How to Discern God’s Purpose vs. Your Plan

Spiritual Growth • May 30, 2024

Discovering God’s Purpose: A Journey with Dean Niewolny

Interview with Executive Dean Niewolny, VP of Strategic Engagement with OneAscent

Introduction to Dean Niewolny

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dean Niewolny, a remarkable individual with a profound journey of faith and discovering God’s purpose. Dean, a graduate of the Halftime Institute and its former CEO, has an impressive background with over two decades in executive roles at major Wall Street firms.

Currently, as the Vice President of Strategic Engagement at OneAscent, Dean advises families on how to utilize their time, talent, and treasure to live out their God-given calling. He is also the author of “Trade Up,” a book about transitioning from merely making money to making a meaningful difference. Let’s delve into Dean’s inspiring story and insights on finding and living out God’s purpose.

A Transformative Journey

Dean’s journey towards understanding God’s purpose began with his own “halftime” experience—a period of reflection and redirection. He moved to South Lake, Texas, after his wife had an interesting dream, marking the start of a new season in their lives. Dean’s transition from a high-flying Wall Street executive to a purpose-driven life advisor was not instantaneous but a result of years of introspection and seeking God’s will.

Understanding Confusion as a Catalyst

Confusion is the fuel to help people figure out God’s purpose for their life.

Dean Niewolny

Dean emphasizes that confusion can be a powerful catalyst in discovering God’s purpose. He shared how his own confusion and dissatisfaction with his career led him to seek deeper meaning. This period of “smoldering discontent,” as Dean calls it, is a sign that God might nudge you towards a new direction. Embracing this confusion and seeing it as an opportunity to seek God’s guidance can be transformative.

The Pivotal Moment

Dean’s pivotal moment came while sitting in his corner office, overwhelmed by the emptiness despite his worldly success. He vividly recalls crying out to God, “There has to be more to life than this.” This plea marked the beginning of his journey from success to significance. Dean realized that his life had been centered around his own success, and he needed to shift his focus to serving others and fulfilling God’s purpose for his life.

From Success to Significance

Drawing inspiration from Bob Buford’s concept of moving from success to significance, Dean embarked on a journey to simplify his life and align it with God’s calling. He stresses that discovering God’s purpose is a process that involves understanding your gifts, passions, and spiritual strengths. It’s not about making a sudden drastic change but about making deliberate, prayerful adjustments to align your life with God’s plan.

Practical Steps to Discern God’s Purpose

Dean offers practical advice for those seeking to discern God’s purpose:

  1. Seek God in Prayer: Begin by earnestly praying and asking God for guidance.
  2. Understand Your Wiring: Use tools like StrengthsFinder, spiritual gift assessments, and passion inventories to gain clarity about your strengths and interests.
  3. Low-Cost Probes: Experiment with small, low-risk opportunities that align with your gifts and passions. Volunteer, take on minor projects, or explore new roles within your current job.
  4. Seek Counsel and Community: Engage with mentors and a faith community to gain insights and support.

Staying Where You Are

Interestingly, Dean notes many people discover they can serve God’s purpose right where they are. At the Halftime Institute, about 60% of participants find fulfillment by making slight adjustments in their current roles rather than making a complete career change. The key is to serve and make a difference within your existing context.

The Role of the Word and Personal Healing

Dean and I both emphasized the importance of grounding oneself in the Word of God. Understanding scripture and seeking a personal relationship with God are crucial steps. Dealing with personal and emotional issues is vital. Healing from past wounds and addressing family relationships can clear the path for clearer spiritual guidance.

Surrendering to God’s Plan

Ultimately, Dean highlights the importance of surrendering to God’s will. Moving from success to significance is only complete when we fully surrender our plans and ambitions to God. This surrender allows us to truly hear and follow His calling, leading to a life of fulfillment and impact.


Dean Niewolny’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of seeking and living out God’s purpose. His insights remind us that discovering God’s calling is a journey that involves embracing confusion, seeking clarity, making practical adjustments, and ultimately surrendering to His will. Whether you are considering a major life change or looking for ways to serve more meaningfully in your current role, Dean’s story provides valuable guidance and inspiration.

For those inspired by Dean’s journey, his book “Trade Up” offers deeper insights into transitioning from a life of success to one of significance and surrender. As we navigate our own journeys, let us remember that our purpose is intricately tied to our relationship with God and our willingness to serve others with our unique gifts and talents.

👉 Buy Dean’s Book on Amazon

👉 Connect with Dean

👉 Learn about Teresa’s Christian Coaching options.

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