It’s not supposed to be that hard to find out. And, our purpose isn’t always elsewhere – we may just need to dig deeper into the life we already have – the latter point wisely made recently by Glennon Doyle Melton.
How many times have you, (or someone you know) said, “I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life!” I’ve heard this lament from new college graduates to successful CEOs and everyone in between.
When I finally decided to “just do it” and put myself through university, I got a job at UCLA‘s Placement and Career Planning Center, working 5 hours a day between classes there.
On my first day working at the Center, I met over 30 alumni who were taking career assessments to figure out the answer to this question.
It was a good lesson to absorb as I was earning the degree I had coveted for so long – wait, you mean getting this degree is not going to help me know exactly what to do with the rest of my life?!
No. It turns out that knowing what to do with the rest of our lives would not be magically sorted out just by getting a degree from a fine university. Of course, the education (BA ’89 – Go Bruins!) I received there opened countless doors of opportunity through which I could fulfill my purpose.
“What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” This question points to an angst that seems to be more acute when we are in transition – or even disappointed. Perhaps that big deal or promotion didn’t materialize (yet.) We wonder whether our investment in time and talent is worth the effort.
This question burns in our minds during a happy transition, or major life event, like getting married, having children, or sending your kids off to college. Big gains and disappointments in life cause us to to dig and ask.
Perhaps we know we want to make a change in our career, but we can’t quite put our finger on what it should be.
Several people have asked for advice on “what to do with the rest of my life” lately.
If this sounds like you, good! You are primed for change, to discover, reenergize, or reengineer a new path to professional and personal fulfillment and rewards.
A first step in this process is to find, or rediscover, your purpose.
If you want to be happy, it’s the most important thing to know about yourself.
People thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose, above any other happiness factor, including money or position.
That’s what behavorial economist Dan Ariely discovered.
I think that constant progress is an important distinction – it doesn’t apply perfect arrival at your “purpose” – it implies movement toward it.
Do you feel that you are making constant progress? Maybe it’s time to do a bit of self-discovery so you can know what you’re aiming for. Some people call this finding your purpose. It isn’t supposed to be hard to find. Now, I’m not recommending a silent retreat or a 30 day step-by-step exercise, although at times these are of great value.
I know you’re already overcommitted with your time and resources. I’m suggesting that you take a few moments and answer some simple questions, and by doing so you can gain greater clarity that will inspire you immediately.
If you search Google with the question “How Do I Understand My Purpose?” you will get over a billion results – you are in good company.
Your purpose is your WHY; it explains, for you, why you are here on this earth and what role you are meant to play.
The small investment of time you take to understand your purpose can improve everything. No one else possesses your unique combination of talents, strengths, and experiences. No one else can do exactly what you can.
How can you better understand your purpose? As always the most powerful insights begin with questions. Here are some that have been highly effective for millions of people. Grab some paper, use Word or use Notes in your smartphone to jot down your initial answers:
What do I love to do?
What am I exceptionally good at?
What am I passionate about?
What do others say I’m good at?
Is there a significant need in the world that I feel drawn to?
At my funeral, what do I want people to say about me?
This is a variation on leadership expert Dr. Stephen Covey’s idea “begin with the end in mind.”
For me, rather than ask how I will be remembered, I focus on the present, and ask, “What do I want my life to count for, now and in the long run?”
In his bestselling (30+ million copies sold), The Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren leads readers to ask three questions:
“Why do I exist?”
“Why am I here?”
“What is my purpose?”
Steven Pressfield, author of Do The Work, suggests we ask these questions when determining why we do the work we do:
“What do we do?”
“For whom do we do it?”
Leadership expert Michael Hyatt suggests these:
“What am I particularly talented at?”
“What meets a significant need in the world?“
So, answer this for yourself:
What do I want my life to count for?
How you answer this question gives you a foundation for your personal roadmap, this year, and for years to come.
Companies and nonprofits create “mission statements” all the time to ensure they are heading in the right direction.
As you review your answers to the questions so far, reflect on them and draft a mission statement, or purpose statement. A purpose (vision or mission) statement is individual to you – it can capture your talents, interests, and core values.
To spur your thinking, here are some examples:
To serve as a leader, live a balanced life, and apply ethical principles to make a significant difference. — Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup Company
“To have fun in my journey through life and learn from my mistakes.” — Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group
To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be. — Oprah Winfrey, Founder of the Oprah Winfrey Network
You don’t need to go on a retreat or close yourself off from the world to write your purpose statement. That might be useful, but you may find that unnecessary because a lot of the answers are already within you.
No need to over-engineer it – if you do there is the potential you will give in to perfectionism, and not craft one at all. Just keep it simple and don’t underestimate how much your day will be transformed if you just stop and think about this for even five minutes.
My purpose statement reads like this:
To use my experiences as a serial entrepreneur to help people from all walks of life to unleash and achieve their potential.
I will continue to refine and grow into this for the rest of my life. It certainly has changed as I grew through my experiences, especially after I got married and had children of my own. Our sons are now my top priority in terms of how my purpose is fulfilled.
All of the purpose or vision statements here are broad enough to be useful in the variety and volume of opportunities in our lives – yours can be too.
You can use a purpose statement to help you focus every day and to encourage yourself in and through the inevitable opportunities and challenges you will encounter.
Do you have a purpose statement at this stage in your career? Share your ideas. What do you want your life to count for?