Finding your Purpose
What is Your Purpose?
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.”
-Oriah Mountain Dreamer
One of the great joys in life is knowing that you are doing what you were sent here to do. You feel in harmony with yourself and the rest of the world. A bird must fly, a dancer must dance and an artist must draw. Mozart composed music before he was making any money doing it. Lebron James played basketball because he loved it long before he even thought about being paid for it. What do you do just because you enjoy doing it?
You have got to find your purpose and start working on it. The number one reason for success is clarity. The number one reason for failure is fuzziness.
Needs of the World
“To the extent your work takes into account the needs of the world, it will be meaningful. To the extent it expresses your talents, it will be joyful”
One way to uncover your purpose is to look at what you feel are the most important needs of the world. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? What does the world need more than anything? What about your country? What does it need? How about your community? What could you do in your community that would make a significant difference that you would be really proud of? Assume the world is perfect right now. What does it look like? What is different about it? Ask yourself where you can add value. Where can you serve? What gifts do you have that you could share with the world? How could you bring more meaning, happiness, and value to others? Who can you serve? How can you give your best gifts to something that you believe in? Pay attention to your desire to be useful.
“Everybody can be great, because everyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
That is the kind of attitude that will help you find your purpose.
The secret to creating a career that is rewarding to both the soul and the bank account is as Frederick Buenher says “to find where your deep gladness and the worlds hunger meet”. Sometimes the needs of the world can feel depressing and overwhelming. But if we are doing our best to make the world a better place, even if our efforts seem small, we can be at peace. It is a huge mistake to do nothing because we can only do a little bit. Do for one what you wish you could do for all. Do what you can, with what you have. It is enough. You can’t do everything for everyone, but you can do something for someone, somewhere.
“If you find great joy and are willing to sacrifice for it, you are on the right track. We can lose ourselves in our desire to give of our love and talent. This we have been told by all the great teachers is the road to happiness.”
Questions to Ask
Rather than making your decision of what to do with your life based on where you can make the most money, ask yourself: What was I born to do? Where could I make the biggest difference? What do I love doing? What areas do I feel drawn to?
Here is a list of some other questions to stimulate your thinking.
What issues do you truly feel someone ought to do something about?
Who inspires you the most, and why?
What would you regret not fully doing, being, or having in your life?
What are your deepest values?
What great thing would you dare to dream if you knew you couldn’t fail?
What are some challenges and difficulties that you have overcome? How did you do it?
What have you always wanted to do?
What did you want to do before you started college (or high school) and people convinced you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t do that?
What causes do you strongly believe in?
If you could get a message across to a large group of people, what would that message be? Who would those people be?
What is it you would die for? What would you risk your reputation for? What would you fight for? If you were to put a flag in the ground and say this is what I stand for, what would be written on?
If you hear many things calling out to you, you need to dig deeper. Make a list of everything that you want to do. Narrow down that list to what do you really, really want. Then narrow it again to what you really, really, really want. If you still have several things left on your list, ask this question. “If I had to choose doing only one of these, which one would I choose. If you narrow it down to two, just flip a coin… Really. Flip a coin. Heads I do this, tails I do that. But when you flip the coin, don’t even look at which side it lands on. Pick the option you hope it is going to be. That is your intuition talking to you.
No One Can Know but You
Finding your purpose is like falling in love. For some people it is love at first site. These are the small minority of lucky suckers who pick up a violin, paint brush or a book (etc.) for the first time and know immediately what their purpose is. Others are like those who gradually fall in love. For these people it takes a little while to realize what their passions and purposes are. And finally we have best friends falling in love. A good friend of mine was good friends with her husband for almost 10 years but was not romantically involved. Very gradually they both realized they loved each other and got married. These people might be living their purpose and not even realize it until years later. There are no hard rules for finding your purpose.
Great purposes are not individual. They began before you and will continue after you. These purposes are always a group effort. That takes some pressure off of you. You don’t have to do it all by yourself. As the old saying goes, it is better to have a small part in a great play, than a large part in a bad one.
“It is better to do your own duty, however imperfectly, than to assume the duties of another person however successfully. Prefer to die doing your own duties.”
The Bhagavad Gita says that doing the duties of another will bring you into great spiritual danger.
You should not pretend to fully understand why you want what you want. No one truly knows and feels what we are here to accomplish. There is no way that they could. Most of it is beyond our ability to understand, and that’s ok. “I just know that it feels right for me” is good enough. Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.”
No one else gets a vote on what your purpose is, except God if you are religious. Your parents might give you advice, and that’s great. Your spouse may think you should go do something different. You should get advice from people you trust. But ultimately you are the only one that gets to choose. You are the only one who ultimately has to live with what you think of yourself. Take advice, not orders. Be a student, not a follower. Make sure what you do is the product of your own conclusion. Don’t waste your life trying to make everyone else happy because approval comes and goes. Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t know what the secret to happiness is. I do know that the secret to unhappiness is trying to make everyone else happy.” Keep listening to your intuition, and make this your lifelong motto: “I respectfully do not care.” Say it to anyone who passes judgment on something you strongly believe in. No matter how you live, someone will be disappointed. So just live your truth and be sure YOU aren’t the one who is disappointed in the end.
I am not suggesting that you care only about what you want and to heck with everyone else. Of course there are other things that need to be considered. You are going to need to be flexible. Sometimes you will not be able to put nearly as much time and effort into your purpose as you would want to. In the end, you are the one who has to answer for how you have spent your life. You’re the one whose got to die when it’s time for you to die. So let yourself live life the way you want to live it.
Accept the fact that lots of people will not understand or fully appreciate the work you are doing. It doesn’t need to make sense to others. In fact often it will not. If you get some approval along the way, that is fine. But do not alter your purpose in order to get more approval. Success is the greatest reward.
Don’t feel like you need to justify your intuition to anyone. Deciding what to do with your life is a non-linear process. A lot of the variables are unknown. Rational thought is a poor substitute for receiving inner guidance. Your heart of heart knows things that your intellect can never know. Whenever your heart and your mind are fighting, follow your heart.
Love is Your Purpose
Many people are unsure about their purpose and wonder if they have a purpose. In his book The Power of Intention, Wayne Dyer writes about how there is only one thing you can do with your life; give it away by serving others. Whatever you choose to do, if you are motivated to be of service to others, you will feel on purpose, regardless of how much money comes back to you. When you are in the service of others, you will feel connected to your source and be happy and content knowing that you are doing the right thing.
You can and should feel on purpose outside of your career. Helping a neighbor, making a child smile, cleaning up a mess you didn’t make etc. can make you feel purposeful. If you live your life serving other people, you won’t have to “find” your purpose. It will come find you. According to Dr Dyer, “The very act of questioning why you are here, is an indication that your thoughts are nudging you to reconnect to your purpose.” Thoughts about you purpose ARE your purpose. And if you haven’t found your purpose, your purpose IS to find your purpose. Be thankful for things that seem to be roadblocks to your purpose; your struggles and apparent failures, as well as your wins. They are all part of a bigger purpose. One day some of them will make more sense. Your pain will become part of your prize.
”In the dim background of our mind, we know what we ought to be doing. But somehow we cannot start.”
That silent knowing will never leave you alone. You can try to ignore it, but it will always be there. When you are honest with yourself, you sense that there is something you are supposed to be doing. To do this you have to ignore your ego, and those who tell you that there is an easier, safer, and more secure path.
Searching for our purpose can be like searching for happiness. “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” In a similar way, there is no way to your purpose. Being purposeful is the way. When you live your life on purpose, you serve others and you love others. Two great questions to ask are: 1. Am I thinking in loving ways? 2. Am I acting on those loving thoughts? If the answer to those questions are yes, then you are living on purpose, even if you have not found your purpose yet.
Steps for Making a Decision
If you can’t figure out what your purpose is, decide what the best option would be for your life right now. Here are some steps to making any decision.
Get very clear about what you are trying to accomplish, or what the problem really is. Clarity is power.
Brainstorm as many ideas as you can. The best way to make a good decision is to have lots of options to choose from. The rule for brainstorming is to write everything down, even if you think it is a dumb idea. Try to come up with at least 20 ideas. When you cannot think of any more ideas, take a break. Come back to it later in the day, or the next day. If it is a really important decision you might brainstorm for an entire week.
Narrow down your list to 3-5 ideas. Now is when you eliminate the ideas that you don’t think are very good. You can’t compare 20 different options in your head. Researchers have found that consumers like to have a few choices, but not too many. When customers were given 5 types of jam to choose from, they usually picked one. But when they were given 25 types of jam, a lot of people didn’t pick one. They didn’t want to spend the time or mental effort necessary to evaluate that many choices. Our conscious minds can only handle a limited amount of information at one time.
Research and evaluate the 3-5 ideas on your list. Find all the information you can. Get advice from people you trust. Look up articles and websites. Make a list of the pros and the cons. If possible get expert opinions and advice. If going to law school is one of your options, go talk to 5 lawyers. Ask them what they like and dislike about their job? Most people do not spend enough time researching their ideas. They just pick an idea that sounds ok, and hope it works. While that process may work pretty well for most decisions, more effort is needed for the big life-altering decisions. Time spent on this step will help you make better decisions. Remember that there are up and downs to everything.
Make a decision and commit to it. YOU MUST MAKE A DECISION. Any decision is better than no decision. After you have brainstormed and evaluated your ideas, its time to choose and commit. Give what you hope to produce enough time to appear. You can’t plant a seed in May and then give up the first week in June because you don’t see anything. You don’t want to be the person that keeps digging foundations but never finishes the building. Go through a season. There is no set time for how long a “season” will be. It could be one year, two years or ten years. Generally speaking, for work or business, I would say a season is usually at least a year or two.
Reevaluate your decision. At least every year you should look at your life and ask “Am I still on the right track?” Ask yourself “If I knew then, what I now know, would I still make this decision?” You don’t want to be changing your mind every couple months, but you also don’t want to keep doing something for 10 years that you know is not the best fit for you.
“Indecision is the greatest thief of opportunity”
Don’t be afraid to make decisions. Shoot for being right half of the time. If you don’t make a decision, then your batting percentage is 0/0 = 0%. The word decision (and incision) comes from the root word that means to cut off other alternatives. Gather what information you can. You will never feel like you have enough. Some people spend years and years trying to learn everything they think they will need to know. They become “over-educated under-achievers”. I know I have fallen into this trap before. After researching the issue, make the best decision you can. Any decision is almost always better than no decision. “He who chases 2 rabbits, catches none.” Successful people are quick to make up their minds and slow to change them. Most people are slow to make up their minds and quick to change them.
Answer this Question: There were 5 frogs sitting on a log in the middle of the lake. Two of the frogs decided to jump off the log. How many frogs are left on the log in the middle of the lake?
Commit to Your Decision
The correct answer is there are still 5 frogs are left on the log in the middle of the pond. Yes, it is a trick question. The key word in that sentence is decided. Is there a difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it? Two of the frogs decided to jump off, but one of them overheard another frog talking about how he saw a snake in the pond. The other frog chose to take a nap first and maybe jump in later. I have decided to lose weight lots of times. Unfortunately I haven’t always committed and followed up on that decision.
It’s good to try to talk yourself out of your dreams. Because if you can talk yourself out of it, then you probably don’t want it bad enough to make it happen anyway. When you are interested in a goal, you do what is convenient. When you are committed to a goal, you do whatever it takes. In a bacon and egg breakfast, the pig is committed while a chicken is merely involved in the breakfast. Are you committed to living your dream, or are you just interested in it? For some things you can’t count the cost. If you count the cost, you might give up. Do whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes.
“A belief is something you will argue about. A conviction is something you will die for.”
- Howard Hendricks
A decision is made in the head and a commitment is made in your heart. You need to get your head and your heart on the same page. When something is a priority, it gets done. Period. How we spend our time each day reveals what our real priorities are and how committed we are. We are what we spend our time doing.
”Can you believe in something, not because there are promises, guarantees, or assurances, but because something really matters to you, and are you willing to take action on it?”
Here are some exercises that you can use to help you discover your purpose. Multiple exercises are included because everyone is different. Read through the list and pick at least one or two exercises to do. Keep coming back to these exercises until you get an answer. Be patient. It may take some time. Trying to force answers is a good way to block them from coming.
Write three lists. What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? What gives you a sense of purpose? Then look for common themes in your answers.
In his book Personal Development for Smart People, Steve Pavlina suggests writing at the top of the page “What is my purpose?” Keep answering that question until the answer makes you cry. It might take 25, 50 or 500 times. It took me about 60 times. Do this for 10 minutes every day until your answer comes.
Create your ideal average work day (not your dream vacation day). What time would you wake up? What would you do first? (Eat, workout, pray, or read something) How would you spend your morning? Do you work in an office, at home or outside etc.? Are you working with people, ideas, or objects? Do you have a lunch meeting? Do you work for 4 hours or 10 hours? When do you stop working? How do you spend your evening? Do you spend time with your spouse, children or friends? Do you watch the sunset? What else happened?
Imagine you are 90 years old sitting on your rocking chair on the front porch. What are you the proudest of? What difference have you made in the world? What do you want to be remembered for when you die?
Deepak Chopra’s exercise for discovering your purpose is to meditate for a few minutes, and then ask yourself every 60 seconds “Why am I here?” Answers will come. However, be careful not to judge the answers that do come. You could use this for discovering your passions too. Instead of asking “Why am I here?” ask “What do I love doing? What are my unique gifts and talents? How can I use them to bring happiness to others and myself?”
If you were a multi-millionaire and never needed to worry about money again, what would you do for a career? (I’ve heard sitting on a beach gets old after a while.)
Relax your mind. Stop thinking about what you should do and listen to your heart. What do you KNOW you should do?