Ralph Waldo Emerson
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
What it Means to Live with a Purpose
Do you know what you want? What I mean is, do you know what your life is about, what you’re meant to do? For most people, there really isn’t an easy answer to this question. Yes, we all know what we want. We all have goals, dreams, and aspirations, right? However, are these things what you really want? Or are they simply things that others want for you?
Over a lifetime we are influenced to think a certain way and to pursue very specific things, not because we truly want them, but rather because we have been conditioned by our peers and by society to pursue these things. This is the main reason why money doesn’t make people happy.
So many people pursue money and wealth thinking that it will bring them eternal happiness. However, what they eventually realize is that happiness isn’t found in material things, but rather within the spirit of doing something that is greater than yourself.
What I mean by this is that happiness is found when we focus all our energies, love and passions on something that brings eternal joy and fulfillment. And this is rarely ever about accumulating money. Yes, money is a part of the process, and can certainly make life easier, however, it’s never a central focus for those who live with purpose.
So what does it take? What does it take to live with purpose? Actually, let’s backtrack a little and ask a different question. What does it take to find one’s life purpose?
I’m going to generalize here and make the assumption that you, me and everyone else on earth is never truly happy or fulfilled unless they are living with a purpose. For some, this purpose might mean looking after their disabled child, while for others it might mean revolutionizing the world’s transportation system on a global scale.
Your life’s purpose might be grand and spectacular, however, it also need not be this way. It could be simple but profoundly meaningful; touches the lives of very few, and yet makes a tremendous difference to those who are under your sphere of influence.
Where Does a Life’s Purpose Come From?
For the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume that we all have a life’s purpose or — as some put it — a Personal Legend. This usually translates into one grand thing that we were put on this earth to do that brings us the greatest wonders, joy, happiness, and fulfillment that we could ever imagine.
When we live our life’s purpose everything seems in sync and perfectly in harmony. Life is just spectacular and incredibly rewarding. We get up each morning filled with passion, zest, and energy to make a positive difference in this world with our gifts, talents, skills, knowledge and abilities. No longer do we feel stuck or tied down by others. We are instead free to be who we were always meant to be without constriction or barriers to our growth and development.
This all sounds wonderful, right? It kind of sounds like a dream come true. But is it realistically attainable? Or is it just some kind of fantasy that will always remain out of reach?
Possibly there is no life’s purpose. Possibly we weren’t born into this universe to do a certain thing that brings us incredible joy, happiness, and fulfillment. Just possibly finding one’s life purpose isn’t about unlocking our spiritual destiny, but rather comes down to nothing more but random dumb luck. It comes down to how we are raised; to the influence of our peers, and to all the things we are introduced to at a very young age.
Yes, possibly all that is true, but then again who cares. We all deserve to feel good about ourselves, and we only truly feel this way when we focus on the things we love and are most passionate about. Let’s call these passions our life’s purpose.
Given this, consider for a moment what it means when a parent disciplines their child to 15 years of rigorous piano lessons. The child never really had a choice or a say in the matter, right? However, later in life, they become a world-renowned concert pianist. Is this their life’s purpose? Is this their true spiritual calling? Who knows?
Possibly it’s just a stepping stone to something that will become more fulfilling down the track. But then again, possibly they cringe at the thought of performing every week on stage in front of thousands of people. Just possibly they don’t feel comfortable but know no other life. Just possibly they have been duped into thinking that they are living their life’s purpose.
As you can see, our life’s purpose isn’t necessarily found in the things that we are naturally good at, nor necessarily in the things that others have brought upon us over the years. Your life’s purpose is something much deeper and much more profound. It’s something that can only be found within the deep recesses of our soul.
Now, of course, don’t get me wrong. What you’re good at today could very well be tied to your life’s purpose and deepest passions. Moreover, the interests you developed as a child through the influence of your parents, guardians, and peers could very well be a part of your life’s purpose as well. However, to discover your true life’s purpose we need to also consider other things; to consider other areas of focus that might be able to shed some light into your deepest passions, needs, wants and desires. And this is precisely what we will do here within this article.
The Six Pillars for Unlocking Your Life’s Purpose
There are Six Key Pillars that we will focus on to help you unlock your life’s purpose. The idea here is to help you find something that you can focus on each and every day that will bring a great amount of joy, happiness, and fulfillment to your life. Now of course, this might not translate into financial wealth. However, money is of little importance when you are struggling with depression.
What matters most is to find something that will become a central focus of your life; something that makes your heart sing. Once you are doing this one thing, nothing else will matter. You won’t care about material possessions nor money. You will only care about your ongoing happiness and fulfillment, as well as the happiness and fulfillment of those closest to your heart.
Yes, of course having material possessions and a good amount of money in your pocket can be helpful and will add value to living your life. I’m therefore not saying to avoid these things. Let’s live with a purpose that helps you accumulate everything you may ever want, but let’s be wary not to focus our life’s purpose on the accumulation of these things.
Everything you may ever want in life will eventually come your way when you’re living with passion, zest, and energy that translates into a high level of happiness, joy and fulfillment.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of the Six Pillars of finding your life’s purpose:
- Self-Awareness: Unlocking your life’s purpose requires a deep understanding of yourself and how you currently live your life.
- Motivations: Unlocking your life’s purpose requires understanding the internal motivations that drive your behavior.
- Dreams: Unlocking your life’s purpose requires tuning into your deepest and most profound dreams and aspirations for the future.
- Lifetime Experience: Unlocking your life’s purpose requires searching for clues that you have left behind over a lifetime of experience.
- Creating an Ideal: Unlocking your life’s purpose requires a little planning to help you envision an ideal life for yourself.
- Higher Calling: Unlocking your life’s purpose requires tuning into the deepest parts of yourself to help you figure out meaningful reasons for living.
As you work through each of these Pillars, you will come across a series of questions that will challenge you to think about yourself, about your life, and about circumstances in various ways. Be sure to spend enough time with each question to help you gather the insights you need before moving to the next question.
The amount of thought and work you put into this will reflect the quality of insights you gather. As such, it’s important not to rush this process, but rather to progressively work through these questions over several hours, days or even weeks until you find answers that deeply and profoundly resonate with you.
Remember that any answer is better than no answer. Every time you go through these questions you will peel away another layer that helps dig deeper into the core of your life’s purpose. As such, it may be worthwhile moving through these questions several times. In fact, keep working through them until you find a level of comfort within yourself that you just know that:
This is where my journey must begin…
How you begin your journey isn’t necessarily how it will all end. These questions are therefore nothing more but stepping stones that may lead you to even greater insights and understandings down the track.
We only really figure out what our life’s purpose is when we go out and do something that helps us experience the world in unique and different ways. These questions will help point you in the right direction, however, it will then be up to you to make course corrections as you gain more experience and knowledge along your journey.
Pillar 1: Self-Awareness Questions
The following is a list of questions that will help you to gather deeper insights about yourself, about your roles, strengths, weaknesses, and about how you’re being perceived by those around you.
What am I meant to do in this world?
Where have I found real purpose in living?
What did I want to be when I was a child?
Which of my traits and attributes seem to stand out most?
What are my talents and natural abilities?
Where do my core strengths lie?
Where am I most effective, efficient and productive?
What are my three key weaknesses?
Where do I struggle most in life?
What kind of life roles do I enjoy living?
Which roles do I feel are best suited to my core strengths?
What life roles just don’t suit me at all?
How would a good friend describe what I am like?
What do others say that I am meant to do with my life?
What is my family’s historical legacy?
What part do I want to play in this legacy?
Having answered these questions should now give you a rough overview of where your strengths, interests, and weaknesses lie.
Typically our life’s purpose is found in our strengths and interest, however, that is not always the case. Your life’s purpose could very well come to the surface as a result of your greatest fears and challenges coming to light. The adversity and setbacks you face might very well force you to work on your weaknesses in order to overcome the greatest of odds. And oftentimes it’s when you work through these weaknesses that you realize where your greatest strengths actually lie.
Pillar 2: Finding Your Motivation Questions
The following is a list of questions that will help you tap into your internal motivations and the drivers behind your behavior.
What are my passions?
What would I struggle to let go of?
Where do I find most inspiration?
What causes am I most passionate about?
With a year to live, what would I focus on?
What three things do I look forward to doing most?
What three things am I most dreading?
Where do I like to expend my energy?
What’s been the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done?
What have I accomplished that I’m most proud of?
What have I done that I would like to do more often?
What activities make me feel fully alive and invigorated?
Having answered these questions should now give you deeper insights into your motivations, passions, and areas of your life where you find most fulfillment.
Your life’s purpose can typically be found in one or more of these answers, however, we have only somewhat only scratched the surface. As such, it’s important not to settle on any one idea just yet. Stay open-minded and be sure to work through all Six Pillars before making any conclusions.
Pillar 3: Unlocking Your Dreams Questions
The following is a list of questions that will help you to tune into your dreams, desires, and aspirations for life.
What would I like to do with my life?
What would I do if I could not fail?
What dreams would I pursue if I had unlimited potential?
What specifically would I like to experience?
What things would I like to learn?
What types of skills would I like to master?
How would I like to express my creativity?
What things would I like to create?
Which of these things would I regret most not doing?
What would I regret most if I simply played it safe?
Having answered these questions should now give you some general answers about what you might like to do with your life. Now, of course, some of these questions are quite hypothetical by nature. They don’t take into account the resistance that you will likely face if you choose to pursue any of these objectives. But that’s actually quite irrelevant at this stage.
You are not attempting to think realistically here. This is not about building a plan of action. Not yet at least. This is about finding your life’s purpose. Once you have this purpose in mind you can then start building toward it one step at a time. That is when thinking realistically about your life and circumstances comes into the picture. However, for now, just think through your answers to these questions with no restraints. Allow your imagination to go wherever it wants to flow.
Finally, one of the key questions within this Pillar is the one about regrets. At the end of our lives, we all have regrets. If you don’t, then you are one of the lucky ones who lived life to its fullest. However, for most people, they will certainly have at least a few regrets, while others will have plenty.
Thinking through the regrets you might have later in life, can provide you with interesting insights into the areas of your life that you possibly should be focusing on today. But do remember that your life’s purpose is also in constant motion. The purpose you live with today will most likely change and evolve over time. It’s therefore not necessary to find the perfect scenario for your life. Find something to get you started, and things will just evolve from there as you gain more experience, knowledge, and understanding.
Pillar 4: Lifetime Experience Questions
The following is a list of questions that will help you unlock your life’s purpose through the experiences you have had over a lifetime.
What valuable knowledge and skills have I gained at work?
How is my work and career path intertwined with my destiny?
What have been my greatest career accomplishments?
How do I tend to help others who need my assistance?
What key skills have I picked up that are of most value to me?
What unique abilities do I have that separate me from others?
What have all my failures prepared me for?
How have all my failures been of value? What insights have I gained from them?
What have all my experiences over a lifetime prepared me for?
What specific life experiences have had the most meaning?
What life experiences have shaped my personality and character in the most profound way?
How can I possibly draw on these experiences to live a happier and more fulfilling life?
How could I possibly use these experiences to help me accomplish my dreams and aspirations?
Having answered these questions should now provide you with insights into how a lifetime of experiences has shaped the person you are today.
Often, people are not born with a life’s purpose. Normally what happens is that this life purpose comes to full view through the experiences that helped shape their character.
All your experiences, all your dreams, all your desires and motivations, and all the insights you have gained about who you are and what makes you tick, are progressively uncovering ever deeper layers into your core life’s purpose.
It’s important at this stage not to simply answer each question in isolation, but rather to make connections and associations between the various answers you have already given. In fact, going back and refining some of your answers can also help to provide you with deeper insights and understandings. Only in this way will you truly unlock your life’s purpose.
Pillar 5: Creating the Ideal Life Questions
The following is a list of questions that will help you to build an ideal life and career path for yourself. While working through these questions, it’s important to take all the answers you have already written down into consideration.
Here you are building an ideal picture or vision for your life. Make it as spectacular and detailed as possible. Only in this way will you truly get to the core of your life’s purpose.
What would my ideal life look like?
What would my ideal lifestyle be like?
What would my ideal day look like from morning till night? Describe it in detail.
What would my ideal week, month and year be like? Describe it in detail.
Given my passions, experience and abilities, what career path would be an ideal fit for me?
What is my ideal job description? Write it down in detail.
What does my ideal weekly work schedule look like? Describe in detail.
Having answered these questions should now give you more clarity of mind about what an ideal future might look like. Yes, this is still a hypothetical future that doesn’t require any planning or realism. However, it’s a potential future nonetheless based on the answers you gave to the questions over the first four pillars. This future is therefore built upon your greatest passions, interests, strengths, dreams and the incredible experiences you have had over a lifetime that have shaped your character.
Given all this, this future you have created for yourself should resonate with you at a profoundly deep level. Now all that’s left is to tie all this together with your higher calling.
Pillar 6: Your Higher Calling Questions
If you are familiar with the Six Human Needs, then you probably understand that we are never truly happy or fulfilled unless all six of these Human Needs are in-play. And of course, the “need” that is normally at the apex of this list is the need for contribution.
We are never truly fulfilled unless we are working on something greater than ourselves for the benefit of others. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you need to do something that changes the world. What it does mean is that we are only truly happy and fulfilled when focusing on something that makes a difference, in a big or small way.
The following is a list of questions that will help you unlock your spiritual purpose and higher calling through the service to others.
What kind of people would I like to help?
What types of issues do I care most about?
Where could I provide most value to others?
What individuals or groups do I most identify with?
How have all my difficulties equipped me to serve others?
What lasting legacy would I like to leave behind?
How will the world be a better place because I have lived?
What do I care about that is bigger than me?
What problems would I like to solve?
Given all this, what is my spiritual calling?
Given what I know now, what is my one true life’s purpose?
Having answered these questions should now give you a deep and profound understanding of what you could focus on moving forward that will help bring you more joy, happiness, and fulfillment than you ever might have imagined.
Your answers to these questions were of course not in isolation. They were very likely influenced by all the responses you gave to the previous five pillars of questions. In fact, as you worked through each pillar you peeled away ever deeper layers that helped you uncover your true passions and purpose.
Now of course, all this isn’t an exact science. Possibly, having gone through all these pillars and questions hasn’t quite provided you with any concrete answers. Possibly you are still as confused as you have ever been. And that’s okay.
It’s important not to force these answers. The answers will come. You may very well need to go through all these questions many times before you find exactly what you’re after. But most importantly of all, it’s critical that you take your first step into the unknown.
Stepping into the Unknown…
Whether you have all the answers or not, it’s vital that you take the first step — a step that will help move you in the right direction.
Take all the answers to these questions and work out a general direction that you would like to move toward. Whether that direction is north, south, east or west makes no difference. It could even be up or down, left or right. It doesn’t really matter where you step as long as it helps move you forward.
If you’re still unsure though, then choose to follow your core value. They will help you take that first step, and then from there just follow your heart; just follow the whispers that stem from the answers you gave to each of these six pillars.
Over time you will meet new people, experience new things, learn new skills, expose yourself to new knowledge and information. You may also face tremendous setbacks and adversity that exposes your weaknesses and strengthens your character and builds emotional resilience. All these things are nothing more but guideposts along your journey. They will help you find that one path; that one path that makes your heart sing; that leads you toward your life’s purpose.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 3 Truths About Your Life’s Purpose @ Huffington Post
- 3 Unexpected Ways to Find Your Life Purpose @ Huffington Post
- 5 Reasons Why Most People Never Discover Their Purpose @ Inc.
- 6 Keys to Finding Your Purpose @ Psychology Today
- 6 Ways to Discover Your Life Purpose @ Forbes
- Do You Know Your WHY? 4 Questions to Find Your Purpose @ Forbes
- Having a Sense of Purpose May Add Years to Your Life @ Psychological Science
- Helping You Find Your Life’s Purpose @ Psychology Today
- How to Read the 3 Signs Telling You Your Purpose in Life @ Entrepreneur
- In Search of the Life Purpose Algorithm @ Forbes
- People Who Feel They Have a Purpose in Life Live Longer @ NPR
- Sense of Purpose in Life Linked to Lower Mortality and Cardiovascular Risk @ Science Daily
- Stop Searching for Your Life Purpose @ Huffington Post
- The Surprising Way to Find Your Life Purpose Doesn’t Come Externally @ Elite Daily
- What do Scientists Know About Finding a Purpose in Life @ Psychology Today
- What Should I do with My Life? Wait, Don’t Answer That… @ Marie Forleo
- Your Life’s Purpose is a Myth @ Forbes