From an early age, we were repeatedly asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In high school, everyone asked, “What are you going to study? What are you going to do with your life?”
As an adult, the questions shifted to, “Is this your dream job? Are you passionate about your job?”
We are burdened by the opinions of our friends, family, and co-workers. We are influenced by the images on tv, movies, and ads.
With the countless external expectations and voices that infiltrate our mind, it’s hard to differentiate between what we truly want and what we’re chasing just to keep up with others.
In addition to the outside pressures, our lives are fast-paced. We’re so busy putting out the urgent fires in our daily lives that we don’t set aside enough time to find out what we want and why we want it.
When we slow down to search for answers, we’re met by an infinite amount of choices and an unlimited amount of information about every possible option.
Thinking more about the “what are you going to do with your life” question doesn’t necessarily result in more clarity. How do we know what the right answer is? Is there only one right answer?
These doubts and frustrations can leave us confused about what to do with our life.
3 Steps to Find Your Undeniable Purpose
After all the dead end searches for your life purpose, it may seem like the best alternative is to run away from these questions.
Finding your purpose doesn’t have to be a dreaded and stressful homework assignment. It can even be kind of fun.
With a resourceful mindset and effective strategies, you can find your purpose. You can do what you love.
You can travel more. You can help others. You can have the freedom and flexibility to do what you want.
The results don’t arrive overnight. It’s a gradual, brick by brick building process.
The climb is the most rewarding part of the journey.
Enjoy it! When you start taking steps towards what you want, you’re already living your purpose.
Let’s get started with these 3 steps:
1. There isn’t ONE right answer. You don’t need to search for a needle in a haystack. There are many promising answers.
2. Find what you want by turning up the volume on your intuition.
3. Dig into why you want these things. The whys give you fuel to take action, trust the process, and persevere past setbacks.
Here’s a cheat sheet you can use as a quick guide when you’re ready to take action:
Step 1: Shed the Myth of the ONE Purpose
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life.” Viktor E. Frankl
There isn’t just one thing that you were meant to do in life. Believing that there is ONE purpose for you attaches a massive amount of pressure to the process. It sets the stakes at a level 10!
This mindset is paralyzing. What if you don’t find that ONE thing? What if you make the wrong decision?
If you’re looking for what you’re destined to do, you’ll likely spend so much time and energy in that search that you’ll miss out on exploring opportunities that are right in front of you.
You’ll pass up valuable experiences that could lead to promising options in the future. For most people, it doesn’t make sense to pick their life-defining purpose at the age of 21.
They’re still exploring alternatives, learning about themselves, and developing their beliefs about the world. My priorities, values, and dreams were different at 20, 25, and 30. They’ll be different at 40 and 50.
You can plan for these changes by giving yourself the option to change your purpose over time. Don’t lock yourself into one purpose for the rest of your life.
Take that reasoning a step further. Don’t lock yourself into just one purpose for each stage of your life. Allow yourself to have multiple purposes at one time.
You may even have a different purpose for each area of your life: family, friends, career, travel, giving back, and spiritual.
Your purposes may look something like this: help others through teaching, spreading joy, and providing encouragement; add value to the world through my job; love my family; continuously learn and grow; explore and discover many of the wonderful places and cultures of the world; and live the life I want.
I know what you’re thinking. These answers are vague. They don’t provide a clear sense of direction. If those were your goals, you’d be confused about how to take action to achieve them.
I like to think about my purposes in life as the zoomed out mission. My purposes are the 50,000 foot perspective for my life.
When you drill down, you can take these purposes in many different directions.
Your goals are the ground-level view (or you may call it the Google Street View) that push you towards making progress. They are specific and measurable with a clear deadline.
The purpose is the funnel through which you filter decisions. For each major life decision, you can ask does this lead me closer to my purpose or further away?
The purpose guides the goals you set. The goals guide your daily actions (check out my free goal setting template). You’ll feel a strong sense of direction in your life when your purpose, goals, and daily actions align with each other.
There isn’t a one size fits all answer to, “What are you going to do with your life?” It’s up to you to answer the question with the way you live your life. Find the answers that resonate with you.
Step 2: Find Exciting Goals for Your Life
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you’ve found it.” Steve Jobs
There was something about turning 30 that made me reflective about the meaning of my life. What should my goals be for the next year? The next 10 years?
Am I progressing through my life in the right direction? Am I improving the lives of others? Am I making a positive impact on the world?
In the last 10 years, I constantly thought about how to get to the next level in life. I was busy achieving success and earning accomplishments like I was playing a video game.
On my 30th birthday, I went to a coffee shop to find answers. Fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, I put pen to paper and let my stream of consciousness flow for one hour.
When I read my answers at the end of the hour, I was surprised by the hopes and dreams that were on the paper. The answers gave me a sense of possibility and exhilaration in my core.
I wanted to get started right away. In that hour, the trajectory of my life changed. I couldn’t ignore these answers.
When you’re looking to find what you want, listen to your intuition and trust its wisdom. This isn’t the time to be logical and analytical. It’s not the time to create a list of pros and cons.
It’s not the time to think about which path will provide the most prestige, status, and money. It’s not the time to think about what anyone expects you to do. It’s not the time to let fear hold you back.
It’s about getting to the core of what excites, drives, and fuels you. Simply ask yourself, what would I do with the rest of my life if I had no fear of failure or if money wasn’t a factor?
As you start digging into this process, don’t stress out if the answers you find are different from what you’re currently doing with your life.
Gain momentum with small wins. Start at level 1 and level up over time. Before you know it, you’ll be playing the game at level 10.
Step 3: Find the Whys that Fuel You
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Let’s say that Mark is singularly driven by a desire to make more money. His career decisions will be driven by the career ladder that leads to the most money instead of the one that leads to the most rewarding work.
He’ll take roles he doesn’t like instead of exploring opportunities that match his skills and interests.
There will always be peers that make more money. There will always be another promotion that pays more money.
For most of us, our career decisions will be at least partially impacted by a desire to make more money.
If we add other compelling whys to our decision making process, we’ll make more balanced decisions.
We’ll take into account a larger set of factors. We’ll make decisions that align with our passions, values, and goals.
Since you set your rules, you can set the whys that speak to you. Just know that the whys in your life (even if they’re invisible scripts you follow) will guide every major decision you make.
It’s better to consciously calibrate your compass to your values and interests than to be guided by societal norms and the expectations your family places on you.
That’s what I set out to do after finishing the one hour exercise to find out what I wanted the most in my life. I dug into the goals I was pursuing at the time.
I asked myself, why do I want to buy a 4 bedroom house instead of continuing to rent a 2 bedroom apartment? Why do I want a promotion?
I struggled to find good answers. There’s nothing wrong with these goals. I just didn’t know why I wanted these things. I didn’t know how I arrived at these goals.
I was pursuing them on autopilot. It’s like someone programmed these goals into my mind and told me to chase them because that’s what you’re supposed to want.
I wanted a promotion to make more money, buy that house, and increase the balance of my savings account. I wanted a promotion because I should have been at the next level ten years into my career. Some friends and co-workers with the same experience level as me were one or two promotions ahead.
I should own a home because I’m 30. And because some of my friends own a house. And because living in one of those beautiful homes in my neighborhood would make me feel happy and successful.
These aren’t powerful reasons to work hard to achieve my goals. If the whys aren’t compelling enough, your commitment to your goals will be average and uninspiring.
When your boss assigns a project to you without explaining why it’s important, you’re not motivated to put in your best effort. You don’t believe in the mission because you don’t know the high-level strategic objectives that are guiding the project. You need to know the whys behind every goal your pursue.
The most successful people know what they want. More importantly, they know why they want it. They are fueled by it. It becomes their mission. Their commitment propels them past the roadblocks that make most people quit.
The why gets you through the repetitive daily tasks, criticisms, and countless setbacks. When your dreams ignite you, you’ll pursue them with energy, commitment, and determination. You’ll find another gear you didn’t know you had.
Inspiring Guides to Help You Run Your Own Race
There isn’t one right way to find out what you want. Find the process that works for you.
I’ve consumed hundreds of videos, articles, and books throughout my journey to find my purpose. I read even more wonderful articles as I researched this post. Here are the best resources I found:
1. Greg McKeown’s inspiring post, The Most Important Hour of Your Life
Ask yourself, what would I do if I had 1 year to live? 5 years to live? 10 years to live? 1 life to live?
This one hour exercise was eye-opening and life changing for me. It inspired me to run my own race.
2. Celestine Chua’s post, Discover Your Life Purpose in the Next 30 Minutes
The exercise from this post is simple. Write down your answers to the question, “What is my life purpose?”
Write everything that flows into your stream of consciousness. Keep writing until you find the answer that emotionally resonates with you.
3. Mark Manson’s excellent post, 7 Strange Questions that Help You Find Your Life Purpose
This is the best article I’ve read about finding your purpose.
Mark’s questions motivate you to identify what you love to do, decide whether you’re willing to pay the price it takes to get good, and find out how you want to make a difference in the world.
4. Marie Forleo’s five minute video, How Do I Figure Out What I Want?
Marie presents this insightful quote in her video: “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” Lao Tzu
She encourages you to own your desires instead of ignoring your dreams to avoid rejection and failure. Pursue what you want, take consistent action towards it, and persevere past roadblocks.
Discover Your Epic Purpose
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Henry David Thoreau
If you’re crystal clear about your mission in life, congratulations! All you have to do is follow-through with consistent action.
If you have many unanswered questions, set aside an hour to consider where your current path is taking you. In the time it takes to watch one episode of your favorite drama, you can change the direction of your life.
When you find your purpose, the obstacles and challenges of life don’t disappear. You may not know which goals you want to pursue.
You know what fuels you though. You have a purpose that guides you.
All you need is the courage and determination to follow your purpose. Take the path that interests you.
You’ll lose your way and drift onto someone else’s path. When that happens, remember your answers and return to your path to run your own race.
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