Perhaps the process of finding your purpose seems mysterious to you. Maybe you have tried and could not really find anything – do you feel like it is almost useless to try? For those who have tried but do not have a sense of meaning their life, there is hope!
Purpose is allusive. All great things in our lives require significant effort, persistence, and pursuit. If purpose were handed out at high school graduations, it would not be perceived to be valuable. Your purpose will be unique to you and powerful once it is accurately identified.
Let us be straight with each other. You are not going to find your purpose in 30 minutes. In fact, it may take years, yes, “years” of consistent pursuit to accurately identify your purpose. It takes four years to graduate from college or longer. So, if earning a diploma takes 4 years, why don’t we give ourselves the luxury of time to discover our life’s meaning?
The greatest obstacle in the pursuit of purpose is us. ‘We have seen the enemy and he is us’ is very appropriate for the pursuit of purpose. Most people have low self-awareness and self-knowledge. Ask someone what they value the most, what their passions are and what strengths they have, and you often get a blank look. Does this sound like you?
How to Start the Process Well
The first thing you must do to find your purpose is to give yourself room and time to discover it. You must be gracious with yourself and not demand that you discover it today. It may take several months even if you dedicate yourself to a process.
Allowing purpose to reveal itself in its own time is important. It is like a buried treasure that you do not have a map for. Sometimes you do not know where to start. Often you do not know where to dig. And usually it feels like you are potentially wasting your time looking for it. Keep reading if you need a map, tools, and encouragement to keep working until it is discovered.
The next thing that must happen to find your purpose is to self-regulate your thoughts and eliminate thoughts of discouragement. If you believe that you will never find purpose, you have set the table – you will never find purpose. A new belief must arise in our hearts and our minds that overcomes all feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and impatience. We must encourage ourselves. We must allow the natural forces of life to sponsor and show us our purpose.
Do not tune me out on what I am about to say next. I have noticed that people with a strong sense of a God in their life, have an easier time identifying their purpose. Why? Several reasons. They are grateful. They are more trusting. They often use patient prayer or consistent meditation to allow their purpose to be exposed. I have found that those who do not have a strong sense of faith, struggle. Faith often helps you see your life as a service to others and purpose is just that – what we do for others.
Another big thing to be aware of is that purpose loves to leave clues. For those of us who love to solve problems or put together puzzles or love figuring out mysteries, this process can be wonderful. You will not find our purpose in a book. You will not find it in a song or a movie (not that we don’t get inspired by media). No one else can tell you what your purpose is. The normal way it works is that you are given many small clues that point you down a path. Look for the path and follow the clues.
A few years ago, I was on a pilgrimage walking across northern Spain from Sarria to Santiago, with my wife and friends. Having never been to Spain, we had no idea where we were going. We were continually looking for signposts that had a yellow arrow on them to navigate the winding path through the Spanish countryside. Each time we found the yellow arrow it confirmed we were going the right direction and allowed us to continue walking at a steady pace to our destination, the Church of St. James.
One time, the four of us were talking and enjoying the beautiful Spanish countryside and came upon a small farm. We could see a man and a woman outside doing their chores. The wife was working in the garden perhaps weeding or pulling up produce and she stood up abruptly threw her hands up in the air to get our attention and said something in Spanish that we did not understand. But we did understand what she was trying to say; you are lost – you are not going the right direction and you need to turn around and go back!
In the pursuit of a purpose you must recognize that there are signposts. Commit to following those signposts – even though occasionally you will be lost. Discovering your way and knowing when to turn around is part of the process.
Skills Needed for Discovery
Discovering purpose is easier with a few key skills. Mastering these behaviors will be helpful to you.
The first is noticing what is happening in your life. For most of us, life speeds by – we go from day to day not noticing all the things that have occurred because we are in the ‘hamster wheel’ of busyness. Because we are so busy, we just try to get to the next activity and the next activity and the next activity. Our life becomes a blur because we are ‘in survival’ and we do not seem to fully notice what is happening, how it is making us feel, and why it is happening.
The second skill is being reflective and being able to answer questions about your life. If you continually do not answer questions with a definitive answer, discovering your purpose will be immensely difficult. You must know what matters most to you.
Allow me to tell you a story about a client of mine that will give you an idea of how purpose may ‘show up’ in your life. Finding your purpose does not always happen in a linear way. It is not always predictable. And because of that, it is often more useful to become a quasi-anthropologist searching for fragments of fossils. The following is a real-life example.
The general manager had lived a successful life. He grew up in an upper middle-income family and because of his upbringing and his family’s expectations, he very much wanted to be ‘successful’. He was a self-proclaimed perfectionist and always had a plan. His initial career plan was about “perfect progression” – always having a ‘next’. He started out as an assistant manager, then became a manager at a small property, moved to a medium sized property, and next became a manager at a large property.
In his mind, he would stay with his company and eventually become a vice president. ‘Perfect progression’ was about climbing the corporate ladder and getting a bigger title & adding more responsibility to his career. Shortly after his first child was born and his perfect progression was interrupted. He thought he was a lock to the job but did not get it. When his daughter became “a walking, talking person”, he experienced a new sense of responsibility and it overwhelmed him. He wanted to be a big part of her life and help her grow up.
With his new realization, he also began to see that parenting required effort and time. Perfect dad and perfect progression collided. He did not know it at the time but having a fatherly responsibility helped expose that something was missing, and it bothered him greatly. He had a hole in his heart and became anxious. Fortunately, his anxiety was so intense, that he sought out professional counseling.
We met during a professional development program and he mentioned kind of being lost. His first realization was his lack of awareness about who he was and what mattered most to him. His dad was a great role model and helped him realize what great fathers do: Provide / Protect / be Present. As he struggled to apply the “three P’s” for his daughter, he had another big insight: he was not doing the same thing for his team. His work and his success had been mostly about himself.
At a crossroads of self-discovery about what was most important, he realized that he could not be a good leader without putting other’s needs before his. The same realization he had about his daughter was true for his team. His team was made up of individuals who had needs. First in his heart, then in his head, it became clear to him that his purpose was going to be about serving his people.
He knew it was right because it felt right. His anxiety and concern about the future diminished greatly as he started to focus less on himself and more on helping his team. The idea of a perfect progression was all about him and was not what he really wanted. It became abundantly clear that the impact he could make in other’s lives was much more important than climbing the corporate ladder.
Looking back, it seemed that this new realization emerged slowly. However, once the light was shown on this purpose, he could not ignore it. Secondly, it appeared only after he hit a wall – he was questioning his plan and did not feel like good about being a father or a leader. His concern for his daughter, her needs, and how he wanted to be more engaged with her and his team all triggered his insight.
His discovery process included getting help to better understand himself and peel back the layers of the onion. He put in the hard work to get to know himself and why he was hard wired the way that he is. He discovered that when he was developing the skills of his people to make them successful, it felt like he was on purpose. He found a new way of leading and loved when he was outwardly focused, and people centered.
To find your purpose, he suggests you should “dig deep” by reflecting on it over and over – spending more time in reflection than you have ever done before. He also thinks that some maturity in life is important to be able to have self-awareness. Finally, his story point is an example of how the most difficult times in our lives often give us the greatest opportunity to discover our purpose.
- Why is purpose so elusive?
- It may take months, maybe even years to discover it
- It requires significant effort, persistence, and pursuit
- It is not handed out casually to the learning or graduates
- All the above
- None of the above
- what is the greatest obstacle to finding your purpose?
- Believing that you cannot find it
- Lack of self-awareness of your strengths & talents and passions & motivations
- Not giving the process enough time
- All the above
- what are the skills necessary to discover your purpose?
- Noticing what is happening in your life
- Being reflected and able to answer questions about yourself
- Being a good decision maker
- All the above
- A & B
- True or False: “digging deep” means going through therapy and having a professional counselor help you find your purpose?
- True or False: the most difficult times in our lives give us the greatest opportunity to discover our purpose?