How to Find Your Purpose in Life: A Practical Guide

 

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  1. What Is a Life Purpose?
  2. The Two Components of a Life Purpose
  3. How We Are Hardwired
  4. How to Find Your Purpose in Life
  5. More Questions that Might Help
  6. Misconceptions / Myths about Life Purpose
  7. How to Stay on the Right Track

Congratulations.

You must be looking for ways to find your purpose in life. For that reason alone, you deserve a pat on the back.

You’re on your way to discover what it means to live fully.

I’ve gotta tell you—many people simply carry on without having at least one reason to live.

Many haven’t taken the time (and it could be seriously short time) to stop and do nothing but contemplate what’s been going on in their lives, and notice the emergence of some sort of purpose.

I’ve discussed in another post the reasons we should discover our purpose in life.

Some people say that we don’t need a purpose at all, with which of course, I disagree.

I’d contend that these people simply haven’t realized it yet because of some reason that’s been clouding their mind.

They might be in a dead-end job they hate but seem unable to get out of it so, you know, why does it even matter?

They might have experienced some adversity that simply changed their perspective on life.

Others might simply be jealous of others. They’re the ones who only watch other people grow instead of working their way to their own development.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have the intelligence, wealth, and amazing environment around them but somehow, they still feel a sting of emptiness.

They think they’ve reached their full potential so they stop exploring and decide there’s nothing new in life anymore.

I hope that through this post, you’ll discover the reason you’re here on this amazing planet, with amazing people, places, and experiences just waiting for you.

But first, what is a life purpose?

When it comes down to it, your life purpose will be your contribution to the world.

A life purpose is not a goal, but all the goals you’ll be setting should align with this purpose.

You could look at it as a direction, but never an end goal, because you stop after you achieve a goal. A life purpose stands throughout your…well…life.

1. Your life purpose must reflect who you are.

Don’t be someone you’re not.

You’re at this particular point in time and space (or town). You’ve come a long way. You have the unique self that only you know most about—not your parents, friends, boss, or even your shrink.

2. A life purpose is specific.

It could be concise, if you prefer it that way.

I don’t have a problem with the short and seemingly generic mission statements like, “To be happy and help others become happy.”

If that works for the person, then I’d be happy for them. But I’d prefer a longer and more specific statement.

Those short statements might have only evolved from more detailed ones. Perhaps people have only decided that this “simple” purpose is the purpose already. We don’t know the whole story.

They might be living the life of their dreams now. They have a deeper understanding about themselves. They already know it; there’s no need to complicate.

At least that’s how I see it.

Nevertheless, a life purpose must be specific.

Specific like a belt is for holding your jeans on your waist, or for matching your top, or both. Like an air conditioning unit must be used for a smaller room, not outdoors. Like a shark must live underwater, or get sucked into tornadoes and land on people.

3. Next, a life purpose is something you choose.

If you let anyone do the job for you, you’ll only experience a weird kind of burnout, the one that makes you jaded—when you shouldn’t feel it (unless you’re very tired or stressed) if you’re sticking to your purpose in the first place!

Getting your hands dirty to learn the skills and to figure things out is inevitable, but in the end, you must choose a life purpose that matters to you.

4. Finally, a life purpose must create lasting meaning.

Without getting too philosophical, some people claim that purpose and meaning are the same thing.

Some say they become different according to the time in your life you reflect upon.

My take is that we could put a meaning to everything that happens to us, and it’s much more enlightening if we’re deliberately being conscious in every moment.

The meaning that you collectively perceive can then help you form a purpose you’d like to pursue from now on.

In a way the purpose-meaning tandem becomes circular. You contemplate the past, decide to take a direction, whether similar or totally new, and that direction—now your purpose—reinforces the meaning you put to your past.

Thus meaning is purpose in that regard.

And then, wherever you go, there you are.

Everything you’ve experienced, felt and learned will impact decisions you’ll make today, and 30, 40, or 50 years later.

You’ll want to stick to a life purpose that will give more meaning to your past and future.

With all that said, let’s discuss…

The Two Components of a Life Purpose

A life purpose boils down to only two parts: you and them.

Quite simplistic, I know, but please read on.

The First Component of a Life Purpose: You

Unfortunately, no map is invented to discover a profound thing you’ll intentionally stick to as you grow…like a life purpose.

But the good news is, you don’t always need a blueprint.

Sometimes, you just need the right questions.

And when you find answers, you can still keep asking. Isn’t curiosity a beautiful and useful thing?

Let’s then explore the most fundamental questions you’ll ever need in your quest for a meaningful life.

a. What do you truly love or believe in?

Let this question start the selfish part of this quest.

They could be people, activities, passions, beliefs, ideas…anything, really.

Brutal honesty with yourself is the important thing here. Identify what mean so much to you.

I bet you can name a couple of them right now, but if you’re having a hard time, try to think of a common theme that makes you happy since you were a kid…up to now.

Or something that makes you smile but also causes a bittersweet feeling because you think you’ve “changed” all these years and you just don’t have the time to do it anymore.

b. What can you start doing now?

Take this question for its purest essence. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’m not asking what your degree is, or where you came from, or who your parents are, or what you’ve done in the past.

Avoid judging yourself.

I’m also not asking what you’re qualified to do.

…although I have to make an exception.

You should definitely keep doing what you’re qualified to do (you’re a licensed professional, for example) as long as it’s part of the lifetime endeavor you believe in.

Working in the dream job is winning the lottery. Many people hate theirs.

What can you start doing that would energize you? What would give you joy even just for the sake of doing it? What would help you develop the needed skills?

We all start somewhere. It becomes a lame excuse when people say that they don’t know how to do it, they don’t have the “expertise,” or worse, they’ve already become who Daddy or Mummy wanted them to be.

If you can’t honestly say, “What I’m doing now,” to the three questions above, then there’s a problem.

If you think that what you were doing a while ago wasn’t even remotely related to the life of your dreams, then perhaps you should stop and do some serious thinking.

The Second Component of a Life Purpose: Them

You might say that “them” means “the whole universe,” but due to my learned propensity to be specific, “them” must be specific, too.

1. Who do you do it for?

They are the people with whom you’ll be sharing your talents, skills, and time. Your sweat, frustrations, and failures, too. Your life, basically.

Later I’ll discuss why this part of your purpose is all about them, why this journey is not for the pursuit of your own happiness only.

Anyway, you’ll have to choose the group of people whom you can provide with some sort of service. You can qualify those people. You’ll want to work with whom you can develop a relationship in which everyone can manifest empathy, respect, love.

You can choose them based on the values and beliefs you observe for yourself. In other words, you can choose them based on who you are.

2. What do they need that you can help with?

I’d argue that this is the most crucial part of the whole pursuit.

It’s helping other people improve the quality of their lives.

It may not be as grand as the whole universe that you might imagine, but you can sure make one hell of a beautiful dent on it.

Now, there are two ways you can help:

  • help people enrich their lives, or
  • help them alleviate their suffering.

Pick one, or both.

If you’ve fallen in love with painting, who exactly (among art enthusiasts) do you want to appreciate your work? Why them?

If math is life, who’d you want to be helping? Future scientists from poor and developing countries?

If you believe in human relationships, what kind of work should you be doing?

You’ll have to figure this out. Paradoxically, helping others is something you can do that can give your life so much meaning and happiness.

We Are Hardwired for Others

Now comes the big question (that could cause you a headache):

In my short time of existence, why should I even care to help others instead of just, you know, traveling, partying, being happy—all by myself?

And if in some way you’re providing help already, are you genuinely doing it or are you expecting something in return?

You can sharpen your sense of discernment by asking why one-minute TV commercials feature projects of a local politician, for example.

You might be a volunteer, but are you doing it for your career, too?

Research says that helping others benefits you as the giver. It makes you happier. It improves your capacity to empathize. It improves your overall wellbeing.

This is why “help” or “give” or “others” become self-serving ideas in the long run.

Sometimes we have ulterior motives. It’s not really for them, it’s for us. It’s not for their future, but ours. They’re just lucky that we’re sharing our awesome life with them.

I want to talk about something that has been in us all along, way before we discovered all the “benefits” from serving others. It’s this:

We are hardwired to help others. It’s in our genes.

And even though science will keep uncovering everything that we have a genetic urge for, we’d rather aim at those that will be helpful for our fellow humans.

Another way to look at it is through the famous Golden Rule, in its prohibitive form: Don’t treat others the way you wouldn’t want to be treated.

You found a genetic urge that helps you live a happier life? Then start investing a bit of your life on that damn urge and spread the word.

An evolutionary code that makes you more horrible of a person? Learn about it, find ways to manage it, and become a leader in a world of horrible people.

Make life better.

Instead of the incidental benefits we gain from sharing our lives with others, let’s rather examine what we are hardwired to do.

Yeah, our genes can make the search for a life purpose easier.

a. Hardwired to Connect

We are profoundly social creatures.

The social bonds we develop can be so strong that we suffer when they get threatened or severed. The social pains we get from such threats are very similar to physical pains.

The problem is that while we do our best to avoid physical pains, we often neglect the growing distress the social ones cause.

We need to address them both as if they were the same kind.

Our innate need to connect to others then makes our “unique self” not that “unique” after all.

The “self” has become a product of the many “selves”—of other people—we’ve encountered in our lives. Our sense of self can be attributed to the social ties we’ve nurtured, whether we realize it or not.

Even if you’ve learned about the intricacies of a faraway culture, you can’t deny that your beliefs and values are greatly influenced by the people and the way of life in your proximity.

b. Hardwired for Empathy

It appears that being empathetic isn’t really a skill.

A University of Virginia study shows that we are after all hardwired for empathy. We associate people close to us with ourselves.

Researchers studied the brain regions responsible for threat response—the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus—in two different instances: when a stranger was under threat of shock, and when a friend was.

Even with the stranger, the brain regions showed little reaction.

However, if a friend was under threat, it was as if the participants themselves were under that same threat. The reactions were identical.

We are hardwired to feel others’ pain. Researchers have found evidence that the more empathic people possess a variation of the oxytocin receptor gene.

Oxytocin, also called the “cuddle” or “love” hormone, helps promote social interaction, bonding, romantic love, and the like.

So don’t be surprised if you find yourself standing up for someone getting bullied right on the spot.

As a species, part of our evolutionary development was sticking up for one another, especially for the weaker ones. This is how we eventually reduced inequality and developed cooperation, empathy and other moral values widespread today.

Help has apparently always been the evolutionary “right” thing to do—from everyone’s point of view: the victim, the helper, and the society as a whole.

We are compelled to help a victim, even when there are risks involved.

Our capacity to empathize can also go to great lengths that we even empathize with robots, and it’s perfectly normal.

c. Hardwired for Fairness

Research shows that in the short time that we’re confronted by a conflict of fairness—that is, when our reaction is mostly intuition—our emotional side overrules the rational one.

We are emotional creatures. And we’re punished or rewarded depending on decisions we make as far as fairness is concerned.

Our brains activate a region associated with negative emotions when we do something unfair to others. On the other hand, the brain regions associated with rewards set off when we observe fairness, even when there are no gains in question.

Perhaps as a consequence, justice has been encoded in our genes, too.

d. Hardwired to Give

By this time, it shouldn’t be news to you that ultimately, we are hardwired to give.

And this I argue is the strongest driving force that’ll fuel us to live our lives to the fullest.

Sure, man may be selfish by nature, or so we’re told, but we are actually driven by empathy and generosity more than selfishness.

We are driven by what researchers call “prosocial resonance” or mirroring impulse, and this is responsible for our urge for altruism.

We give others what we think they’d need because some time in the past, or even right now, we’ve also experienced what they’re going through.

And research shows that doing something for others makes us feel good about ourselves, aside from the benefits recipients already enjoy.

The brain would give a sense of pleasure, through a chemical called dopamine, as reward for doing something we know is good.

So when you’re feeling generous, just go ahead.

Think about it: A life purpose is about being the hardcore volunteer (without the glorious recognition and vanity stuff).

Or maybe a life purpose is volunteering already.

Would you give away your time or money without asking for some non-monetary thing in return? Do you wish to become a bazillionaire first before you venture into so-called altruism?

However you’re going to do it, remember this: In the long run, when you’re too frail of old age, you’ll look back to remember what mattered in your life, and the lives of others.

Money only followed. It’s not the foundation of humankind. It makes life more convenient, sure, but it doesn’t create genuine happiness and meaning. Money is only a tool (although it is a great tool).

If you consider the benefits of volunteering and the reasons why we have—innately in us—the tendency to be selflessly generous to others, you’ll see that this might be the true meaning of human life after all.

Regardless of your reasons, your means, your goals, or your logic, the meaning of your life will be to help others.

Some people will find meaning in helping (or “living for”) those who are only close to them, like their kids, spouse, close friends, parents, or relatives.

That’s all fine, but I urge you to think bigger than that.

What you’ll want to aim for is that your job, lifestyle, chosen vacation spots—everything in your conscious world—become your purpose in life.

Your kid has speech delay? Learn about it and perhaps you’d want to help spread awareness. Perhaps your life purpose has a great deal to do with the education sector.

Your best friend had a traumatic experience? Maybe it’s your purpose to help him and all the other hundreds or even thousands like him to cope in better ways, in your influence.

You’re favorite cousin has the most twisted kind of fanaticism toward a mad political leader that he treats him like a god? (And yeah it also sparked that heated argument.) Maybe your purpose is to help fight ignorance!

We are emotional, more than rational beings.

Now, you might live for animals or nature—not necessarily for people. No problem with that, too.

If you work in an animal shelter or a lab for an environmental organization, it’s still considered—in awfully many ways—a huge contribution to the world.

I simply focused on the obviously closest thing: humanity, us.

For it’s the Big-L Love that will matter. The Big-L Love that will drive us to create meaning with the world, as opposed to the small-l love that only makes us all self-interested.

Who else is there? What else is there? We know for a fact who is, right now.

Therefore, after discussing why we’re basically human, I’d bet my butt that the best way to start your enlightened journey is with the people you want to help.

How to Find Your Purpose in Life

Okay, finally.

Armed with all the info above, we can now tackle how to discover your life purpose.

Some say you can find it in 5 minutes. Or 20. So what? What if you’ll find it in 20 years?

How to find your purpose in life: #1. Stop searching.

You might imagine that looking for your purpose should be tough. Especially when there’s a multitude of books published solely for this topic.

Well, let me tell you right now that you might’ve simply been avoiding your life purpose!

You might be good at something—really, naturally, without question—but you just feel some sort of boredom when you’re doing it—and this boredom is coming from something else, not from the activity itself!

Perhaps “life” is happening to you that you think you don’t have the time or money or energy or whatever. But maybe you only don’t have a plan. Have you tried making and sticking to one already?

Perhaps you think it’s so unconventional and you simply don’t know that there are others also doing it. Feeling alone and not reaching out could affect your self-esteem.

If you’re especially busy but believe that life has a lot to offer, then stop for a moment and realize that you might not need to look for your purpose.

You just have to acknowledge it.

I want you to literally write down the following:

a. Your Hobbies

You wouldn’t commit to a hobby you don’t like.

A hobby could be something that only you would do (your friends wouldn’t, for instance), but find its complexity compelling that when you notice you’re getting better at it, you experience a sense of satisfaction.

There’s simply a connection between you and the act.

A hobby makes you happy and perhaps until it becomes your job, it gives you a sense of freedom from everyday logistics and responsibilities.

During your free time, what do you find yourself doing? Otherwise, what do you daydream about?

Sure, you might not want to associate fun with work, for fear of disliking it later. But have you ever thought that it could be worth it?

b. Stuff You Read and Post

You probably have at least one social media account.

You created it for the sake of following influencers or topics that interest you, even if remotely.

Or simply for vanity.

In any case, go open your profile, and check out two things:

  • who/what you follow
  • your timeline/tweets/board/profile/etc. (In other words, the stuff you post. Public posts are better.)

And then take a moment to realize that:

  • there’s at least one common theme/topic/subject that you’d rather learn about more than anything else
  • if you’re stuck on an island with a bunch of people you share no common interests with, you’d still tell them about it, even at the risk of becoming boring or annoying

Find the posts that sparked your curiosity.

And sometimes, you posted them unconsciously.

Now is the time to recognize those gems. They’ve just been there, waiting for you to notice.

That’s one productive use of social media right there!

c. Repurposing: Revisit Your Childhood

Repurposing can be powerful if you find yourself in a job that you had no idea exists and you suddenly became existential and all because you just realized that the job isn’t for you, and vice versa.

A trick here is to remember something you loved as a kid it makes you want to buy a time machine.

And now that you’re in the working class, think about possible ways you can bring it back to life.

Maybe you’re an accountant, but remember that at 6 you wanted to become a pilot. A nice goal might be to try working in an airport or air station.

Maybe you’re an engineer but remember dancing to a Queen song that your dad loved. Now you can play the drums but it’s been a long time since you played on stage. Joining an event management group could be a brilliant idea.

Maybe you’re simply bored at work, but as a kid you loved Clay Balls on a Hill, and had a weird obsession with Play-Doh, and now you’re fascinated by sculptures. Coincidence?

The sky can be the limit. Try to remember how you felt as a kid simply doing his thing.

Of course, don’t change careers at the first chance.

Just start with something and see how it goes.

d. Ask People

Having a hard time? Think you’re not the type that toots his own horn?

Ask your family, friends, colleagues, or even your boss! Ask people who know you.

Ask them what they think you’re good at. That which they’d have a terrible time with but would be a breeze for you.

It’s solid feedback.

Observe the way they say it. And the way you make their lives easier or better, even in small ways.

Everybody has a “thing.”

The one that you’re the best at, that people would run to you for, that you can do without breaking a sweat…is most likely your “thing”! Don’t neglect it!

You know, people love talking about themselves—their experiences, their interests, their pet peeves.

If you notice a certain void in their lives (whether professional or personal) that you’re filling already, then don’t take it for granted.

Sometimes other people already have an idea. You just have to ask.

How to find your purpose in life: #2. Find your wound.

Notice that the first method, “Stop searching,” is mostly related to your strengths.

And I’d contend that acknowledging those strengths shouldn’t be that hard. It’s the easiest way to find your purpose.

However, many people uncover their purpose through a “wound” they bear.

This is very similar to when Viktor Frankl said that we can find meaning in suffering.

The best way you can help someone is when you precisely understand what they’re going through.

You’ve been where they are. You’re carrying the same burden.

Thus you can act accordingly based on all the knowledge you’ve learned from your experience and possibly, from your own research.

Sharing your wound is empathy in its highest form.

Are you diagnosed with depression? Did you grow in a tough family or neighborhood? Did you lose someone in a tragedy? Were you bullied in high school? Did you survive a terminal illness?

Your wound has a meaning, and don’t forget that wounds are never a weakness.

I’m telling you this not because this is some kind of a “mind hack.”

Your wound is a privilege—you have something to share with the world. And through your wound you develop strength, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

This method might take some time, especially if you now realize that you’ve been denying your wound’s existence.

But don’t fret. Maybe life has been tough; you only wanted to be happy. You deserve to be happy.

All I’m asking at this point is that you take the time to look back at the unpleasant stuff that has happened in your life, and consider the possibility that you’re being called to become a light in the dark.

You might have survived and gotten out of that darkness, but chances are, you are not alone. Others have been there, too. Others are still there.

The good news is that you now have something to say…

It’s just that perhaps you haven’t thought about it yet.

Well, I have and will always believe that there is hope. We can turn things around. We can keep trying.

And yes, even if you’ve been using your strengths, you could still feel a tinge of emptiness.

Maybe it’s about time that you dealt with the wound you’ve been hiding and let it heal.

Maybe your ultimate strength lies in your wound.

Maybe it’s precisely your wound that will reveal your purpose.

So ask yourself, “What is life asking of me?”

The way you think, talk, and act now has also been molded by your pains and suffering.

But instead of living in the past and thinking what could have been if none of them ever happened, you can now move forward, with bravery and strength.

With this in mind, you can adopt Steve Pavlina’s method: On a piece of paper (or text editor), write every life purpose you can think of, quick and without judgment, until you write the one that makes you cry.

To me, crying isn’t necessary, though.

My belief (and this could be a version of Steve’s method) is that you may not need to make a long list to discover what makes you cry.

You already know what makes you cry.

If you’re not sure, try to remember the last time you seriously and genuinely cried—alone—after you read an article, or after you listened to a song, or after you got exhausted after a fight with someone you love, or after something terrible happened but you couldn’t do anything even though you wanted to…you were just helpless.

I bet remembering that isn’t that difficult.

Anyway, just try Steve’s method.

Writing stuff down has been proven to be much more effective than simply sitting down and letting our unreliable brains rule us.

The short time you’ll write down and contemplate will be worth it. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Now, if the two methods above don’t work, I have one last tip for you, but it’s the hardest.

Don’t worry, though. Hard things are almost always worth it.

How to find your purpose in life: #3. Forget about purpose. Just do something.

It’s possible that no one ever told you about life purpose. Nobody’s got time for that!

Anyway, you were probably told these:

  1. Study hard. Go to the Big Unis.
  2. Get a job.
  3. Don’t be late for work.
  4. Get rich!
  5. Get a car. Buy a house. Buy whatever the hell you want as if money was not a problem. YOLO!
  6. Then boast them with the world.
  7. Live comfortably.

…when you should have heard these:

  1. Get the most out of school, but remember that learning is an essential and lifelong skill.
  2. Work in a job with others in mind, especially those in need.
  3. Master yourself so you can master your productivity.
  4. Money is not a good motivator.
  5. Be debt-free. Buy only what you need. Physical clutter = mental and spiritual clutter.
  6. Respect is earned. Don’t buy it. Stay humble.
  7. Live an awesome life.

Why am I saying these?

Because all your life you might have been setting goals without ever asking why. Without values in the first place, it could be very difficult to find meaning even in the toughest endeavors you’ve completed.

Maybe you’ve achieved goals just for the sake of it.

Now, I want you to think about your life within the past six months or so.

Can you find meaning in some of the major events that recently happened?

If you can, great. Perhaps there’s something worth pursuing.

If not, still great.

But this is the part where I say, screw finding purpose and just do something!

You can only do much of pondering. If nothing’s coming up and you’re now banging your head against the wall, know that you won’t find something meaningful or valuable until you allow yourself to actively get involved in it.

You might envy some people because they have the lifestyle you can only wish for, but you can never be sure whether you truly want that “life” until you’ve tried doing and being what it takes to live it. And it will usually take time before you reach that point.

The opposite is also true. A lifestyle that’s not-so-glamorous might give you the excitement and thrill you’re looking for.

Most of the time, it’s in the details.

And the brain is just tricky that way.

So pick one activity. Immerse yourself into it for a couple of weeks or months. Get busy.

Then see what you become, or would like to become, after some personal evaluation.

If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Just do something else.

Plant a tree. Go to a retirement home. Learn to play the guitar. Try programming. Lift.

Doesn’t really matter.

Just try to be mindful of yourself. This is a great way towards self-discovery that you wouldn’t want to miss.

What’s that you’re saying? You don’t have the skills? Screw that, too.

You can always start, you can always learn.

In case you haven’t noticed already, you have the guts and initiative and curiosity. That’s probably why you’re still here!

You’ll be fine.

You might feel like you’re a blank slate. It should be a good thing.

Just resolve to move—consistently and patiently.

More Questions that Might Help

As I said, there’s no solid map that’ll show exactly how you’re going to find your purpose.

Most of the time, it’s about asking the right questions. And it’s amazing how two answers to the same question can be completely different from each other if asked at different times.

I’ve laid out the big questions. However, if you need more hints, you can use the following:

a. What are you willing to sacrifice?

Everything requires some sort of sacrifice. Every “lifestyle” has it.

You might think that everything will finally become perfect once your plans start working, but be wary of the little things—some of them are going to suck or will need you to sacrifice a comfortable part of your daily routine.

You have to be willing to handle these troubles if you want the better part of the tradeoff, which is living your purpose.

b. What makes you lose track of time?

You indulge in an activity at the expense of eating your meals on time, or getting enough sleep!

c. If you had to choose one job that will never pay you, what would it be?

Doesn’t actually matter whether you’re broke or have all the luxuries the world can offer.

Most of the time, we can come up with a lot of excuses why we’re not doing what we must be doing.

Can you start with just three hours a week? Do you have a bit of energy left after work? Can you manage to block distractions?

You don’t have to start all-out to follow your purpose.

d. What made you truly proud of yourself?

Forget about what others thought. That they were just as ecstatic as you was only a bonus.

Does it still make you feel good? Can you still manage to do it these days?

e. What did your parents have to drag you away from?

Remember the times they had to stop you from doing something because they thought:

  • you were spending way too much time on it
  • you were “not like the other kids”
  • you were “making a mess”

f. How do you feel when people ask you, “What do you do?”

If it’s far from what you really want, it should be a stepping stone at least. The direction is important.

g. What do you find yourself talking about most, anytime, anywhere?

Take mental notes of the common topics that pop out across different groups you hang out with.

h. Who’s someone you admire and would like to emulate?

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Pick one person—your neighbor, your grandfather, your boss, a national hero, a magnate, an actor—who you think lived a meaningful life. You could start with the values you share with them.

i. How can you better embarrass yourself?

Many people wouldn’t dare to disrupt their “normal life” to pursue something they want. Especially if they think that they lack the skills.

When you embark upon something new, and huge, you will go through rough moments where you’ll learn the hard way.

These difficult times are usually called “failures.”

Standing out in a herd is easy when you do something different. All eyes on you.

But following a chosen and conscious life purpose will require this kind of embarrassment once in a while.

If you can risk looking like a fool, then nothing should really stop you.

Misconceptions / Myths about Life Purpose

1. Some people don’t have a purpose.

These people just haven’t found it yet.

Or more important, they simply aren’t aware that there’s always something to do, which could lead to another, until purpose is finally revealed.

2. Life becomes a breeze after you’ve found your purpose.

Problems will never run out.

But problems are rather healthy—they provide different levels of complexity that when we deal with them responsibly, we become in turn better individuals. We find enjoyment in complexity that challenges and pushes us out of our comfort zones.

So instead of hoping to get rid of challenges, aim to choose those that will make you grow.

And note that some problems are only symptoms of an underlying root. Addressing the root problem could stop multiple ones that might be deluding you.

3. A life purpose is inculcated since you were young.

Indoctrinating a kid to follow a certain “purpose” is a sin.

I’d rather tell them about the “how” than the “what.”

However, if you truly believe in the purpose your parents/guardians/teachers taught you (there’s always an exception, isn’t there!) then make sure you’re not following it blindly. I commend you for that, too.

4. Purpose = passions. Purpose = job.

A passion is most of the time something that you desire for yourself, unless arguably that passion is helping others.

But in general, passions can only become a channel for a purpose.

Your job doesn’t have to be your life purpose, too. We basically work for survival, and your definition of “survival” could mean different from mine.

In the long run, however, your passions and work should be aligned with a purpose.

5. A life purpose doesn’t change.

People change.

After all the ups and downs…after spending time with all kinds of people…after traveling to foreign lands, you will change…

…and so will your priorities and interests.

Sure, you might find an entirely different purpose, but you can be sure that it will evolve continuously.

6. You have to be someone from a certain class.

…like those of “social work”:

  • caregivers
  • reverends
  • charity workers
  • volunteers

This is the beauty of purpose. You can make a difference whoever you are. You can have so many choices for a deed, without restrictions.

7. A life purpose is groundbreaking.

“Help” and “others” are the center of a life purpose.

The simplest template would then be:

“My life purpose is to help others to _______.”

It’s not a life purpose without those two ingredients, as we’ve established above.

Having said that, you don’t have to “invent” a purpose nobody has followed before.

You can help someone directly. You can support a leader or an organization that shares your values and aims for a similar mission.

You are not alone.

8. There’s a buttload of cash in pursuing your purpose.

Of course you can earn from living the life of purpose, but I’ll say it again: money is just money.

We thrive in relationships.

In fact, the prioritization of purpose is inversely correlated with wealth, as money can blur the definition of true success.

Money is a by-product, not an aim.

9. There’s only one purpose.

Start with the different areas of your life: family, work, social groups, health, etc.

You wear a few hats. It shouldn’t surprise you that you’ll also need a purpose in each of those areas. Make sure they are in harmony with each other.

10. Finding purpose is easy.

It’s not easy. It’s not hard. It’s not the point.

Don’t even start saying that everybody around you has found theirs when they were twelve.

For some people, it just dawns as clear as the June sky, but for some, it becomes a quest. And it doesn’t matter.

Getting stuck is what you need to avoid.

You might know of people who seem to have found their purpose overnight, but you don’t know what they’ve been through until that enlightening moment.

11. Some people have a more _______ life purpose.

Ah, the comparison trap.

“More _______” could be:

  • more important
  • more interesting
  • more fun
  • better
  • greater
  • more etcetera

We’re all different. There’s simply no comparison, period.

How to Stay on Track with Your Life Purpose

Discovering your life purpose is the easy part. I know that might sound crazy. But the hard part is actually your commitment to it.

And commitment would mean:

  • channeling your energies to the goals aligned with your purpose
  • following strategies to avoid distractions
  • creating and sticking to better habits
  • contingency plans
  • mustering the courage and grit to move forward
  • networking with the right people
  • cutting ties with those that hinder your growth
  • scheduling playtime with your family
  • scheduling meetups with loved ones and close friends
  • and many more

Life has a lot to offer, and it’s short.

If you insist on doing everything, everything becomes clutter.

No organization. No meaning. No nothing. No peace of mind, even.

But with a purpose at the center of all the clutter of your choice, something emerges. In charge of your ship’s wheel, you direct where your life goes, no matter the weather’s fury.

But you’ll be old and gray soon. How will you know whether all’s still making sense?

a. The Purpose/Time Ratio

The ultimate aim is that you—your attitude, character, job, passions, hobbies, residence, the kind of friends you’ll have, how many kids you’ll have, etc.—become your life purpose.

And the activities you’ll commit to will show whether that’s true.

The following is an exercise you can do once a year. It’s a great way to review how well things are turning out as you imagined it.

On a sheet of paper make three columns.

On the first column write all the activities that take much of your week. Ignore the basic stuff like meals, brushing your teeth, or taking a bath.

On the second column write the average number of hours you spend on each activity.

Finally on the third column, put a rating, from 1 to 10, according to the combined assessment by (a) how much you like doing those activities, and (b) how much you think they align with your life purpose, with 10 being the best, and 1 the least.

The general idea is that:

  • the first column should show the activities that are important, and those that are only a waste of time/distractions
  • the second and third columns should have high numbers

Consider this for example:

  • First column: job
  • Second column: 58 hours per week
  • Third column: 2

Did you notice? There’s a mismatch. You wouldn’t want to spend the majority of your waking hours on a job you value very low.

b. Keep Learning: Read

I’ve been in the quest to learn about human nature (read: my nature) and I wouldn’t have learned them all without which I owe it much to—the written word.

I’ve been consuming it through two mediums: books, and the rest that we call the internet.

The internet then eventually introduced me to other forms of presentation like videos and podcasts.

Sure, there are crappy books, misleading blogs, and lying speakers.

But generally when you read, you unconsciously make the deal with yourself that you’re going to open your mind for the hopefully new and useful material. Reading makes you a critical thinker.

And that deal with yourself is more important than the multitude of crappy materials you’re going to come across or stop reading.

The written word can open gates of knowledge you haven’t found before—whether with books or authoritative publishers, online or offline.

And when you read, you learn more about your purpose (or the trade you’re in, perhaps), and as time goes by, the wisdom you accumulate will guide you to further directions, or sometimes, convince you to abandon one for another.

Let books make you wiser!

Your purpose might need you to do very complex tasks, but it’d be far better to continue pursuing it so that your understanding about the world expands, rather than continuing out of learned lethargy, turning you into a blind follower.

c. Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation, especially. Basically it’s a form of meditation in which we develop good feelings towards others.

It complements well with the mother of all kinds—mindfulness meditation—which trains us to focus on the present.

Meditation has been known to provide loads of benefits, including them is clarity on the misty bridge that exists between you and the rest of the world, your life purpose.

You Are Ready

It’s worth stressing the fact that this whole discussion about purpose means nothing without the most important element of all: action.

You can only do much of contemplating and finding meaning in all the chaos that has happened in the past, but you’ve got to play the role you want, and are meant to. You have to live it!

You move forward from now on. Don’t get intimidated by the huge changes that don’t happen overnight, or in a few weeks, months, or years.

Yes, self-transformation can take years. But so what?

It’s deciding that you’re going to take a certain direction, even if it’s slightly unconventional, doing small changes every day toward that direction.

Don’t lose heart if the people around you seem to have no purpose at all!

After reading this article, you should be able to tell who among the people you know have some kind of purpose, and who only seem to have accepted their fate, wherein “fate” is any picture made for them by the glamorous show called “Social Standards.”

I’m not telling you to become the weirdest and most arrogant creature in the community.

The important takeaway is that you think, you decide, you choose, and finally you act, in letting your desires make an impact on others’ lives.

Take charge, but don’t forget why you’re here.

(Image Credits: Patrik Nygren, José Moutinho, Indi Samarajiva, U.S. Army, Leon Riskin)

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