“Life Purpose” seems like one of those big, scary, and difficult concepts we have to contend with.
What does it mean to have a purpose?
Is there a purpose to life?
What if you do not have the answers?
If the thought of defining your life purpose is mind-boggling, you are not alone.
Not everyone knows what their purpose in life is and this question is an ongoing pursuit for millions of people around the world.
If we were to be honest, the concept of life purpose is a constantly evolving one. What you thought you were passionate about as a teenager or while you were in your 20s may no longer be your driving force in your 30s or 40s.
For other people, the process of identifying their life purpose comes easily. They know what their mission is and they have stuck with it for as long as it takes.
However, for most of us, finding our purpose is an ongoing work in progress. I think this a healthy way to approach the question of defining your life purpose.
While it is not always easy to finally discover your life purpose, you can always start somewhere. This guide will detail five crucial questions that can help you get closer to understanding what your purpose in life is.
What Is Purpose?
Perhaps to answer that question, we might want to start with what ‘purpose’ is not.
While you may get fulfilment from your career, your career is not your purpose.
Your material possessions or your bank account is not your purpose. These things might give you happiness, security, and the opportunity to enjoy exciting life experiences but they are not your purpose.
Because things like career and financial status make other people approve of us, want us, and respect us, it is common to confuse these things with purpose.
Yet, it is not uncommon for someone to have what looks like a great career and all the money in the world and still feel as though they are missing something.
So, what then is purpose?
In a lot of ways, purpose is a spiritual experience. I would describe purpose as the free flow of your creative spirit that makes you feel most alive.
Purpose is who you are when you feel the most uninhibited, most authentic, most free. It is when you feel like you are not only thriving but most importantly, you are helping others thrive.
It is not about right or wrong. Your purpose is not superior or inferior to others’. Rather, it is a uniquely personal and intimate truth about yourself.
Why Defining Your Life Purpose Is Important
The truth is, many of us do not intentionally stop to think about our life purpose until we are thrust into some form of difficult circumstance like a job loss, a move, a mid-life crisis, or a personal loss. These events act as a wakeup call, instigating us to re-evaluate and create meaning in our lives.
Understanding your life purpose gives you a sense of direction, a reason to wake up in the morning and to power through the challenges of the day.
Defining your life purpose grounds you so that you are neither overwhelmed by the minutiae of daily life nor the allure of grandiose opportunities that are not aligned with your values.
People who understand their life purpose generally tend to be happier, more optimistic, healthier, and more successful. Just having that sense of direction gives you the motivation to improve your life and to make the world a better place.
Defining Your Life Purpose
Now that we understand what purpose is and isn’t, and why defining it is an important practice, let’s get into the real work that will help you identify your purpose in life.
Here are five crucial questions to get you started:
1. What Would Your Ideal Life Look Like?
Envisioning your ideal life is a powerful way of identifying what fills you up, what makes you come alive, what you want, and the kind of world you want to live in.
In your ideal life, what would you be doing?
Who would be there?
Where would you be?
How would you feel?
What would your days be like?
A vision board is a great tool to use for this exercise. Whether you do it digitally or the old school way, fill up your vision board with images of things, people, and places that appeal to you.
Do not feel selfish for wanting what you want. Remember, your true purpose is not right or wrong. When building your vision board, be free, let your creativity flow, and most importantly, be honest with yourself.
After a while, your vision board will come alive and you will notice a pattern. If you had been unclear about what brings you the most love and joy, what makes you tick, the vision board will make these things clearer.
Notice that the main emphasis here is not about envisioning how much money, fame, or status you will have. This exercise goes much deeper, requiring you to visualize the quality of your ideal life, not the quantity of things in it.
Purpose is essentially how you want to live your life. If you can visualize and perhaps articulate your ideal life, then you are one step closer to defining your purpose.
2. How Do You Want to Feel?
Purpose is more a feeling than it is the possession of things. You will know you are living on purpose when you experience that distinct feeling of utter elation, authentic joy, and love.
This is why your purpose is a personal and intimate realization. Only you can know whether you are living on purpose. You are the only one who can feel that undeniable feeling.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to find the right words to define your life purpose to others. However, an articulate, well-put-together life mission statement is not as important as experiencing that feeling deep inside you.
So, if you are struggling to find your life purpose, ask yourself how you want to feel most days. Once you can identify the kind of feelings you want, then you can begin to identify the inspired actions that will help you generate more of these feelings.
Do you want to feel free?
Would you like the feeling that comes with helping other people?
Perhaps you want to feel joyous?
How about feeling like you are in control?
Would you like to feel more connected?
Emotion is a powerful driving force. How you feel about someone or something affects your world in profound ways.
When you are living on purpose, your dominant emotions will be invariably positive—love, joy, freedom, optimism, connectedness. This does not mean that you will not encounter hardship; it means you will have the courage to handle anything that comes your way with grace.
3. What Activities Inspire You the Most?
Just as your life purpose is not your career or the amount of money you have, it is also not the actual activities you engage in. However, the feeling behind the activities you engage in can help you identify the purpose of your life.
For this exercise, think back to the last few days and identify specific activities that made you feel alive.
If nothing, in particular, happened these last few days, think back to the last few weeks or the last couple of months.
What activities did you engage in that made you feel ‘on purpose?’
Who was there with you?
Who were you during those moments?
This exercise can offer insights into what you feel most passionate about and may allow you to begin aligning your natural talents and skills with the activities that give you the most meaning.
4. What Are Your Gifts?
The concept of life purpose is closely related to that of contribution, service, giving. While your life purpose is a profoundly personal experience, it is also something that goes beyond you.
Unsurprisingly, you will feel most ‘on purpose’ when you are contributing to making your life, and that of others, better.
As such, to define your life purpose, you need to define the gifts that you can offer to the world.
Gifts are non-tangible capabilities that are unique to every person. At their core, gifts are spiritual. Unlike skills, gifts do not come from years of practice or learning. Gifts are your special powers.
Everyone has a gift, something they can give to the world and to others to help solve pressing problems and needs.
If you do not know what your natural gifts are, here are some questions to point you in the right direction. Ask yourself:
- What comes naturally to me?
- When am I in a state of flow?
- How best do I usually serve my friends and family?
- When do I feel the most rewarded?
- What do I find most interesting?
Your gifts are, invariably, your mission. The more deliberate you are about identifying your gifts, the more clarity you will gain around your purpose in life.
5. What Do You Want Your Legacy to Be?
A common piece of advice that is dished out in the personal development field is to ‘follow your passion.’
While this is not entirely bad advice, it also does not tell the whole story.
First, this advice assumes you only have one passion that you should be going after when in essence, most people feel genuinely passionate about so many different things. So, which one should you be going after?
Second, we live in a skills-based market. This can sometimes place limitations on the kinds of passions one can pursue and make a reasonable living from.
At the end of the day, bills have to be paid and it is not easy to feel passionate, alive, and motivated when you are struggling to make ends meet.
When defining your life purpose, instead of just winging it and ‘following your passion,’ how about you approach things differently by defining what it means to do meaningful work.
Doing meaningful work is different from following your passion. When you are doing meaningful work, you are not only engaging in something you feel genuinely passionate about; you are also receiving the incentives and compensations that are necessary to survive in the marketplace.
Meaningful work is not necessarily the work that earns you the most money. On the contrary, it is work that aligns with your deepest values.
Most importantly, it is about your legacy. When you pursue meaningful work, it is no longer all about you; this kind of work makes an actual contribution to the world for today and the future generations.
If you want to define your life purpose, first define what you want people to say about you in 100 years —about who you were and what you did during your lifetime.
Piecing Together A New Story
If you do not know what your life purpose is or if you feel like you have lost purpose, do not despair.
Defining your life purpose is not a destination to which you must struggle to arrive. As was pointed out in the beginning, this pursuit is a continuous one and you should look at it that way.
No one really arrives, and if you do, it does not last for too long.
Defining your life purpose is always an opportunity to weave and piece together a new story for yourself depending on your unique experiences and life circumstances.
An ambitious business coach who becomes a new mom might find that her life purpose has changed from nurturing entrepreneurs/businesses to nurturing children and young adults.
A marketing executive now in his 40’s may suddenly find that selling ad space and building brands no longer allows for him to be his authentic self and that writing and travelling is the best way to serve the world.
Life Purpose Summary
Life Purpose evolves. Each phase of your life will bring new inspiration and new passions, which might become part of your lifelong story and your life mission.
So, do not feel like you will never find purpose. When you look at this as an ongoing journey, you will see that every experience is a whisper nudging you to live on purpose. Start to take small steps to reach your ideal life. Go here if you need help with this.