It’s a question as old as time: “What is my purpose in life?” As far back as the fourth century BC, Aristotle was pondering life’s purpose and developing his theory of teleology, or the idea that everything in life has purpose. In today’s fast-paced, technology-filled world where we are being pulled in many directions at once, finding your purpose seems more important than ever.
Many people spend their lives reacting to situations instead of being proactive and figuring out the needs and values that drive them. Even when they think they know their purpose, they often mistake it with a short-term goal. Many others who are asking themselves this question truly want to find meaning – but they have no idea how to find purpose in life.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FINDING YOUR PURPOSE
Tony says, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” – which is why growth is addictive to many of us. We naturally only feel fulfilled when we’re improving ourselves or our lives in some way. Everything in life is calling to us to grow. When we stop growing, we start feeling pain, fear and anxiety. We are then susceptible to envy as we look around and see what everyone else has that we don’t. Instead of asking “What is my purpose in life?,” we start coveting status, material goods and power. But all those things will ultimately leave you feeling empty.
Goals, like buying a house or opening a business, yield a sense of achievement and are essential to living the life you desire. Purpose takes those goals to an even higher level. At Date With Destiny, Tony tells everyone in the room: “I will tell you right now, there’s one word that will give you happiness, one. You’ll remember it as long as you live: progress. Progress equals happiness. Achieving goals does not equal happiness.” So if you’re asking yourself, “What is my purpose?,” what you’re really asking for is progress – a true sense of fulfillment. And fulfillment isn’t a luxury or leisure activity – it’s a necessity.
Research shows that finding your purpose is linked to living longer. Researchers surveyed nearly 7,000 older adults on the relationship between mortality and finding your purpose. Participants who did not have a strong sense of meaning in their lives were more than twice as likely to die prematurely as those who had figured out their purpose in life. Having a sense of purpose also reduced the incidence of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke. These results were universal, even when controlled for income, race, gender and education level. Researchers concluded that finding your purpose helps you live longer. It’s also essential for happiness and fulfillment.
HOW TO FIND YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE
It is a combination of the science of achievement and the art of fulfillment that creates the road to happiness and a life of meaning. To succeed in finding your purpose, you must master this balance.
1. SEARCH INWARD
The questions “What is my purpose in life?” and “How can I be happy?” are actually the same – and they have the same answer. You can never truly understand how to find your purpose by listening to others’ opinions and seeking outside approval.
Everything you need is within yourself. The only thing holding you back is your own limiting beliefs. With each limiting belief you identify and replace with an empowering belief, you develop greater self-awareness. And when you’re in control of your emotions, you’re in control of your life.
2. PUT PURPOSE BEFORE GOALS
If you focus only on achieving short-term goals, you will never find your true passion or learn how to find your purpose. The goals you work toward must always be based on finding your purpose. If they’re not, you’ll only feel a fleeting sense of accomplishment and will soon be seeking something more. You won’t be able to see that life is happening for you instead of to you.
When you set a goal, ask yourself: How will this help me feel more fulfilled? How does this relate back to my purpose? Use a journal or a system like Tony’s Rapid Planning Method to ensure you always keep your purpose top of mind.
3. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU HAVE
Developing an abundance mindset is like opening your eyes to life: You will see beauty and goodness all around you. With this new perspective, your purpose in life becomes much clearer. You question less and less how to find your purpose because you feel like you have more of the answers and that you are on the path to achieving meaningful goals.
When we focus on what we have, fear disappears and abundance appears. You’ll stop living in fear that you’re wasting your life and begin to attract positivity and joy. Finding your purpose becomes an exciting journey, rather than a stressful goal.
4. TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR LIFE
True fulfillment comes from designing your own life. This is how you unlock the extraordinary. To find your purpose, you must decide what’s truly right, and know it in your heart and soul. You must not let yourself be driven by fear or anxiety. A decision made from fear is always the wrong decision. It will not help you understand “What is my purpose?” but instead confuse the issue even more.
To truly take ownership, you must stop playing the victim. Realize that every circumstance in your life is a result of your own decisions, not anyone else’s. When you take responsibility for finding your purpose instead of blaming others, fulfillment follows.
5. THINK ABOUT WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY
Look back on your life and identify the times when you felt the most joy. Was it when you were connecting with your partner? Making a successful presentation at work? Creating art or helping others? When you discover what brings you joy, you usually discover where your passions lie.
Your abilities are connected to that sense of joy, so examine them, too: Can you pick up a pencil and sketch a lifelike portrait? Do your friends tell you that you’re a great listener? When you look closely at the activities or skills that come naturally and also bring you joy, you’ll likely stumble upon passions that you can turn into a profitable career.
6. DEVELOP YOUR OWN LIFE VISION STATEMENT
Before you can ask yourself “What is my purpose?” you first have to know what an ideal world looks like and how you fit into it. Creating a life vision statement involves identifying what life would look like if everyone were living up to their fullest potential. This will help you develop a roadmap to guide you in the proper direction.
7. DISCOVER YOUR TRUE NEEDS
When asking themselves “What is my purpose in life?”, some people don’t even know where to start. If you fall into this category, it helps to examine the Six Human Needs. Your top need – certainty, significance, variety, love/connection, growth or contribution – affects every decision you make.
Lack of awareness about your own needs can leave you with a false sense of purpose – one that is actually based on others’ expectations. This is why you can reach the top of the career ladder, find the “perfect” partner or be in the best shape of your life, but still not feel happy. Fulfillment begins with your innermost needs.
8. WRITE OUT YOUR STORY
Writing helps us organize our thoughts – and discover new ones we may not even know we had. It’s proven to help us reach goals, improve memory and decrease stress, which are all essential when you’re learning how to find your purpose.
Putting your life in writing can reveal hidden meanings you may not see otherwise. Start with this exercise: What strengths do you have that helped you get through tough times? How have you helped others? And how have other people helped you? Write it all down and you’ll begin to see patterns that will help you find your purpose.
9. TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
“What is my purpose?” is a deep question that takes time and reflection to answer. When you spend all your time running from one commitment to another, you never have time to just sit quietly and reconnect with yourself. Make sure you schedule enough personal time to reduce the noise and demands of the outer world and focus on what you want.
When you feel depleted searching for meaning in life, take a deep breath and center yourself. Take time for self-care, whether that’s a spa day or reading a book in the park. It’s by looking within that you’re able to identify your values – the beliefs you hold most dear as a guiding force in life. You won’t understand how to find your purpose without first taking a step back and relaxing.
10. EMBRACE ACCEPTANCE
Part of finding your purpose is accepting your own limitations. Instead of getting frustrated with yourself, give yourself a break. Get to know yourself bit by bit, taking the role of observer. As you practice self-compassion while building self-awareness, you’re able to find the meaning you’re seeking.
Self-compassion means being patient with yourself. Feeling lost in life can be a very disorienting feeling. You may feel frustrated, but be gentle with yourself. Everyone who has ever asked themselves “What is my purpose?” began from a place of uncertainty. Their hesitancy was what prompted them to dig deep and find greater meaning.
11. FIND YOUR COMMUNITY
Finding your purpose in life is often about discovering where you fit in. When we meet our “people,” we feel like we are home: relaxed and at ease, able to truly be ourselves. Your community can often help you discover how to find your purpose, or to live your purpose once you’ve found it.
To find your community, follow your passions. Join a volunteer group. Take a class to develop a skill you enjoy. Seek out support online. Find others who enjoy the same music, books or plays. The saying “You are who your friends are” is true – and when you find the right community, it’s a good thing.
12. BE FLEXIBLE
One of the hardest parts of learning how to find your purpose is letting go of old identities and interests that no longer serve us. Yet it’s something that must be done. Your purpose in life is also likely to grow and change as you grow and change. You must be willing to be flexible and to listen to your innermost wants and needs.
Finding your purpose is a lifelong journey. Being flexible lets you grow in integrity while being true to yourself. When you develop your core values and stop seeking external affirmation, you’ll find that the question of “What is my purpose in life?” is much easier to answer.