It’s not easy, but these six tips can help.
Purpose. Passion. Meaning.
We yearn for those three things in our lives. For with them come clarity, direction, motivation, fulfillment, and a reason for being alive.
Sages over the ages have told us that this is the penultimate quest. That knowing our purpose will provide us with direction and fulfill our unique purpose on this earth.
And I agree.
They also warn us that this is the journey of a lifetime. This, too I agree with.
But I also know that the sooner we get a sense of it, the better it is.
Living a life “on purpose” or “with purpose” depends on one core thing.
We have to know what it is.
And that is what trips us up.
In addition to the fact that it is a very BIG question, there are other factors that make this quest so difficult:
It’s Scary Either Way
The question seems so big, important, and uniquely ours that it scares the bejesus out of us. Alternatively, when we finally get a glimpse of our purpose, it is so big, so important, so uniquely ours, it again scares the bejesus out of us.
We Rely on Unreliable Data
It’s often easier for others to see the essence of us than ourselves. At times they are spot on. And other times, their view is so distorted by what they hope to see, that they are dead wrong. We look in the mirror and become our harshest critics. We see the bad and have difficulty seeing the good. The mirror itself is flawed – and mirror images turn things around.
We Live in a Culture that Fosters Conformity
We have difficulty tuning out the cultural scripts of what we “should be” and what we “shouldn’t be.” No matter that, many of the cultural “shoulds” are unattainable. And even if they were attainable, it doesn’t mean they are right for us.
This work is neither fun nor easy.
It’s hard – and there are easier and more pleasant diversions.
It’s ambiguous – and we are on a quest for clarity and certainty.
It is time-consuming – and we live in a world overflowing with demands for our time and energy.
So, we can take a walk. Bathe the dog. Do the dishes. Almost anything can be preferable to looking inside ourselves.
But even if a thing is hard, it does not mean we shouldn’t attempt it. In fact, it may be that because it is hard, it is well worth doing.
I wish I had better news for you. That this work is easy. Fun. Light. But I don’t.
As someone who has made progress on this journey but is not quite there,
I will share this:
- The quest is worth the effort.
- For most of us, there is no magical flash of insight.
- There are clues all around us – we just need to see them and put them together.
- Even a partial picture of your purpose is better than none at all.
Here are some tips that have served me (and others) well.
1. Monitor your energy.
- Note the activities, situations, and tasks that suck the life out of you. Take those things off the list immediately. And recognize that defining something by what it is not is truly a valid methodology.
- Notice when you feel a surge of positive energy and a sense of accomplishment. What were you doing? Who were you with? What was the environment? What are the themes that emerge?
- Especially notice when you fall into a flow state. (if you don’t know what that is, take a look here). Flow states are neon lights pointing you to purpose
- Rest assured here. I am not talking about writing perfect prose or a memoir that stands the test of time. I encourage you to get what is swirling around your head on paper. I am suggesting that you find a few deep journal prompts and write freely, openly, and for your eyes only.
- I especially recommend Julia Cameron’s morning page methodology. You’ll also find 150 journal prompts for finding your purpose here.
- You don’t have to have pen in hand to do some good thinking. Take a walk. Go to the park. Find your favorite quiet place and allow yourself some time to think. To breathe. To ruminate. To reflect back in the search of those clues on your journey.
- Again, a prompt or theme might be helpful. Explore what has brought you the greatest satisfaction in your life? If you suspended disbelief and resources (including time) were not a constraint, what would you do? What does an ideal day look like? Week? Year? And of course the zinger: What do you want people to say at your funeral or celebration of life?
- I personally find some reflection/free thinking time followed by journaling what came up for me yields keen insights. And don’t underestimate the reality that even 45 minutes or an hour can yield some powerful insights.
4. Go Back to Your Childhood.
There is a treasure trove of clues in your childhood. Here are several great prompts:
- Imagine yourself as a child with an empty quart jar. What do you fill it with?
- What was it at ten years old that you were scolded for doing “too much of.”?
- What do you wish you would have heard as a child?
- When were you filled with pure joy and bliss?
5. Find a Guide.
- It may be a book, coach, or religious leader. Remember that others can guide you on your path to purpose. They can’t do the work for you, but they can create a container and a process and the focus to help you uncover and piece together some clues.
6. Dedicate Time & Space.
- Put yourself in a structured situation that helps you move forward. Every time I do this, I make giant leaps forward. It may be a retreat or workshop. A personal favorite is a day of discernment – 24 hours of solitude “off the grid.”
Over time, I’ve realized that being in a group setting with a facilitator or guide provides the focus and methodology that enables me to make relatively quick jumps in insights in a day or so. This is why I’m so passionate about our Evergreen Leadership Retreats. These two are exceptional experiences that help you and your team make big progress in a short time:
- The Reset Retreat – enables you to step out of the day-to-day to get focus and clarity in your life lives and to experience mindfulness techniques they can use every day.
- The Higher Purpose Retreat – helps a team to articulate, understand and get aligned around their common shared, higher purpose. And to link it to each individuals unique higher purpose.
I’ll close with this poem penned by Emily Bopp, which beautifully describes the process of searching and finding your purpose, passion, and meaning for living.
The path to progress trends up
But isn’t a straight line
Very hilly, as it climbs
Improvement bears toward positive
Across a period of timeca
But sometime dips, in the short term
Those brief plunges bottom out higher and higher
Don’t lose heart
Very temporary declines are just loading the action
To spring you even higher
Keep your gaze long and up
And don’t fight the small strides.