The struggle to find purpose

Mar 01, 2020

I recently had a conversation I often have with some of my coaching clients.  It's the universal "who do I want to be when I 'grow up'" or the struggle to find purpose.

The question about "finding your purpose" usually comes from a few different areas:

  • Your life was defined by what others wanted, not you.
  • You've lost connection with something you were passionate about before
  • You feel like you are going through motions that don't matter or are appreciated by your team/family/community
  • Feeling like you don't control your life or are not "living" your life

We've all probably felt one of these at some point in our lives.

When I've felt off-purpose, I usually also felt restless, anxious, and like I'm running through the motions.  I've learned that when I start to feel this way consistently that it's time for a change.  This insight has lead to a ton of personal growth and figuring out just what is "my purpose".  

It's also led to tons of adventure and the feeling I am truly living my life.  I stopped programming to work more on the business side at Wal-mart.  The adventure there was being proficient enough at the new gig that I got to travel internationally.  I learned I loved working with people more than computers.

When I left Wal-Mart to start a business helping people with student debt, I learned I loved working on building a business, even though I was terrible at it.  This felt closer to what I wanted.

When that business felt stuck, I landed a job at Apple that combined my technical and soft skills.  It was also a dream job I had for quite a while - to work at a company on the cutting edge of technology.  

I was happy at Apple, yet I still had the desire to work more closely with folks.  When I started to get restless there, I started my coaching business, which feels like my purpose.  

When I get finished talking with a client, man, do I feel charged!  It's better than all the coffee in the morning.  

For me, this is a 10-year journey working to figure out what I really wanted for my life and how I wanted to contribute to the world.

So how can you get clearer on your purpose?

Your purpose is found in actions.  Many people wait for their purpose to find them.  Here's the thing, Newton didn't find his purpose by getting hit by an apple.  The idea to "discover gravity" didn't literally hit him on the head.  He found it in his study and work before that fateful day, and by being out in the world.  When the apple hit him on the head he had done enough science and math to start to explain gravity.  Looking back it's easy to say the falling apple event cause Newton to find his purpose.

It's trying things and seeing how it makes you feel.  If you had to do this task for the rest of your life without rest, would you be excited or exhausted?  

Your purpose is found in meaning-seeking.  Victor Frankl's "Mans Search for Meaning" basically states that even in the worst circumstances, you can react and create meaning for who you are and what you are doing.  So what do you do currently that feels significant?  What feels like you are contributing to a greater cause or calling?  Is it helping your family or other people?  Is it an important cause?

Your purpose is found with decisiveness.  Many people don't realize you choose how to define your purpose.  It's easy to get caught up in what others want from us, especially since it usually starts with our parents.  Go to college.  Get a solid job.  Go into a "productive" field like science and law, not "art".  Do the job you hate to provide for your kids.  The list goes on.  Some of those things are needed, yet here is a harsh truth.  You can choose to settle for that or to also work towards something that inspires you to do your best.  Because it's not mutually exclusive to follow your passions and be responsible for your family and obligations.  Make a choice to work on something meaningful every day.  What would you need to choose to start doing to feel more connected with your big dreams?

Your purpose is discovered through perspective.  When you feel stuck or restless with what you are currently doing, it's time to change up what you are doing.  With more experiences comes more information on what brings joy into your life.  These threads of joy can be tugged at to help uncover your purpose.  Go to the museums in your town.  Go see live music.  Go to the cool festivals or events in your community.  Take a new cooking class.  Open yourself up to new experiences.  Get things on the calendar.  Journal on each of the experiences to see if there is something that excites you in pursuing.  So what things can you sign up for and get on the calendar the next week, month, and three months?  


Some other resources that might help spark some inspiration on finding your purpose:

  • The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho. The main story is about a Shepard who is trying to find his destiny and is one of my favorite books!
  • Man's Search for Meaning - Victor Frankl. The story of a holocaust survivor and psychologist, this book is intense and shares the idea we can find meaning no matter the circumstance.  
  • 2005 Stanford Commencement Speach by Steve Jobs - One of my favorite inspirational speeches from Jobs.  I love the idea that it's easy to connect the dots looking backwards, even if what you are doing now might not indicate what you will be doing.  The sum of our experiences prepares us for our purpose.