What people value about work is actively evolving. A recent Mckinsey study found that 70% of employees said their sense of purpose is defined by their work. In today’s culture, where we spend so much of our time at work, it’s little wonder that people are looking to have that need for purpose fulfilled through their careers. But to do this, you first need to know what your purpose is — then you can either incorporate it into your current job or find a new work opportunity that is better suited to what you’re passionate about.
Discovering your purpose is so much more than a cliche - it’s essential to living a healthy, meaningful, and fulfilling life. Few things are as central to our physical and psychological well-being as a sense of purpose. When it comes to our work, people who say they are “living their purpose” report levels of wellbeing that are five times higher than those who don’t. They are also more satisfied, productive, and engaged, so yay for purpose!
“Employees today are looking for a work experience that is optimized for meaningful work and personal fulfillment, and encourages a growth mindset and generosity.”
If you’ve wondered what the heck you should be doing with your life, and how to make it all mean something, here is some good news: purpose is a skill. It is something we can learn, practice, and apply in our daily lives. Purpose isn’t something you find, and it’s not something you’re born with. Discovering your purpose isn’t an endeavor reserved for those with privilege either. Anyone can live with purpose, and we all deserve to have it. It’s what makes life meaningful.
So how does one go about discovering this vital skill? It starts with taking a proactive approach and staying committed to uncovering the values, passions, and needs that drive you. The experience will be unique for each of us, and it may not happen overnight, but trust us, it’s deeply worthwhile. Here are twelve tips for discovering your purpose and unlocking that truer, deeper sense of fulfillment and meaning.
Get curious. Explore your interests. Make a list of what inspires you. Think back to your childhood - what things have you been fascinated by and passionate about since your earliest days? What brings you joy? Your natural abilities and skills are often tied to these things. If you don’t have a sense of this, then start by asking people who know you best, and who you respect and admire. This could be family members, colleagues, or friends. Write it all down and explore the themes that emerge.
Identify your values. Your values are the guidelines that inform your actions. They’re the beliefs that shape your view of the world. Identifying and living by your values are an important part of discovering your purpose or your “why”. Asking “what is my purpose?” is a deep question that requires time and reflection to answer. Schedule personal time to turn inward, breathe, meditate or go for a walk. Look within and write down what emerges.
Tell your story. Take time to write down your life’s journey. What life experiences have shaped you? Who inspired you? What are the moments you’re most proud of? When did you feel you accomplished something meaningful? When did your work or school not feel effortful? Writing helps to organize our thoughts. It can illuminate connections and patterns that we might not otherwise see.
Find your community. We’ve often heard the phrase: you are the sum of the people around you. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and encourage you to be your best, most authentic self. Create a support network of peers, coaches and mentors who will help you along your journey. This tip is all about being intentional about who you spend time with.
Be a contribution. There is no short supply of problems in this world that need to be solved. What injustice breaks your heart or makes you mad? Don’t turn away. Run toward it. Discover how you can have an impact by asking yourself who you want to help and how you want to help them. We’re motivated when we feel we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. Gandhi once said that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. We think he was onto something there.
Focus on what you have. Develop an abundance mindset. Don’t let fear hold you back. Discovering your purpose is a thrilling journey, not a stressful goal. Be kind to yourself along the way. Embrace the in-between space as you transition to a new, more fulfilling life path.
Make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and take risks. There are incredible lessons in the moments in life that do not go as planned. Adversity makes us stronger and teaches us about ourselves. Don’t let these seemingly unfortunate events drag you down. Instead, ask yourself what they are teaching you. How can mistakes help you improve and become a better version of yourself?
Take full responsibility. It is easy to get stuck in the trap of a “victim mindset”. Sometimes it feels like nothing can go right and the world is out to get us. Don’t let that feeling drive your thoughts. Own what is yours, take responsibility, and control what you can. Many circumstances in life are the result of our own decisions. Design the life you want and take ownership of pursuing it. Don’t let fear and anxiety drive your decisions, and don’t get stuck in patterns of blaming others.
Be kind, patient, & humble. Especially with yourself. It’s not about getting approval or acceptance from others. We all need to develop greater self-awareness. We must let go of old identities, habits, and interests that no longer serve us, but do so with compassion for who we used to be. This is how we change, grow, and progress healthily, and how we can continue to cultivate understanding and patience with others as they experience their own personal growth journey at their own pace.
Don’t listen to naysayers. Ignore people who tell you it’s not possible or that you cannot achieve your goals and dreams. This negativity will never serve you or help you in your pursuit. When others tell you that you’re not good enough or can’t do something, it’s often projection. They’re sharing what they believe about themselves. Don’t let this throw you off course. You have to believe in yourself. Listen to your intuition and trust your inner knowing. This is your life. Don’t let other people pressure you to be or do something that doesn’t feel right. Life’s too short to live by other peoples’ rules.
It’s not about money. Step back from making every decision through this lens, and don’t let a scarcity mentality guide you. Of course, we all must earn a living and pay bills, but chasing money will not lead to a happier, healthier life. Focus on your purpose and trust that this will unlock incredible success.
Embrace change. The path to purpose doesn’t have a permanent destination. Life has a way of changing us, and as our values, beliefs, and passions evolve, the way we practice our purpose evolves as well. Check-in with yourself periodically to see if what you’re doing still feels meaningful and is contributing to a sense of fulfillment. If not, it might be time to revisit some of the other 11 tips. Change is great — it makes life so much more interesting, so embrace it!
Remember that discovering your purpose is a journey. It’s absolutely okay to take it one step at a time. The hardest things in life are also the most rewarding. There will be days when it feels frustrating and defeating, but don’t let those days make you want to give up. Breathe. Rest. Reassure yourself, and get back to it. Remember that unearthing your purpose is your life’s greatest work - and it is attainable! It will likely lead to some exciting changes, and your life may open up in ways you never imagined.
Check out Handprint’s Path to Purpose for more resources.