Today, I am going to talk about something that no doubt we have all asked ourselves — finding our life purpose. Fair warning though, my answer to the question about finding your purpose might be a little different — maybe even a little bit controversial.
This is a question that I’ve been asking myself all through my 30s. Then when I turned 40, I had an epic meltdown. My husband still affectionately refers to this as my ‘midlife crisis’ because when I turned 40, it felt like the bottom fell out of my world. I had not figured out this one question.
What is my purpose? What am I here to do? I really had this existential crisis about why I am here, the meaning of my life, and if I have done the best that I could with my life.
In a way, it really was such a disservice to myself. Here is why I say that. You see, in asking that question of, “Why haven’t I figured out what my purpose is?”, I negated everything that I had done — all the relationships that I had created, all the academic achievements, all of the life that I had lived up until that point — and it’s because I didn’t have the answer to this one question. Everything that had gone before it was meaningless. This really led me to a lot of self reflection, a lot of introspection about what purpose is, what it means, and why we need to have a purpose in life.
To define what purpose is, the dictionary says that purpose is the reason something exists. I 100% agree with the fact that we all need to have some reason or meaning for why we are here. But what I fundamentally disagree with is the fact that it is only one thing, and that we have to have figured it out by a certain point in our lives.
How I believe we should be thinking about purpose is that it is an evolution, that you’re constantly becoming.
I asked my five year old nephew, Thato, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” which effectively is maybe the same question as “What is your purpose?” He had two answers:
Number one, he wants to be Spider Man.
And number two, he wants to marry Princess Jasmine from Aladdin.
He’s five. I’m hoping though, that by the time he’s 25 his answers will have changed, and definitely by the time he’s 55. But effectively, when we ask ourselves that question, it’s no different than me asking Thato (when he’s five) what he wants to be, and expecting him to figure it out.
Instead, we need to be looking at purpose as a constant evolution, constantly finding ourselves. We need to understand that purpose is something that changes based on the time in our lives, based on the season of our lives, based on the things that are going on in the world around us.
I also think the key thing that we need to be asking ourselves is “What are my core values?” This is a more important question than having the answer to what your purpose is. Identifying my core values helps to really understand what is important to me, what I believe, and who I want to be as a human being on this planet.
An interesting concept that I came across in reading is a Japanese concept called ikigai. This can be loosely translated as your reason for being.
Ikigai is represented in a Venn diagram. It is four circles that represent four different aspects of your reason for being.
According to this philosophy, Ikigai is an intersection of what you love to do, what you’re good at, what you do that makes a difference in the world, and the thing that makes you money. Where those four things intersect, that is your reason for being.
Fundamentally, I do agree with that. But I want to put one small caveat.
I think as society, we’ve been told that purpose equals your job, purpose equals the thing that makes you money. I want to just say that sometimes purpose doesn’t make you money. You can love doing things that don’t make you money, and that doesn’t make it any less valuable or any less valid as a purpose.
Of course, we live in a world where you have to make money to live, but I want to argue the fact that sometimes your purpose and what you do for a living can be separate. For example, you might love to coach, and you might love to play soccer, but you were never quite good enough to be a soccer player yourself. Then you’re definitely not going to be good enough to coach a premier league team, but does that make your purpose of wanting to coach a little league team any less noble or any less valid?
I would like to offer five questions to ask yourself when it comes to finding your purpose.
1. What do I love?
- What do you love to do that makes you feel alive?
- What do you love to do that brings out the passion in you?
- What makes time stand still for you?
- What would you do if money was no object?
- What would you do for free even if you weren’t being paid?
This really is a great indicator for us of what it truly is that brings us to life and makes us feel fully alive.
2. What makes me feel fulfilled?
What is it that makes you truly feel that you’re living your life?
Many of us are brought up to live other people’s lives, other people’s goals, other people’s dreams, and other people’s expectations. We fail to connect with ourselves. So what is it that truly brings you to life?
I went to university and my undergrad degree was in accounting. Right now, I could not read or interpret a balance sheet to save my life, but at that time, I thought, “You know, this is what’s going to give me a good job and good job security, so I’ll study accounting.”
I hated every minute of it. When I look back on it, of course, there’s never any wasted experience, but it helped me to understand the fact that sometimes we’re living a dream that really isn’t ours.
3. How can I honor myself and my well being?
We live in this world of hustle and grind, and hustle is glorified nowadays. And yet this is to the detriment of our health and mental well being.
In thinking about your purpose, you have to ask yourself:
- What is it that would allow me — from a mental, physical, emotional, andl spiritual perspective — feel my most whole self? What would allow me to honor my mind, my body, and my spirit?”
- What would allow you to feel a sense of self worth?
- What would allow you to achieve a life that you love without burnout?
4. What don’t I like to do?
What do you hate to do?
Here’s what I know for sure in this lifetime — I can never ever be a medical professional. I hate the sight of needles. I hate all of the stuff that’s related to bodily fluids and things like that, so I can’t imagine every single day having to do a job that involves that.
Now, I love and appreciate all of the amazing people on this planet who have made it their life mission to care for us when we’re sick, to help us be well. I appreciate and I honor you. But I know that is not me.
Sometimes knowing what you don’t want to do is just as important as figuring out what you want to do. Answering this question lets you know your boundaries, and truly understand what really interests you.
5. What can I do in this world that makes a difference?
Usually, when we hear this question asked, we think about things that are on a global scale — like Mother Theresa and other big names that we know who are doing big things in the world.
But really, this question is about, “Can I make a difference in one person’s life? Can I make a difference to one person in this life?”
It doesn’t need to be hundreds, thousands, or millions of people. Can you do something that makes a difference to one person?
So these for me are really the five questions that I feel are most important. I think rather than trying to answer the question of “What is my purpose?”, it is more important to answer these five questions.
One reason we want the answer to the question of purpose is because, in some ways, we want a guarantee that we want the heavens to open and the angels to sing and say, “Here’s the thing that you are meant to do. Here’s the way that we are guaranteeing your success.” But here’s what I know as well — you will never know unless you try. Trying is what creates clarity.
It ultimately comes down to trying. You will never know what you like or you don’t like until you’ve tried. This is your barometer — did I like it? Is this something that I want to continue to do? Or no, that’s not interesting to me.
We also need to trust ourselves, trust our intuition, and trust our feelings — how does it make me feel? Is this the way that I want to feel?
Purpose is not necessarily a job title. It’s truly about you connecting with who you want to be and how you want to feel.
Sandra has a podcast episode on this topic in the WORTHY Podcast:
You can also watch it on YouTube: