To find your purpose, you must know what you are looking for – and it is within you. No one can do the work for you, except you. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation floating around, that sounds masterful, but in the end you are likely to feel a bit let down. So here are the self-mastery steps to uncovering your purpose, but be warned! Don’t expect instant results. This is not an evening project. There isn’t really a shortcut here. Just settle in and enjoy the ride. Plan to practice. Commit to the search. If you read The Incredible Benefits of Living On Purpose, you will understand how worthwhile the journey to finding your purpose really is.
Step 1: Find Your Core Personal Values
Values are the principles you live by, and they are the foundation of our Purpose. We rarely stop and consider them. When we do, we tend to go to default values we think we are “supposed” to have, like Love, Truth, Family, Compassion, etc. Those are all wonderful values, and most of us have them in a greater or lesser degree. But they may only be on the periphery of our main value system, which is uniquely ours. For instance, perhaps you value Adventure, Freedom, and Creativity much more than Truth or Authenticity. Allow that to be okay. Your values are yours, and no one else’s. It doesn’t make you deficient, bad or wrong. How boring it would be if we all had exactly the same values!
It’s important to check in with yourself on your values, and look at where you really spend your time and set your priorities. There are patterns in your daily activities that will give you clues about what you really value. If you have a nagging suspicion that the amount of time you spend at work is not really driven by your values, but rather by your fear or commitments, then allow that to be possible.
To explore your values, here is a list of 300 words (which is still not all-inclusive!) you can download and use. Start with 12, narrow that list down to 6, and finally, see if you can narrow your values to between 3-4. That way you can begin to focus on how you are really living into your values every day. Begin journaling – where are you blocking yourself from being in integrity with those values? And know it is okay during this process to change your mind. After all, how much focus have you put on your personal values up till now? This is a process of self-discovery as well as self-mastery.
Get Clear About Your Passions
You read that right. Passions is plural here, because we can have many passions. Not only that, passion and purpose are distinct, although not everyone knows this. Passion is about emotions that drive us. Our passion inspires us, and is built on what makes us feel good. Purpose is the reason, or the why behind what we do, primarily as a contribution to the world.
Finding your passions is really just about what lights you up and gives you joy – or at least a deep sense of satisfaction. It does not need to be what you do to earn income – although it can be. For instance, I am passionate about hiking the many trails around our home, and have a dream of hiking the Camino del Santiago. But I do not intend to become a travel blogger. Another passion I have is animal rights and promoting the ethical treatment of animals. I happen to believe how we treat animals directly affect how we treat one another. However, again, I am not planning to become a paid activist, or a veterinarian.
Passions tend to be the places where you lose your sense of time passing, or you daydream about doing more of it. Passions are where you are compelled to show up, engage, and nurture something. Often, however, we amputate ourselves from our passions at some point, because we felt (or someone told us) they were foolish, unrealistic, or interfered with what was really important. If this feels like it might be your story, spend some time journaling about what you loved to do as a child, regardless of how the inner critic might try to interfere in the same voice that told us it was foolish or unrealistic. If you loved chasing fireflies, put it down. You don’t have to make sense of it. Just acknowledge it. And perhaps go chase some fireflies tonight (just be sure to give them air to breathe).
Make a List of Your Talents
We all have them. You might be exceptional at talking on the phone for hours – so write down “friendly conversation”. You might be wildly gifted at ordering takeout, so add “creative food sourcing.” My point is only this: don’t be lured by the “I don’t have many talents” excuse to not look for them. In other words, whatever you can do easily, and almost effortlessly, give yourself positive credit, rather than dismissing or diminishing yourself.
Also, if all your talents seem to group around one area, such as work, challenge yourself to broaden your search. What are your talents with friends, family, in your home, self care, personal development, etc. Generosity is a talent. So is daydreaming. Give credit wherever it is due.
Gently Look at Your Areas of Challenge
Very few lists about Purpose dare discuss the idea of looking at our yucky stuff, but this is one of the main areas that shape our Purpose. As the famous Rumi quote tells us,
“The broken places are where the light gets in.”
I suggested gently looking, because the majority of us are harder on ourselves than anyone else, and this is not a ready-made opportunity to beat ourselves up over lost love, debt, addiction, poor job performance, or poor health. Rather, looking at your areas of challenge means looking at the places where you have the greatest channel for personal growth and healing.
Many of us, as we navigate our challenges, find them the most powerful drivers of our purpose, giving us inspiration to take our hard-won lessons and share them with others who are where we once were. So, as you look (don’t stare) at your personal challenges – it is okay to acknowledge that they can be quite intense (like abuse, addiction, and witnessing trauma) – you don’t have to relive them. But if you need professional help to address them, by all means do so. Not doing so is likely one of the greatest obstacles to living a life of purpose.
Our areas of challenge also provide us with some of the most soulful understanding of the human condition, such as Black Lives Matter. So, look. Look and ask yourself, what am I learning here? What do I know about my own strength, fears, behaviors and beliefs that can help myself and others? This is a huge part of your story, and stories inspire us.
Decide who you want to help.
Purpose is never about us – it is about how we serve the large good. The larger good can be a single individual or the entire planet. Whatever feels right to you. It can also be both. You help may come in the form of time, guidance, money, advocacy, talents, support, or presence. Yes, you can have more than one beneficiary of your gifts. All things are possible here.
Write Your Epitaph
No one lives forever. What would you want to be remembered for – and by whom? This can be as extravagant as you can let yourself be. Did you explore new galaxies? Did you discover a cure for world hunger? This is not the place to play small. Let the child who fantasized about what she wanted to be when she grew up come out and play.
But small is about what we allow ourselves permission to be. No, you don’t have to be bold on a grand scale. If you want to be remembered as the lady who cared for all the stray cats, and baked amazing brownies for the neighborhood, then more power to you. There is no judgment here. One person I know who did this exercise moved from wanting to have a child to adopting. The impact we have on one life can be more than we ever know.
Be Willing to Discover You Have More Than One Purpose
What???? Kinda sucks the sanctimoniousness right out of it doesn’t it?
It also takes a lot of the pressure off too.
Part of my Purpose is to create a Heaven on Earth in my home. I do this for my husband, myself, and as an example to others of what is possible. Some days I am ON purpose … and some days…well … a little improvement might be in order. But I also have the purpose of helping women leaders be unstoppable, just like I learned to be in some very trying personal and professional circumstances.
The key to these separate purposes is they are never in conflict with one another. Additionally, every decision I make is measured against whether I am living into my purposes or not. I know I am making a difference in every area of my life – for myself and for others.
Put it All Together
Your values are your why. Your passion is the fire behind your why. Your talents are the how. The challenges are what forge your strength and wisdom. The people you help provide a channel for your energy. The impact you will have motivates your actions. Now, write down a short paragraph that captures it all.
For example, suppose you are an adventurous, free-spirited, creative, who was in an abusive relationship, but is extremely outgoing, and an incredible cook, as well as a writer, and can lose herself in meditations and travel, but is horrible at keeping relationships out of the dumps and being anywhere on time, but loves doing thoughtful things for her friends and helping out at the local senior center. She wants to be remembered as someone who brought joy to the lives she touched and lived life to its fullest.
Her statement of purpose can look like this:
I am a creative, free, adventurous (3 values) lover and nurturer of joy, who demonstrates the fullness of life to everyone I meet.
Boom. Mic drop.
Yes, it was that simple – and also that hard. To really have self-mastery, we must embrace the good and not so good parts of our experience. Yes, we must embrace what we want, but that’s not the end of the story. To stay there is not only a selfish place, it blocks the energy we want to experience in the first place. The objective here is to be in a place where our cup runneth over, and we cannot help but share what we have received with others. First, though, we must open and receive the totality of ourselves.