Ask any student what they think their goal is and you’ll probably get a blank stare. Besides, you could ask the same question to 35 to 45 year olds and possibly get the same result. Why is that? Because it is difficult to discover your purpose in life. From the moment we are born without a certain destiny, we go through a series of steps that lead us to certain goals – school, career, relationships, making money – but often these steps do not help us find our goal. So, to understand how to find our purpose in life, let’s define it loosely.
Your life purpose consists of the central motivational goals of your life – the reasons why you get up in the morning. Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, provide a sense of direction, and create meaning. For some people, purpose is tied to a calling or meaningful, fulfilling work. For others, it’s about how they can influence the lives of others. Whatever your definition, maybe we want to leave our mark that showed we were here on Earth. Steve Jobs once said of purpose, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Why else would you be here?’
So, do we pursue some specific goals to find our life purpose or do we wander around in life hoping that our purpose will reveal itself to us? Maybe we should start with something we can control and that is choosing to use your time wisely to do what is important to you. It’s much more manageable and it doesn’t have all the baggage that the “life purpose” question has. You should sooner discover what is important to you. So how do you do that?
Here are some questions that can help you on your journey to discovering your life purpose.
What are you willing to tolerate or sacrifice? As you move through your life and career, you will hopefully discover what you enjoy doing with your time. And once you’ve made that decision, regardless of career, you have to go all in on that activity. Whether it’s data analytics, marketing or a forensic accountant, you have to become an expert and “tolerate” giving up your time, some freedom, maybe the people you associate with so that you can have as much fun with what you does, you don’t’ I don’t think it works. Getting to that point will require some sacrifice on your part.
What ‘thing’ made you happy but you don’t do it anymore. Something about the societal pressures of childhood, the professional pressures of young adulthood and career, squeeze the creativity and passion out of us. Did you paint, play sports, write short stories, cook or just roam around as a child? What happened to that creative you? Why did you stop doing the things that made you happy? How did you manage to rationalize away that you just weren’t really good as a painter, writer or cook? They say that in life we should have a sense of passion for what we do. But for most people, passion also comes with a sense of play. Do something you once loved to do, just for fun.
What do you enjoy doing so much that you lose track of time? With regard to work and career, they say that if you love doing something so much, it won’t feel like work and time will fly by. Look at the activities that used to keep you up all night, but also look at the cognitive principles behind those activities that excite you. Because they can be easily applied elsewhere. We’ve all experienced being so absorbed in something that minutes turn into hours and hours into the fact that you haven’t even eaten yet. Take some time to rethink what you really enjoyed doing and what other activities you’d like to try.
How to embarrass yourself in a good way? Embrace shyness. Feeling foolish is part of the road to achieving something important, something meaningful. The more an important life decision scares you, the more likely you are to do it. Ethan Hawke, the actor and musician gave a great TEDx talk on creativity where he talks about the way we grow and learn in life is taking risks and maybe ‘playing the fool’. You can’t grow in life without taking measured risks and to do that you may have to embarrass yourself. And then.
How are you going to ‘dent’ the universe? You don’t solve the world’s problems alone. But you can contribute and make a difference. And that feeling of making a difference is ultimately the most important thing for your own happiness and satisfaction. But to live a happy and healthy life, we must hold on to values that are greater than our own pleasure or satisfaction. If you want to try and make a difference in the world and help people, just pick an issue and get started. There’s plenty to choose from. What problem do you care about that is bigger than you and how can you make a difference?
What would people say about you at your funeral? This sounds crazy to think, but other than fancy platitudes or great speeches, what would you really want people to say about you at your funeral that related to your cause? In the end, death is the only thing that gives us perspective on the value of our lives. Why? Because only by imagining non-existence can you get an idea of what is most important about your existence. It forces us to focus on what’s really important in our lives and what’s just frivolous and distracting. So, do more of the important things and less of the frivolous things.
Discovering one’s “purpose” in life essentially comes down to finding that one or two things greater than yourself that you would like to do with a set of values that define your priorities and guide your actions. If you do, you may find your purpose and leave a small dent in the universe.
*The author of this article built a 25-year career in branding, marketing and entrepreneurship, co-founded a $1.2 billion start-up with over 10,000 employees, raised a wonderful family, accidentally became an author and eventually found his life purpose by teaching college students at a public university, trying to make a difference in their lives so that maybe they can dent the universe.