Quick question: If I were to ask you “Who are you?”, what would you answer? Most people answer this question in the following form: “I’m an engineer”, or “I’m an accountant”, or “I’m a (fill in the blank).”
Much of our dissatisfaction can be traced to one thing: A lack of purpose.
Our reflection of ourselves, who we think we are, even our self-worth, is very much tied to the labels we attach to ourselves. If you’re currently in a job or profession that does not fulfill you, this can have profound negative effects on your well-being.
What is Your Life’s Purpose?
I’ve often pondered about my life’s purpose. I’m not the first one to think “What the hell I’m I doing with my life?” I know I won’t be the last. It’s something that most people struggle with at some point, but mostly during periods of uncertainty and dissatisfaction with the way things are going at that moment.
Why bother figuring out your life’s purpose? Can’t you just ignore it and move through life, wherever the wind takes you? Well, yes and no. Having a “purpose” does not mean you need to have a well though-out, perfect plan laid out in front of you. The universe rarely aligns itself before you like that.
In fact, sometimes we need to wander for a bit. We need to try out different things, enjoy experiences outside our comfort zone. So what if some are dead-ends that lead nowhere? Your interests are what make you unique and your experiences will shape the decisions you make down the road. Allow yourself permission to explore different paths and see where they lead. “Not all those who wander are lost“, once wrote J.R.R. Tolkien.
But what if you’re tired of wandering? What if you need to some sort of road map to point you in the right direction? Then this practical guide is for you.
Interestingly enough, there are two definitions for “purpose.” One is a noun, the other a verb, each with a completely different implications.
As a noun, purpose is defined as:
“The reason for which something is done or created
or for which something exists.”
If you believe the universe is random, that there isn’t a Higher Power, then this definition of “purpose” will not appeal to you. It means there is somebody or “something” that destined you to do what you were meant to do. Pretty unnerving to think you were meant to do something if you have no idea what it is. Talk about added pressure! For the record, I do believe we were put on earth at this specific time, for specific reasons. Whether we fulfill that “destiny” or not is totally up to us.
The second definition, “purpose” as a verb, I suspect will resonate with more people:
“Have as one’s intention or objective”
This will appeal to hands-on people, who prefer practical solutions to life’s questions. But even if you have the best of intentions and the strongest will in the world, they are worthless without a clear objective. For you to want to “change the world” means absolutely nothing if you have no idea how you’re going to do that. Which means we’re back to square one.
I believe your purpose, or it’s mystical cousin, destiny, can be found by converging two things: Your reason for being and the objectives you set out to accomplish in life. Together, they determine your ideal purpose in life.
The Many Sides of Purpose
Many people get confused about what they want to achieve in life because they try to fit all of life’s meaning into one little package or clever/emotional/spiritual sentence or paragraph. Life’s too complex for such simple-minded generalization.
When you break down each component of your day-to-day life, you’ll find there are many areas that could potentially be considered your “life purpose.” For example, I consider among many of my life’s purposes the following:
- Be a good father and example to my daughter.
- Be a supporting, caring husband for my wife.
- Be someone who impacts others in a positive way.
- Be of help to others who need my help.
- To gain satisfaction from what I do, each and every day.
Now, these are among many of other purposes I aim to fulfill in life. You’ll notice that career or business are not listed. This is for a reason.
What good is building a great career, or business empire, if everyone around you hates your guts? Would it have been worth it? Unless you’re a psychopath, the answer will probably be “no”. If you’re like me, you want a fulfilling life and to build a great business, but not at the expense of destroying or neglecting the lives of those closest to you.
Now, your purposes will be different than mine. Perhaps you’re not a father, or a mother, or maybe don’t ever plan on being one. But at the core, there are the two big “unwritten” directives that will guide your life:
The desire to feel fulfilled;
the desire to have a positive impact on the life of others.
These two important directives of your life will converge in specific area of your life. The purpose that will likely have the greatest impact on yourself and others? Your life’s work.
What we do, day in and day out, is what gives purpose and meaning to our life. Since we spend most of our adult life working, either for ourselves or for someone else, it makes sense to seek work that fills us with a sense of purpose and allows us to be of positive influence to others.
Work that doesn’t provide a sense of purpose
will leave a void
that no amount of money can ever fill.
Finding Purpose in Your Life’s Work
Basically, the formula for doing purpose-filled work looks like this:
(Talents + Dreams + Why) = Life-changing work.
I know that things are sometimes easier said than done, so let’s break down each component of the equation.
Rediscovering your talents
First, you need to determine your sense of self, who you are as a person (innate talent). We’ve been taught from a young age that weaknesses require our attention, when in fact, it’s totally the opposite.
To take off, to achieve your maximum potential, you have to ignore your weaknesses and give free rein to that which you’re great at. You’ll have greater success when you look for ways to make the most out of your talents, your innate sense of purpose. What you were “wired” to do.
Imagine if Michael Phelps, the world’s most decorated Olympic swimmer, had decided to focus on weightlifting, or marathons, rather than swimming. Would he had made a good Olympic weightlifter, or runner? Maybe. At least above average, if he had dedicated to it as much time as he did to swimming. Would he had been the greatest ever? Doubtful. His body is perfectly built for swimming. By using his natural advantage (that which he’s good at), he was able to achieve greatness, rather than just being “above-average”.
I’ll give you a personal example. One of my weaknesses is organizing minutia. I don’t like to get bogged down with details. My greatest strength is researching and presenting information, among other things. It would be a huge waste of time and a source of frustration for me to concentrate on becoming a detail-oriented taskmaster. It’s not who I am or what I enjoy doing. Instead, I’ve focused on becoming better at presenting information and finding engaging ways to teach others.
It all comes back to doing what you love to do. And what you love to do is often that which brings you greatest satisfaction. And what brings you greatest satisfaction are those things that you can do well, that come naturally to you. That’s what I mean when I say you should use your innate talents. When you use your natural talents, you’re more inclined to seeing your projects through, rather than letting them frustrate you. To read more about this and to discover your talents, read my post: “How Ignoring Your Glaring Weaknesses Will Boost Your Performance”
The second part to doing work you love has to do with your dreams and aspirations. What do you want to achieve in life? No, really… Don’t hold back. This is not the time to be “realistic”. What would you like to achieve, if you knew you had no limits in life?
One of the biggest blunders you can make in life is giving up without a fight. Is there self-limiting behavior that’s preventing you from achieving your objectives? Do you catch yourself often saying things like “I wish I could, but I… don’t/can’t/won’t?” If so, stop sabotaging yourself. Never stop pursuing your goals because you stopped yourself short. There are plenty of obstacles standing between anything worthwhile we try to do. No need for yourself to become another one.
How do you accomplish goals that seem out of reach? Stop looking at goals and projects as one giant task. Instead, focus on them as a series of small steps.
When I first had the idea to write an eBook last year, I quickly realized it would be a much more bigger project that I’d anticipated. At that point, I could’ve just given up. But my overriding desire to offer people something of value, something that could help them move their projects forward kept me going. So I sat down and quickly sketched out an outline for the book.
I gotta tell you I stopped working on the project a bunch of times. But more importantly, I never stopped starting again.
Little by little, first writing one chapter, then writing another one, designing the layout one page at a time… I plugged away at it long enough that I was eventually able to see light at the end of the tunnel. I finished a book I was proud of, which has been downloaded plenty of times and one that has received excellent feedback from readers. But I wouldn’t have gotten to that point unless I started with the single first step of sketching an outline.
The easiest way to start making your dreams a reality is to write them down, no matter what you think you can realistically accomplish or what other people may think or say about them. In fact, keep your written goals secret at first. Keep working at them and reveal them in due time. Don’t mind negative criticism. These written goals will become your road map.
Next, think of one single action you can do today that will take you closer to your goals. It could be an email you need to send, a phone call you have to make, or an outline you have to write. Just one step, no matter how small in the scheme of things, that will take you closer to your goal.
Achieving goals is a easy as that. Great distances are covered one step at a time. Aim high and go for it, focused on taking one step at a time.
A common goal-setting mistake is to think that the byproducts of accomplishing your dreams (money, fame, etc) are in and of themselves the end goal. Let me tell you, they’re not. All the money in the world won’t make you feel any better if you feel empty and dissatisfied inside.
Sorry to tell you, but if your life’s ambition is to swim in piles of cash, you’re broken. Accumulating wealth should not be your end goal. Changing your life for the better and that of those who come in contact with you is. It’s not about money, or anything else that people associate with success. These things are nice, but what really matters in the end is whether you’re able to find peace and satisfaction in knowing you’ve made a difference in your life and that of others.
When people meet you, the first thing they’ll remark to others about you is how you made them feel. Were you a decent human being? They won’t care or comment whether you have a great car, dress nice, or how much money you have in the bank. They’ll definitely remember if you were a jerk to them, though.
When you accomplish your goals, will others be better for it, or resent you? Will the people that you’ve helped sing your praises, or all the people you stepped over to get to the top waiting with pitchforks when they see you stumble?
A life lived with purpose should make a dent in the universe. Do you dream of changing the lives of those around you? Of changing your corner of the world? This is why choosing to pursue a goal bigger than you is important. To do something that matters in the world, that changes more than your bank account.
Without a big reason “Why” you do what you do, it all becomes an empty pursuit of fame or money. Something you need to know about goal-setting. The higher the goal, the less competition you’ll have. Competition is fiercest for those seeking average results. When you dare to do amazing things, to go beyond what the rest of the pack is doing, you’ll find that there’s less competition and the easier it becomes to achieve success in your field.
You need to aim for goals that, when achieved, will fill you with satisfaction. If your goal is not big enough, if it does’t get your mind racing and your blood pumping, it will not motivate you to continue when times get tough. Thinking big is not enough. You also have to act big, to actively pursue your goals.
Putting it All Together
To find meaning to your work and do what you love, you must first start with yourself. Take inventory of who you are, what are your likes, talents, and skills you’d like to use every day. You must have a goal that’s big enough, important enough that is worth investing your time, talents and resources into. And you need to clearly spell out the reasons why you want to pursue those dreams and how will it change your life and those around you.
It’s OK if your goals change over time. Once you start on your path doors will open and the experiences you gain will tell you to either stay the course, or take a different approach. Whatever you do, don’t settle for less than what you absolutely want to achieve and accomplish.
The most rewarding purpose is one that is a lifelong pursuit, where it’s the journey that matters, not the ending.
What are your thoughts on seeking a “life purpose?
Share in the comments below!
Featured page image: Flickr @ Xavier Jamonet