When you live in a world that is constantly telling you to follow your heart, trust your gut, quit your day job and do what you love, it can be disheartening to find yourself not knowing where to start. When you start thinking I don’t know what to do with my life, what you really mean is that you don’t yet know who you are, or you don’t know what’s worth suffering for.
Finding your purpose is not about realizing that you are destined to be in a monastery or devoting your life to one, singular vocation or goal. Your purpose is not one job, it is not one relationship, it is not even one career field. Your purpose is, first and foremost, just to be here. Your existence has shifted the world in a way that it is invisible to you. Without you, absolutely nothing would exist just as it is right now. This is important to understand, because if you start believing that your whole purpose in being alive is just a job or a role you take on at home, what happens when you quit or retire, or the kids grow up and you’re no longer a parent? You’ll sink because you will falsely think that was your only reason for being.
Your purpose today may have been to offer someone a smile when they were at their lowest. Your purpose this decade may be the job you’re in. When you realize that you are literally always impacting the world around you, you start to realize something: the most important thing you can do to live meaningfully is to work on yourself. To consciously become the happiest, kindest and most gracious version of yourself.
Knowing your purpose also doesn’t necessarily mean your life will thenceforth be easy, or that you’ll always know what to do. In fact, when you are genuinely on your own path, the future won’t be clear, because if it is, you’re actually following someone else’s blueprint.
“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” – Joseph Campbell
With all of that said, when most people do wonder about their purpose, they are often referring to their life’s work and their jobs. Your career is not nothing. It is how you will spend the majority of your day, every day, for the better part of your life. That’s why figuring out how you can best serve the world through that makes the long days and difficult moments bearable.
Your life purpose is the point at which your skills, interests and the market intersect.
You are the blueprint of your future. Everything that you are, everything that you have experienced, everything that you’re good at, every circumstance you have found yourself in, everything that you’re passionate about is not random, is a reflection of who you are and a sign about what you are here to do.
However, it’s not as easy as it sounds to become self-aware. You may still be thinking that you’re not sure what you’re good at, or that you’re even more passionate about one thing over another. That’s okay because your purpose does not require you to be the best at something. It does not the thing at which you and only you can succeed more so than anyone else. It is the things that naturally call you, that effortlessly flow out of you, and that evoke specific emotions from you. You are here to work those out. You are here to transform them. Your ultimate purpose is to become the ideal version of yourself. Everything else flows from there.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself if you want to know what your purpose really is:
1. What, and who, is worth suffering for?
Even doing what you love for a living doesn’t mean every day will be easy. Everything comes with its own unique set of challenges, so the question is really: what are you willing to work for? What are you willing to be uncomfortable for?
2. Close your eyes and imagine the best version of yourself. What is that person like?
The best possible version of yourself – the most loving, kind, productive and self-aware version – is who you really are. Everything else is the byproduct of coping mechanisms you’ve developed and picked up from other people.
3. If social media didn’t exist, what would you do with your life?
If you knew that you wouldn’t be able to show off, impress, or even share what it was you chose to do with your life, how would it change your ambitions? This differentiates what you are doing because you want to do it, and what you are doing for the sake of how it looks to other people.
4. What comes most naturally to you?
What you are most naturally good at is the path you should follow first, because it’s the path on which you will most effortlessly thrive.
5. What would your ideal daily routine look like?
Forget about the elevator speech. Forget about having a fancy title, or impressing people on LinkedIn. Think about what you want to do day-in and day-out. A lot of people get into jobs they think will make them happy, but realize they only liked the idea of them and not the day-to-day reality.
6. What do you want your legacy to be?
Instead of worrying about the virtues on your résumé, focus on the virtues of your eulogy. Who do you want to be remembered as? What do you want to be known for?
Though it’s lovely to reflect on all of the virtues and talents of your life, here is an even more important part of finding your purpose: it is often found through pain. Most people come into awareness of their purpose not because they are effortlessly clear on what their talents are and how they can best utilize them, but because at some point, they find themselves lost, depleted, exhausted, and with their backs against the wall.
In experiencing hardship and challenge, we begin to realize what really matters to us. It sparks a flame that, when kindled through action and commitment, becomes a transformative fire.
“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” — Eckhart Tolle
If you listen to the stories of many of the most successful people in the world, they often begin with unimaginable hardship. In the face of the most unlikely situations, these people are forced into action. Comfort and complacency is not an option. They realize they must become the heroes of their own lives and the creators of their own futures.
Neale Donald Walsh once said that there’s no blackboard on which God has written down exactly what it is intended for you to do. Free will exists, and thus, the slate is empty, and your actions every day are writing it out. At the end of your life, your purpose will be defined not by how you struggled, what circumstances you were in, or what you were supposed to do, but how you responded in the face of adversity, who you were to the people in your life, and what you did each day that slowly, in its own unique way, changed the course of humanity.