When we were young, we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
We received messages, explicit or implied, from others about what we should (or shouldn’t) become, what others wanted (or expected) from us, and what the “normal” or the “right” path entails.
Then we started on our path. We applied for additional training and schooling, followed a talent in sports or arts, pursued an interest in business or science, joined the military, the Peace Corps, or a mission. We chose a location to live - or it chose us. We made commitments to other people - to spouses, partners, and children.
But what if we now determine that those decisions no longer fit us or meet our needs?
We may question our choices, and even berate ourselves for poorly-considered decisions. We feel stuck in our current situation due to the choices of our past. From a constructive perspective, we cannot change our past, but the best thing we can do is to determine and work toward what we wish for our future selves.
We can view decisions from the past as learning experiences and life lessons. And we can move forward with greater intention. But …
- What if you don’t know where to want to go?
- What if you are getting by and don’t feel like you have the luxury to think about purpose?
- What if you don’t feel particularly compelled by one strong purpose?
In my Roundabout Hero™ series, I share how three P's - Position, Perspective, and Purpose - are key components to helping you get unstuck. My first article about Purpose discusses what purpose is and how having a strong purpose provides many positive benefits, including a longer, healthier, and happier life.
This article will cover ways in which you can discover your purpose.
Discovering Your Purpose
We all want to feel like we are doing something valuable with our time and talents.
I know people who feel compelled to optimize their time and skills, especially in the service of others, inspired by the quote by President John F. Kennedy, “For of those to whom much is given much is required.” This quote was taken straight from the biblical verse Luke 12:48, written around A.D. 85. We have been called to be purposeful for centuries!
But where do you start to uncover this purpose?
I’d like to start with a few thoughts on purpose:
1. Your purpose is not fixed. It can change depending on your stage of life, your interests, your family and work responsibilities, etc. And maybe you thought you had found your purpose - but when you pursued it, you were not as fulfilled or inspired as you expected. You can adjust and evolve your purpose!
2. Your purpose does not have to be as grand or lofty as, say, solving world hunger. Your purpose can be as foundational as bringing in enough income to house, feed, and clothe yourself and your family.
3. You do not need to create something new - a business, an organization, an event - to deliver on your purpose.
4. Your purpose does not need to be yours alone. You can join forces with others who have similar interests and objectives.
5. You may have more than one purpose at a time. You may be supporting your family through work while also being the primary caregiver for your children or elderly family members.
Keeping these thoughts in mind, let’s explore a few ways to identify purpose.
I’m going to share questions to help you ideate. These questions are also included in the Purpose Workbook, a free tool I have created with exercises and journal prompts to help you think about your purpose.
Questions to Help You Discover Your Purpose
1. If you were given a year “off” from your life to work or volunteer for the organization of your choice, which organization (or type of organization) would you choose?
- What kind of work would you like to do for that organization?
- What skills do you have that you could apply to this work?
- What skills do you need to develop to do this work?
- What problem would you like to help them solve?
- At what location(s) would you like to work?
2. Why would you like to do this work or serve this particular cause? Is there something from your life that makes this especially important to you? Is there a reason you want this for the future (e.g. for your children, future generations, etc.)?
3. What skills do you have that you might teach to others? Who might benefit from learning the skills that you have?
4. If you were able to go back to age 18 or 22 or 30, how would you structure the path you took differently? What kind of work might you have selected to pursue?
5. Name three specific causes that you believe in. What excites you the most about the work they do and the impact they have?
6. If you could do anything you wanted for the next five years, what would it be?
7. Did you have a dream that you gave up due to life circumstances? What was that dream? What would it take for you to pursue that dream (or something similar) now?
8. Thinking through the answers to your questions above, write down three answers for each of the categories below:
- Type of organization I’d love to work with:
- Type of work I’d love to do:
- Skills I need to develop to do this work:
- Locations where I’d love to work:
Within your answers, you will find insights into what energizes you. And in these insights, you are closer to defining purpose.
Importance of Reflection
For me, finding my purpose took reflection.
In thinking about which of my actions gave me the greatest satisfaction, I had an “a-ha” moment.
I realized that my purpose was what I was already doing in multiple aspects of my life - encouraging others to be their best. I didn’t have to find a purpose. I only had to understand that I was already living it!
In my music career, I was helping others experience the joy of music, encouraging them to improve their skills. (DJWorksMusic.com)
In my family, I was raising three boys, encouraging (and also disciplining them!) them to be caring, competent, and contributing human beings.
In my friend circle, I was bringing together small groups to inspire each other and hold each other accountable, encouraging them to discuss, reflect, and commit to improving their lives. This was incredibly beneficial to me as well!
In my writing (Blog Articles) and podcasting (Women at Halftime podcast), I was creating content to inspire others, encouraging them to take positive action in applying their skills, experiences, and resources to become unstuck.
As you move forward in defining your purpose, I have a few more thoughts to share:
- There are many resources you can tap into to understand what best fits you. Talk to others who are doing the kinds of work that interest you. Does their work appeal to you? Volunteer opportunities are abundant, and you can “test drive” different options without having to make a long-term commitment.
- The process of finding your purpose can be disappointing at times. You thought you knew what you wanted, but it didn’t turn out to be “your thing.” Don’t be discouraged. You will likely need to go through some trial-and-error to find what fits. Every time you try something new, you will get closer to finding what works. Keep perspective (link to Perspective series) by considering the time and effort you are investing as an opportunity to create new skills and experiences.
- Transition can be difficult, especially when you have been doing the same thing or working for the same organization for many years (e.g. military, professional athletes, etc.) How do you know what you should do next when you haven’t known anything else? Be patient, be open to trying out some new things, go through the questions I provided above, and test drive some opportunities. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life. You don’t have to do just one thing. If you don’t like a choice you’ve made, you can always try again.
- Having others who can act as your sounding board, cheerleader, or accountability partner can help bring your thoughts about purpose to life. Verbalizing your thoughts helps you think through your interests and options. Having an accountability partner puts you on track to take action
Finding your purpose can be challenging, but the benefits of finding and living your purpose can change your life!
In my third article on the topic of Purpose, I will discuss taking action - digging deeper - into living your purpose.
You may be already living out your purpose in some way. You only need to identify it and expand it.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
Get the book STOP CIRCLING now!
All published Roundabout Articles here, published as a podcast, article & video!
If you are interested in growing and learning, check out our online courses here: Online Learning