A telos (from the Greek τέλοϛ, for “goal”, “end”, or “purpose”) is an innate final goal or ultimate purpose. Telos is the root of the term “teleology”. Teleology is the study of purposiveness, or the study of objects with a view to their intentions, purposes, or aims. The term telos was used by philosophers such as Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) to describe an objects final cause; the reason for which a thing exists or is done. The subject of teleology is figured centrally in Aristotle’s ‘Theory of Causes’.
In Aristotle’s Theory of Causes, ‘Telos’ factors in the Final Cause. The Final Cause is that for the sake of which a thing exists or is done. Including both it’s inherent purpose and related actions or activities. For example, a knife’s telos is to cut; it’s final cause for why it exists is to cut. Therefore, a telos is the purpose or ultimate end that an object or thing is supposed to serve. This philosophical concept also covers modern theories on mental causation involving psychological causes. These causes include volition, motivation or motives, needs, rational, irrational, ethical, moral, and all that gives purpose and meaning to behavior.
Aristotle observed that nothing in potentiality can bring itself into actuality without the activity of an operative efficient cause. For example, nothing becomes actual of it’s own accord –no pile of bricks has ever spontaneously organized itself into a structure, house, or wall. For this change to occur, an actually operative agent (i.e. a person, a consciousness) is required to bring the bricks’ potentiality of a wall into actuality via intention and physical action. The operation of some actuality upon some potentiality is what Aristotle describes as the efficient causation. Therefore, self-actualization is the process of bringing into actuality what you are in your potentiality.
The human spirit has a virtuous desire for self-actualization. We are constantly seeking ways to grow and develop. We seek to experience in actuality–the fullness and greatness of our potential selves. In his article A Theory of Human Motivation, Abraham Maslow explicitly defines self-actualization to be:
…the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. – Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow spoke of the term ‘self-actualization’ to describe a desire that leads a person to realizing their own capabilities. Rather than self-actualization being used to determine one’s life, Maslow felt that it gave the individual a desire to reach fulfillment and achieve their personal goals. It is therefore not a driving force, but a desire that leads individuals to want to realize their potential. Self-actualization of ones potential, may be achieved through improvement in any area that is deemed important or valuable to the individual. For example, an individual may believe they have potential to be a skilled carpenter. Say this person actively seeks improvement in activities related to this craft. Then it can be said; as the individual improves– they are maximizing their potential in reality. They are doing the best that they are capable of doing. They are self-actualizing this aspect of their life. The desire to self-actualize our lives is undoubtedly accompanied with a great inner desire to know ones purpose. What is my goal in life? What is my mission? What am I here to do? What is my purpose in life?
Your mission is to breathe life into your purpose. A mission can be understood as the doing and action-steps in your journey to self-actualization and fulfillment. It is an expression of your highest values, potentially to their fullest. When you listen to your intuition and are living your highest values you become energized, inspired, grateful, creative, and time passes by quickly. When you are doing something outside of your highest values you tire, become bored, withdraw, lose focus and time slows down seeming to take forever. No one has to wake you up to do what’s highest on your values, but you will need outside motivation to get you to do what’s lower on your values. It is wise to take the time to understand your values. When you are able to honor your highest values, your intuition guides you. Your vision is clear. Your purpose feels right. And your mission is expressed.
A mission is an expression of your highest values… Your hierarchy of values dictates your destiny. Whatever is highest on your values is your telos (end in mind)… and your purpose is the most efficient and effective pathway to fulfill the greatest amount of void with the greatest amount of value, which means serve the greatest amount of people. That’s your purpose. – Dr. John F Demartini