One of the most psychologically taxing things we struggle with as humans is finding our purpose in life. We’re asked to start building toward this often-unknown purpose in grade school when we start taking aptitude tests and when our teachers and parents begin asking what we want to be when we grow up. So if you don’t know the answer by college, it can be stressful.
We discuss some ways to fuel your fire and how to find your purpose in life.
Why is Purpose Important?
A sense of purpose is associated with all sorts of good things including improved physical and mental health. Psychologists have studied goal setting and a sense of purpose for a long time, and they believe that purpose evolved in humans so that we can accomplish big goals as a whole, versus accomplishing only small goals individually.
Another reason that finding your purpose is important is to achieve inner peace and fulfillment. We are constantly told that money can’t buy happiness, and we see even super successful people struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Many people believe that it has to do with their lack of purpose in life. Achievement without purpose means nothing.
Finding your life’s purpose can help to inform the major decisions you make and can drive you to help create positive changes in the world. You’ll also find that purpose means more than just finding your passion. It means cultivating relationships and learning to understand and appreciate how interconnected we are as human beings locally and around the world.
Where Do You Start to Find Your Purpose?
Finding your passion will help you to achieve a purpose, but how do you start that process? We did some digging to figure out how to find your purpose in a few steps. We won’t call any of these steps “simple” since some of them will be tougher than others and their level of difficulty depends on where you are in your life. The steps are helpful, however, in figuring yourself out.
We think it’s important that you understand before we begin that purpose is adaptive. This is true both evolutionarily and individually. In an evolutionary sense it means that purpose helps the species to survive, but in a personal sense, this means that your general purpose could go in many directions based on where your strengths or passions lie at a given time.
Although many people believe that having a purpose comes from our gifts and talents, that isn’t necessarily the whole story. Purpose also comes from whom we are around and how we’ve built our relationships. It comes from what we are exposed to daily as well, so someone in the inner city may have a different purpose than a similar person living in a very rural setting.
1. What Drives You?
Many psychologists believe that finding out what drives you is a big part of how find your purpose, but what does that mean exactly? For me, this is the question that I wasn’t able to get beyond. I couldn’t figure out what made me want to achieve or move forward aside from the approval of those around me. Luckily for me, there are questions you can ask yourself to help:
- What pain or injustice have you seen in the world that you cannot allow continuing?
- What subjects have you read or studied that touched you deeply?
- Have you ever witnessed someone else’s pain and had to turn away or had it linger in your thoughts for a long time?
These questions are obvious places to start if we think of purpose as something that promotes the greater good. To promote good in the world we must first decide what injustices we can’t live with, or what pain we can’t bear to witness again, and that can help us to pin down what we’re supposed to do.
2. What Are You Willing to Sacrifice?
We know this doesn’t seem like the world’s most motivating question, but sacrifices and bad days are a part of life. It’s important to understand that, even when you feel like you’re pursuing your purpose, you may not always have great days. There are going to be days where you struggle and days when you see corruption. What will make those days worth it?
For instance, a cardiologist may have seen one of her parents struggle with heart disease or may have had a childhood friend born with a heart defect. She realized that watching that kind of pain was something she couldn’t live with, so she used that drive to become a cardiologist. Now that she’s here, she may have to watch similar pain in other patients from time to time.
The real test of whether or not becoming a cardiologist was this person’s purpose in life is whether or not she can overcome the days or hours when she sees patients suffer by knowing that she is helping the vast majority of her patients to heal and live normal lives without suffering. If it’s not worth the bad, then this probably wasn’t her true purpose.
3. Explore What You Love and What Comes Easy
Okay, we know, this seems pretty obvious, right? Well, it is, but it’s also something we don’t give enough attention to in western culture. Some people just have natural talents, but when they feel that those talents can’t help anyone or can’t make them enough money, they bail and try to focus their energies elsewhere.
You don’t have to follow your passions and talents into a career or a life purpose, but sometimes doing so can make the world a lot simpler. Exploring what comes easy to you or where your talents lie and how that intersects with the things that drive you or make you mad or sad about the world can be a great place to start in building your purpose.
You might love music and learn to play guitar at a young age, but the people around you talk about how unlikely it is that your music will ever take you anywhere, and so you pursue other things, and maybe eventually give up on music altogether. But what if you had looked at how your love for music could intersect with the things in the world you want to change?
You could become a music therapist, pursue your dream of starting a band and use your lyrics to promote messages of hope and justice throughout the world, or even become a music teacher. All three of these jobs represent a passion and talent in music, but they all represent different things that you want to change about the world and different sacrifices to get there.
We talked earlier about how our passions and talents have to coincide with our experiences and the people around us in order to develop into a real purpose. Reading is one thing you can do to expand your connections and experiences without moving, networking, or spending lots of money.
When we read, we are able to connect with events that happened hundreds of years ago, and to people we will never get the chance to meet. Reading can also lead to you discovering what excites you. Maybe you read a book about the life of a famous scientist, and that ignites in you a passion for science and research. You can use that newfound excitement to find your purpose.
5. Go Out and Do More
Most of the tips we’ve given you on how to find your purpose so far are based on quiet contemplation, but that’s not always the easiest way to discover what you’re into. In fact, it’s quite often not the best way to do it. The more you act, the more experiences you’ll have, and therefore the more likely you’ll be to find answers to the questions we’ve been discussing.
Use your talents, or your general interests, to pull you into situations you’ve never experienced before. If you love to read, join a book club at your local library. Want to learn to play an instrument? Take a class at a local community center or college. Going out and doing things, even if you don’t know you’ll love them, can help you to meet new people and get to know yourself.
6. Realize that Purpose Can Mean More than One Thing
When we talk about purpose, we can sometimes get hung up on the idea that you are meant to do only one thing, and that not pursuing it or pursuing it to late in life is the worst thing that can happen. That’s not at all true. You probably have multiple things you enjoy doing, and multiple passions. You probably also have multiple injustices you’d like to see reversed.
Don’t trap yourself on a hamster wheel by assuming you can only pursue one thing. The average billionaire has seven sources of income. Those celebrities you look up to so heavily don’t just stick to their single greatest talent, they branch out. Justin Timberlake has his own tequila, Rhianna has a makeup line, and you can have multiple passions and jobs as well to fulfill you.
Often our feelings of a crisis of purpose come from feeling alone more than anything else, and pursuing multiple things you enjoy can help you to meet new people and end your isolation in a way that promotes good in the world around you.
7. Listen to Other People’s Opinions
A lot of us grow up feeling like being humble is the best and most important thing we can be. Sure, a sense of humility is a great character trait, but not when it stops us from seeing what others compliment us on. It can be something as simple as telling you that your style is on point or as intense as a talk with your current boss about what you’re doing right at work.
There are so many ways to go about finding your life’s purpose, if only you’re willing to avoid boxing yourself in. Ask yourself questions that seem silly, like what part of your current life would make your childhood self cringe or cry? Focus on your talents and what people tell you you’re good at and use those things to meet new people and experience new things.
Figure out what it is that really makes you angry about our world, and then try to draw connections between how you fix that with what you love to do. Focus on what you’re really passionate about: the things that make you forget to do basic things like eat lunch or go to sleep can often lead you to your greatest passions and then your purpose.
We all want to find that thing in life that will help to drive us to be better people and to make the world a better place, and it can be difficult to do when we feel trapped in our current space or isolated. Getting out of the rut and understanding that we create our own circumstances are the two most basic steps in pursuing our life goals and living life with a purpose.