Can Someone Help Me Find My Purpose, Please?
Practical questions to ask yourself to figure out what we're meant to do on this earth.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
- Howard Thurman
We throw around the word “purpose” a heck of a lot in the leadership world. We tell each other to find it. We tell each other to live it out. We tell each other to believe in it. But how exactly do we find it? And once we find it, how do we believe we can live it out? As someone between the finding part and the living it out part, I’ve (somewhat accidentally) learned a few things about both. This week, we’ll explore what it looks like to find our purpose; next week we’ll dive into living it out.
A quick definition
There are many ways folks define purpose, but here’s a practical way I think about it. We’ll work from this definition, but please drop your own thoughts in the comments.
Your purpose is the best way to spend your time, where you are simultaneously
1) deeply fulfilled and 2) adding the most value to those around you.
What fulfills me?
When was the last time you did something deeply fulfilling? When was the last time you even asked yourself if what you do each day is fulfilling at all? Often, we find ourselves living aimless lives; we’re not intentionally aimless (I suppose that wouldn’t be aimless, then), but we just get too caught up in everything happening around us, everything everyone else is doing, to notice. I have to believe we can be more than mindless sheep, following each other around in our aimlessness.
As I walked out the door of the SIU Student Center one Thursday morning last fall, leaving behind the toasted caramel scent of the Starbucks for the crisp, earthy smell of the woods at the heart of campus, I knew I had just spent the most meaningful hour of my week. How is an hour on a Thursday morning so fulfilling, you may ask? I spent it with another human with potential, and we lifted each other up. I was fortunate to spend this hour every week with Gracie Murphy, a dear friend and now a national officer with FFA, as she prepared her heart and mind to go through the selection process for the officer team. We’d talk about the process itself, how to answer tough questions, different perspectives on agriculture issues, and we’d usually end up in some rabbit hole of philosophy that may or may not have been relevant. Each time we left our little table by the window, usually running late for our next class, we were both better. Not only that, but I also knew we were both better because I was uniquely positioned to be a valuable mentor for Gracie, having been through the process before and possessing a skill for asking the right questions and listening for what others might not notice. That’s how I knew it was a part of my purpose: not only was I fulfilled, but I was also adding value to someone else.
It was there I accidentally found a method for identifying my purpose: notice when something is fulfilling. Obviously, not every hour of my life can be spent mentoring a specific person; life is more dynamic than that. However, I can extract what was so meaningful about that experience, why I felt so useful, and use that as an element of my purpose. For me, it’s something like “investing in others by listening carefully and asking effective questions.” Still, that’s just one piece of the purpose; there are other moments I feel deeply purposeful in what I do, from organizing events to learning new and exciting things about agriculture. The mosaic of those meaningful moments help decipher the greater purpose when it comes to pursuing a purposeful career and, ultimately, a purposeful life.
Practical steps to help you find your purpose
Take an audit of what you do in a “normal” week, or month. Which activities do you enjoy? Which feel most meaningful? Of all of the things you do, which might you cut out and not even miss?
Ask yourself why you find certain activities fulfilling. Is it because of the people? The place? The actual task? Identify what it is about those experiences that make you come alive.
Ask friends, colleagues, or classmates what unique value you bring. This isn’t just about what you’re good at; it’s what you’re good at in a different way than others. What would go wrong if you weren’t on that team? What wouldn’t get done if you weren’t there? Just because we’re good at something doesn’t mean it’s fulfilling for us, but often the unique value others notice comes from something we’re created to find meaningful.
Synthesize each of those specific purposeful activities into a broader life purpose. Take pieces from each activity you identified in step one and traits from step three, the reason they’re fulfilling from step two, and see how they fit together. You don’t need a pretty little sentence tied in with a bow, but see if you can create a statement which gives you some general direction. This will help in living out the purpose.
Here’s the deal: finding your purpose doesn’t happen in an afternoon. It doesn’t happen in a year. For all I know, it may not even happen in a lifetime; we’re always learning new ways to give and receive fulfillment. What matters, then, is not that we decide on a contrived purpose statement and never do anything that falls outside of it. Instead, it’s that we have a ruler (albeit a subjective one) to measure the opportunities we’re given. Does saying yes to that next leadership position put you in a place to do the most good? Does that new job give you more opportunity to live within your gifts, or does it prevent your talents from flourishing? Each day of our lives, each waking hour we spend, is an opportunity to more accurately define our purpose. Each subsequent day and hour is an opportunity to more effectively live it out. (More on that next week.) Don’t live an aimless life.
Before you go
Check out Gracie’s Instagram page for a regular dose of genuine, thoughtful ideas and stories as she lives out her purpose through her year as a National FFA Officer.
The book I mentioned from Ryan Holiday is called Discipline is Destiny—you can purchase it here at his bookstore.
Answer the poll below to voice your opinion on future content! Thanks for being here.