Do you want to learn how to find your purpose in life?
Wonderful! This article is for you.
From the age of six, we hear constantly, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Those of us that don’t know (or guessed wrong) are left with a gnawing sense of emptiness.
Before we go any further, I want you to know that you are not alone.
My research and experience have taught me that many thousands of people — from students to grown adults with multiple degrees under their belts — are struggling to find the answer. Every single day.
The good news?
The feeling of being lost without purpose or direction can be overcome with the right process.
This article is going to walk you through the process right now.
Why is it difficult to find your purpose in life?
Everyone and I truly believe that every single person has a purpose in life.
But contrary to what we expect, it’s rarely an obvious or straightforward path. The way is hidden by insidious forces, and the first step is to recognize them.
Expectations of others
From childhood, we’re programmed with the expectations of parents and role models.
These expectations give us something to look up to, something to aim towards. But they also blind us to our own true path.
For example, parents often encourage a path of safety. They push kids towards a degree and a lucrative career. For some people, this road leads to success and satisfaction. For others, it’s a narrow path that leads to frustration.
Of course, parents just want what’s best for their kids. And it’s hard to let down the people who care about us.
That’s how expectations lead us in the wrong direction — going to great lengths trying to fit someone else’s version of success.
Who doesn’t want more money, praise, and status? Those things are awesome. But they don’t provide a sense of meaning or purpose.
We’re wired to look for validation outside of ourselves. Instead of following an internal compass, we follow rewards. And society rewards a linear path.
Parents reward children for being obedient. School rewards students for good grades. We get praised when we get a new job or a promotion, and a raise for a good annual performance review.
On the other side of the coin, kids are scolded for being dreamers. Students are punished for thinking differently. And nobody will congratulate you for saying no to a job offer, even if taking it would surely crush your soul.
Comparing yourself to others
You know that feeling when you meet someone at a dinner party who really has their shit together — passionate career, perfect family, competing in a triathlon next weekend?
Or the deliriously happy couple who quit their corporate jobs to raise llamas?
You want what they have.
You don’t automatically think that a fulfilling life might look different for you. You’re too busy picturing yourself in someone else’s running shoes (or rubber boots).
This is why comparing yourself to others leads you astray:
Finding purpose in life is a process of looking inward, not outward.
How to find your purpose
We tend to talk about “purpose” in a tone of reverence, as though each soul has a singular, eternal, reason for being here.
If that gives you the kind of tension in your chest that it does to me, I want you to take a deep breath and relax.
There is no “Holy Grail” of purpose.
I’m proposing an entirely different approach — one in which you don’t have to chase after a mysterious relic. Instead, think of finding purpose like an archaeological dig. It’s an expedition to uncover parts of yourself that have been buried.
We’re going to find out what your heart wants. Then we’re going to take small steps to build a life that aligns with those secret desires. That’s how you find enough excitement and purpose to last a lifetime.
We’ll start by looking for the clues that you already have in your own mind.
Your purpose rests in the intersection between what you love to do and what other people need. It’s a way of being powerfully in service while living your life with joy.
Your unique gifts, your attitude, your experiences all combine beautifully to create an ideal vision of yourself. You hold a place in the world that no one else can ever fill!
You may have even once had a sense of purpose and lost it, or fulfilled it in some way and are back to feeling lost. The great news is that you are allowed to change and grow. Just ask any scientist turned artist, or corporate executive turned personal trainer. Life is long and we have so much potential!
A lot of us have been lost so long in the daily grind or in the expectations of those around us. We might not even feel a pull towards any specific purpose, but we have a deep feeling that there is more to life. This can cause us to become too passive in our daily lives.
That’s what we’re going to dive in to discover right now.
Are you ready? It’s alright if you say no. Walk through this process anyway. It’s time to be bold and fearless!
The 5 questions you need to answer
Dedicate an hour or more to journaling your answers to these questions. Free write where your mind takes you and explore where your thoughts wander.
It’s OK if your answers are short, and it’s OK if you wind up writing lengthy stories.
You can even take a day to answer each question as deeply as you feel you need to. That would be a week full of enlightening introspection! If you need help, here’s how to improve focus.
1. What would you do if you never had to earn another dollar?
I can hear you imagining mai-tais on a beach. You’d love it…for about three days. Soon, you would wander off in search of a mission, a mystery, or anything to break the monotony.
If you didn’t have a day job but you still had the income, what would you do with all that time? What would you learn, what would you create, where would you go?
2. What would you choose to do, even when it sucked?
Things get hard, and you know how you feel after a terrible day in the office. You stick with it because you’re getting a paycheck and maybe some respect and prestige for what you do, not because you love it.
What would you willingly keep doing, even if you knew you would have those crap covered days sometimes? Because seriously, creating a life of purpose and meaning can have some challenges.
At the end of the day, what would make the challenges worth it?
3. What did you love doing as a child?
Did you persistently draw on the walls even after being scolded? Did you drum rhythms on the table with whatever pencils, silverware, or stray stick you could get your hands on?
Maybe you couldn’t resist the call of the woods, running through fields, climbing trees, and hiding in caves.
Our inner child knows our calling far better than we, as conditioned adults seem to. If it fills you with the single-minded glee of an 8-year-old, do more of it.
4. What makes you afraid of judgment?
We could feel judged for dropping our big, successful lives to follow some crazy dream.
The world is made better, YOUR world is made better, by those big crazy dreams! There are people who dress in authentic 17th-century recreation dresses, and they are rocking it!
You can rock your weirdness too because your weirdness is what makes you awesome.
5. What makes you angry?
What makes you so mad you’ll fight with strangers on the internet? What topics, when your friends bring them up, make you so mad you want to yell at them?
Instead of fighting internet trolls and arguing with friends, you could use your anger to make a positive change. It can light you up and propel you towards issues worth fighting for.
Digging through the rubble
Do you have your journal pages complete? Did you write all the ideas and random thoughts that came to you as you were answering each question?
It’s OK if only one or two of these pushed you to think deeply. If none of them did, come back to the questions after a good night’s sleep when you have some time to put your brain and your heart into it.
You now have a lot of clues. The next job is to sift through them and pay attention to how you feel.
Chances are you uncovered a few ideas that are giving you an emotional reaction, but only one or two that swirl into some kind of vision in your head.
Now that you think about it, you can’t STOP thinking about it, can you?
“A heart-dream is a place within us where a vision of the future connects with a desire of the heart.” – Judith E. Glaser
Listen to those heart dreams. They are unique to your own neurochemistry and present an opportunity to find your way to a purpose-driven life.
Remember, we’re not looking for a holy grail. We’re looking for clues.
Heart-dreams can be short-term missions to learn something new or take you to a new place. They can also be huge sweeping changes. Pick the one that pulls at you the strongest and lean into it.
That now-gnawing thought, that vision of yourself doing a bold and fearless thing? That life that’s at least a little but probably a whole heck of a lot different from the life you’re living now? That thing that’s weird and wonderful and might even change the world?
That, my friend, is your mission to explore. That’s where you will begin to find that sense of purpose.
I have a mission, now what?
You did the modern, quick and dirty vision quest. Now you’re excited, but what do you do with these newfound self-realizations?
Vision boards? Meditation? Changing your vibration?
You can if you want, but I’m going to give you practical steps to bring your purpose-filled life into reality.
Ok, are you ready? It doesn’t matter, you’re doing it anyway.
1. Visualize your purpose
Visualizing is a little like meditation. Instead of emptying your mind, fill it with the experience of what you want your life to be like.
For example, let’s say your mission is to build eco-friendly housing. Imagine researching new materials to use. Think of making connections in new cities, and mentally put yourself in the offices and locations that you’d be working from.
What does that version of you, that version of your life feel like? How do the conversations go with the people who buy your homes?
This vision will change as you move closer and closer to your ideal. It might even change completely if your purpose changes course.
It’s important to do this exercise for at least two minutes each day to cement the vision in your mind.
Visualization changes your neural connections over time. You’ll notice that you feel more and more like the person in that vision each day. It will be easier to take those big steps towards your purpose.
Are you an entrepreneur looking to revitalize their purpose and business? Check out our business coaching.
2. Start small
You might have a big vision, but all things are accomplished by taking small, consistent steps each day. Living your purpose can be daunting, even overwhelming, and the best way to avoid that is to take small actions consistently.
How small? Do one internet search on the subject of your purpose. Write one email. Learn one skill. Take one risk.
You can think of these actions as experiments. Life is a learning process after all, so try small steps and see how they feel.
The heart-dreams that you discovered from the exercise above are meant to be played with. If you were the kid that loved to play in the woods, take a few hours to go play in a forest or in a park. If you loved to paint, pick up some new colors and see what happens.
Little experiments like this will help your brain to grow. You’ll start to feel more and more like yourself, not just a cog in a machine.
3. Take action
When you take action, take INSPIRED action.
In the eco-friendly house example, yes, you’d need to learn some business skills. There are marketing tactics, construction regulations, and lots of mundane details to consider. Do those things!
But INSPIRED action is where your uniqueness will propel you forward. Talk about your plans, share your excitement, and be real about what you’re doing.
This is what will set you apart and create real momentum.
If it feels a little weird at first, that’s completely normal. You’re breaking out of old patterns and building something new. Stick with it, and take those small steps every day. Small steps lead to bigger steps, and it will all come together faster than you think is possible.
4. Go big
You’ve taken small, consistent actions. You’ve filled your head with actionable information on living your purpose.
Now here’s where the fun really starts. It’s time to go big, which means getting fearless about taking risks.
You’ll have already gone through some mindset shifts to get to this point, but eventually, you’ll have to make a big leap. You won’t feel ready, because there is no such thing as “ready.”
You’ll know when it’s time to make big moves in your life. The feeling of almost twitching with excitement will be your guide.
Take a deep breath and jump.
5. Enlist allies
We squishy humans tend to absorb the traits of the people we’re around most. And many times our friends and families will try to protect us from taking necessary risks.
Choose your influences wisely, even if that means making new friends.
Join like-minded groups, and venture out of your comfort zone. There are meetup groups in cities all over the world. If you can’t find a physical group of people to support your quest, an online group is almost as good.
Keep Moving Forward
Now you know that finding your purpose in life is possible — and you have the practical steps to go back to any time you need direction.
If you haven’t found yours yet, keep following the clues. I promise it will be worth it.