.d.). Building a Shared Sense of Purpose in Your Organization. Retrieved from AllBusiness’ website.

    Miller, K. D. (2020, September 30). 30 Proven Benefits of Life Coaching & Mentoring. Retrieved from PositivePsychology’s website.

Ang Bee Lian

Director-General of Social Welfare
Ministry of Social and Family Development