As a psychologist, I often have clients who come in wanting me to help them discover their purpose in life. Finding purpose is a great endeavour in life, but if you go about it the wrong way, then you will not only end up despondent (like you have no purpose in life), but you are likely to end up feeling depressed, anxious, unmotivated, frustrated, and angry with a sense of no meaning in life.
So, what is purpose and where do you find it?
Well, let me rather help you by discussing what purpose IS NOT (i.e., Myths or Misconceptions) and what I’ve learnt on purpose over the years – from my own research, academic literature, as well as my professional and personal experience.
If you want to know what your purpose is, it is to make the most of your talents and skills for the greater good and that means starting with yourself.Tony Clark
#1: You need motivation first
Often people report that they haven’t found their purpose yet because they feel unmotivated to do so. However, what people get wrong here is that motivation is the result of purpose, not the other way around! When you feel you are working for, or towards, a purpose that in itself will provide you with motivation and keep you going. Motivation is a by-product of doing purposeful work.
#2: Purpose is singular
You are not born with this one unique gift, and your only life’s purpose is to find this “purpose” and then work your entire life just dedicating your energy, time and effort to that. Purpose changes! Why? Because your values and priorities change! What you find purposeful and meaningful today, will not be the same 5 years from now. Also, when you engage in purposeful work, you are bound to be blessed with other amazing opportunities which you may find provide you with more motivation and renewed purpose. Then you start diverting towards that.
#3: Purpose is a special skill
What people also often confuse purpose with is skill by equating purpose with a special skill or set of skills. Purpose is not some inborn skill that you need to discover. You can be a phenomenal piano player and produce world class music and make millions, but be as unhappy and unfulfilled as a rock in a museum. Not that I know how happy rocks are, but I can only guess that a famous piece of rock stuck in some glass cage must be pretty unhappy and unfulfilled… back to purpose.
#4: I need to think of my purpose
This is probably one of the key caveats to purpose. One I’ve experienced myself. You cannot think your way to purpose! You need to DISCOVER IT! How? By saying yes to opportunities, by creating opportunities, by doing things that give you energy, by doing things you don’t like (read that again!), by doing things that are in line with what others expect of you, by doing what gives you meaning! Purpose truly comes from meaning. That is what purpose is – meaningfulness. When you realise that, you know you can find purpose in anything you do!
#5: When I’ve found my purpose I will just do “happy” work
When you do find that which gives you meaning, and you spend your days doing it, you will invariably be filled with joy and ultimately find the work very meaningful. However, the work will not always be easy or enjoyable to do. Many, many, many times (actually most of the time), the work will not be all rosy and fun. It will still be difficult and require commitment, but you will get enjoyment out of the process! For example, if you absolutely adore creating YouTube videos, the process of setting up your studio, doing the editing, creating the content, etc. All of that will be hard work and not so much fun. But, knowing you get your message out to the world and your creative mind is set free, that will be meaningful and worth it to you. Similarly, if you find practicing law very meaningful by standing ground for someone else, or helping companies form ethical policies because it protects society at large, then the work of getting that done (i.e., writing copy for policies, sitting through litigations, etc.) will be really sucky, long hours of work. But, again, if you find meaning in what you do, you will keep on doing it and get joy from the process! Get it?
There are many more myths I could tackle, but I feel these 5 are kinda at the top of the list of what people often misunderstand when it comes to finding their purpose. One key place to start with discovering your purpose is to reflect on the following questions and then intentionally (emphasis here) seek out activities that align with your answers to these questions.
- What do I enjoy doing?
- What fills my cup? What gives me more energy?
- What leaves me feeling motivated?
- What are my values? (Crucial!)
Share your thoughts, comments, or experiences below. Would love to hear what thoughts are.