A few thousand people every month type “ what am I doing with my life ” in the Google search box hoping that the clever AI can help with finding a purpose in life. In the past governments called on their citizens to help with fighting wars and rebuilding countries, religions had a blueprint of how to live life ready for you. In a modern, relatively safe society with a focus on individualism finding a purpose has become a DIY concept.
It does not help that there is no longer one purpose but thousands to choose from. The icing on the cake is celebrities and ultrarich proclaiming their mission to save humanity from future disasters or colonise other planets. It prompts an average person with a nine-to-five job to think that they need to get a life otherwise their existence is a complete waste.
Firstly let me assure you If you happen to be that person there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Searching for meaning is a worthy quest and you already raised the bar by just thinking about it. Secondly, the solution may be much simpler than you thought. In this post, we will discuss what purpose is, why if at all you need it and how to find one.
What Is A Purpose
Let’s begin with defining what purpose is. After all, how can we find something if we don’t know what it feels, looks or tastes like? The general definition is that the purpose is the reason for something to be created or exist. For instance, a hammer is created to sink nails into wood. Its bigger purpose however is to build things. Psychologists defined the purpose as an intent to accomplish something personally meaningful and leave a significant mark on the world beyond the self. In essence, purpose combines three parts:
- It is a far-reaching goal that takes years to accomplish.
- The intent of the goal is personally meaningful to you
- It goes beyond oneself i.e. leaves a positive impact on the world
When removing all the intricacies of individual versions of purpose on a foundational level it boils down to just one sentence – it is to help others. Whether it’s animals, the ocean or our families making someone’s life better is at the core of purpose. You don’t need to colonise Mars or invent the next penicillin to feel fulfilled.
Why Is It Important To Have A Purpose
You May Be Feeling Lost
From the early days, humans living in small tribes had to contribute to survive. In the hunter-gatherer society, everyone in the tribe had a defined role. There was no need to look for purpose. It was plain and simple either play a role or cease to exist as a tribe. The role of the purpose changed as we progressed to a safer technologically advanced society yet the tribal men still live in us. We still use gossip as a way to bond and share information forming small virtual groups. We still see hierarchical ascendance in workplaces as a way of increasing status and privilege. Not having a purpose makes us feel that something important is missing in our lives.
It Is Harder To Stay Focused and Maintain Effort
A strong why will command an action beyond motivation hype. Once the initial excitement about a new idea fizzles out without the purpose there is no reason to continue. With a strong sense of purpose, you are not likely to stick to your goals but also inspire and lead other people. Having a compelling reason to exist makes people more mountains. The countries and business histories are full of examples like that.
Dealing With Adversity Is Easier
As if famous German philosopher Nietzsche said “those who have a way to live to can bear almost any how”. Equipped with a strong sense of purpose people build rockets to fly to the moon, cross oceans and build multimillion businesses despite setbacks moving dreams to reality.
You May Feel Anxious Without A Purpose
The search for a purpose may make you feel anxious. Inspiring stories of successful people that changed human history through their actions or came up with great inventions add additional pressure. You may be asking yourself a question “what am I doing with my life?” “Is it normal not to have a purpose?”
People With A Purpose Live Longer, Happier and Healthier Lives.
Living with purpose makes us feel energised and happy. However, it goes beyond just a feeling of happiness. In this study older women were found to have fewer health issues, and low cholesterol and inflammation markers. In another study, researchers found that having a purpose reduces mortality by as much as 15% across all age groups.
How To Find A Purpose
I hope that by this point you are convinced that having a purpose is a good thing. Now that we know what the purpose is and its benefits what are the steps you can take to find one?
It is difficult to know what your favourite fruit is by reading research on its health benefits, sugar content or nutritional value. You cannot choose to like strawberries because of a particularly inspiring person to like them too. The only way to know is to actually try them. I’m talking about sinking your teeth into an apple and taking a crunchy bite. It is also possible that you can acquire the taste of a particular fruit after giving it a few tries. This preference can also change as we progress in life. If you like mandarins when you were a teenager you may like mangoes in your 60s.
Therefore seating at home and theorizing what your purpose may be is unlikely to get you one. By getting involved in various activities starting and interacting with other people, you are likely to find something that resonates with you. You may find your purpose by visiting an impoverished country and deciding that your goal in life is to help this person. Perhaps you saw mountains of plastic on a remote island and decide that that is going to be purpose to help the ocean.
But again we talking about big things. Your purpose may be something close to your own heart. As an event organizer, I get massive joy from seeing people connect with each other. Friendships going beyond the hours of organised activity are something that makes me happy. It is not saving the world but it’s a worthy cause meaningful to me.
Discover Your Values To Find Purpose
Values are tightly linked to your unique version of purpose. Values are a part of the lens that defines how we see the world and what we can contribute. One of my values is learning. Part of my purpose is to help learn people that I know something new about a concept or themselves. I found that many coaches miss this important detail about values and the quest for purpose. I will publish a guide to finding your values in the future make sure you check this article for a link.
Understand You Personality
A large part of our personalities is built on a collection of habits that we run on autopilot bound by physiological makeup and upbringing. Learning how you do you can provide clues on your purpose. There are many personality profile methods to choose from with their own suitable context, benefits and flaws. My preferred one is Enneagram and this is what I use with my coaching clients. It is a swiss knife of personality systems that can be used for professional, personal and spiritual development. More importantly, it dives into the core drivers of your personality. Type 2 also called the helper is motivated by the desire to be loved. Type 2s often become nurses and teachers, which are jobs closely aligned with their personalities and purpose. I will be including a simple but effective enneagram test on this site in the future.
I once had an amazing opportunity to meet a NASA astronaut who shared his story of going to space. It all started with a childhood dream. When he visited a NASA centre as a kid he saw a rocket and said to his mum – “this is what I am going to do.” Since that moment his life was about flying planes and eventually applying for a place in a mission on the international space station. Dreams become reality with a help of a purpose.
Make Your Own Purpose
Using the fundamental principle that the purpose is to help others you can create your own. Getting involved in volunteering, starting a community group or looking after rescued animals are all valid options. Whatever you choose to do make sure you research it well as some others options will require a commitment lasting beyond a couple of months.
Keep it simple
Working on designing a new vaccine that gives our species a chance to survive is a purpose. So is earning a living to support your family. Comparing your own personally meaningful purpose with someone else will make you feel that it isn’t good enough. When looking for the purpose it’s important to start small. Do a trial run on something you are interested in and continue doing more if it resonates.
It Is Not All About Finding Purpose
Alan Watts in one of his seminal talks on the meaning of life, asked the question what is the purpose of a flower? This highlights the purpose is a human concept. Because of our ability to reflect we go beyond our biological functions. Sometimes it is important to take a step back and look at things objectively. Comparing a bird flying free, hunting insects and playing with other birds with us, humans we will find that we are not that far off. We still enjoy playtime with other humans, the company of others, the sun and the ocean. Life isn’t a puzzle to be solved but an experience to be lived. When you feel anxious and tired of looking for the purpose take a few moments to enjoy life and do what makes you happy.
Common Mistakes People Do When Looking For Purpose
Looking For A Bigger Than Life Mission
It is worth reiterating that the purpose has to have a personal meeting. Not everyone has the ability to move mountains or even has an interest in doing so. Start small and scale up. Who knows maybe in a few months or years your humble volunteering effort will turn into something even bigger. Visionaries were born with a mission statement note in their hand. Let life and the search for a purpose unfold naturally.
Becoming Obsessed With Finding A Purpose
The quest for purpose as beneficial as it is can become a burden. It reminds me of a search for elusive enlightenment. Recognizing that life is a gift and enjoying small things in life like morning coffee or walking on grass barefoot is a good antidote to the obsession.
Copying Someone Else’s Purpose
While we share the same biology our cultural origins and upbringing make us uniquely different. Because of that is pointless to copy someone else’s purpose. Instead, we can draw inspiration from great humans and make it our own.
Forgetting That Life Is About Living
When running around with tunnel vision you engage your focused attention. Narrow vision while it’s great for specific goal leaves us blindsided. Like a racecourse running around the track, we become human horses running around the track of life. Oblivious to the spectators, blue skies, and wonderful things outside of the race. It is perfectly normal to take a break to slow down and enjoy the gift of life.
Forgetting How Our Purpose May Negatively Impact Others
With all of the above, our goals need to be considered in the context of others. Famous villains in history had a far-reaching purpose while starting wars and inflicting pain on millions of people. Living with a purpose does not make someone a good person by default.
Useful Books And Reading For Finding Purpose
The following resources will help with your quest
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware
The author shares a sobering tale on the big perspective that comes from people at the end of their life journey. They rarely mention something that we think of as worthy life goals like buying a house or becoming rich. It is human connections and spending time with loved ones.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Popular with his TED talks Simon’s book looks at a systematic approach to finding the driving force that will define your actions. The ideas described in this book are useful in the business context but they can be equally applied to our personal lives.
Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankel
While the purpose and meaning of life are distinctly different concepts they have an influence on each other. Victor Frankel was a psychologist and Holocaust survivor who witnessed with his own eyes how meaning determined whether a person survived the ordeal.
In this guide we looked at the purpose of life, and how to find one and avoid pitfalls along the way. Patience is needed when trying these suggestions as they take time, self-reflection and experience. If you are still thinking “I don’t know what to do with my life” reach out using a contact form on my website for a chat.