Each school day, my sister and I walked a quarter mile down the lane to catch the yellow school bus.
Most of the time I loved those walks and our easy companionship as we waited for the bus to roll into our little valley.
On days when it was windy or cold, I’d snuggle up with my friend, a big Burr oak tree, who’d protect and keep me warm.
It was in those quiet moments I first began to wonder . . .
- How’d we all get here? Why us?
- What are we supposed to do? Does somebody tell us?
- How will I know what to do with my life? When will I know?
Purpose in the Present
You’re likely hearing more about purpose-driven businesses, finding your purpose, committing to your purpose, etc.
Why does all this focus on purpose matter?
Similar to the practice of mindfulness — where it’s often perceived as a heavy and all-too-serious practice — exploring purpose can feel hefty too, a bit like your life depends upon it.
Your life does depend on it, yet not so much.
Your purpose is fundamental, sacred even, that’s the ‘does’ part, yet it’s easily and joyfully discoverable, that’s the ‘not so much’ part.
It’s true that exploring your purpose can answer questions about your existence:
- Why are you here?
- What are you meant to do in your life?
- Who are you meant to be?
There’s an alternative to applying rigorous, heavy analysis to identify, quantify, and zero in on the one right thing that’s your purpose.
It’s more about pausing, like I did hugging the sturdy Burr oak, to open space for personal wondering and musing, creating space to roll around and feel into what those questions raise in you.
With time and space to explore, get curious, and experiment, you’ll discover your unique purpose, the one that reflects the authenticity of your life path, distinct from other people or the roles you hold.
And, because you’re on a path through life, no matter how old you are, or where you reside today, or what you’re currently up to, pausing to noodle on questions of purpose can be light, fun, and tap into the best of you right where you already are!
Seeking Your Purpose
The three primary areas to explore include: your gifts, your passions, and your values.
What are your unique gifts, those that not only come naturally to you, but that you really enjoy doing?
Rather than depleting your energy, expressing these gifts brings you energy. You lose track of time when engaged in these gifts.
What rouses your passion? In other words, if your security needs — a roof over your head, enough money to cover your basic needs — were no longer a factor, what would you want to spend your time doing?
What would you want to use your life energy to explore, experience or accomplish?
What values and experiences stand out as important to you? Can you let yourself feel into them? Bring them to mind and note how your body responds?
Your non-negotiables will be more obvious.
As you give yourself permission to explore and play around with these questions, you’ll circle in and ultimately land on your purpose.
When you do, you’ll notice you have even increased energy and re-ignited passion.You’ll consider what your next right action step will be in creating or contributing to the greater good using your purpose.
Back in my rudimentary child’s mind, I knew I wanted to help people have better conversations. It was clear to me even then!
In grade school, my purpose showed up as me being kind to other kids and adults.
Later in high school, it involved me initiating conversations with people who had differing experiences and points of view.
In my career, it included both of those, and convening conversations that would be described as tricky at best, painful at the worst.
Seek your own thread by looking back on your life — what keeps showing up and feels essential?
Ultimately, purpose is a statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world by how you want to show up.
Only you develop your personal purpose.
It helps to write your purpose out in a statement that you can roll off your tongue, because when you do, you can repeat it like a mantra to guide you through your day.
Remember, this about your purpose:
- It isn’t inherited, invented or chosen from a list, but rather encountered, stumbled upon, revealed in a discovery process.
- It’s found by curiously exploring past interests and experiences with an eye to your present and future identity.
- Captures your unique gift to the world, related to your core values and motivations.
- Impacts all aspects of your life – not one role.
- Is a path that nourishes you and provides you meaning, energy, and daily focus when you’re connected to it.
- Isn’t a profession, but can be a part of the role you hold professionally.
Acting on your purpose has benefits far beyond your own fulfillment. Purpose is adaptive, in an evolutionary sense, and helps you and the human species to survive.