Why is it so hard to find our life purpose? There certainly is no short supply of problems in this world that need solving. There is no limit on the number of people who we could help, or inspire, or support. There is no cap on the number of passions we could pursue. Yet, our life purpose often feels just out of view.
There are many reasons why you may not know your life purpose. Sometimes it's because the world's problems seem too big. Or we seem too small. Or maybe we are just exhausted from life and don't know where we'll find the energy to fight for what really matters to us.
But if you want to change all that and find your life purpose, here are the steps to follow.
Step 1: Find out what drives you
When I was a teenager I was at a party and came upon a friend of mine. Her head was cast downward, her bangs were in front of her eyes, and she was squeezing her hand into a tight fist. As I approached, I noticed something red on her hand.
It was blood!
I rushed over to her, grabbing her hand, demanding that she let me help her. Finally, after much prodding, she opened her hand. Laying in her palm was a piece of glass, glass that she had been squeezing as hard as she possibly could.
It was then I realized that she was intentionally making her hand bleed. She was so unhappy that she squeezed that piece of glass until blood was dripping on the floor.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this moment was the first in a series of moments that would show me my life's purpose.
In the years that followed, I saw the scars of self-burning, the glazed over eyes that come with extensive drug use, and the skin that hangs off a body that is being intentionally starved. I witnessed the depths of depression and the heights of mania, suicide attempts and near overdoses. It turns out that a person can only see so much pain before becoming driven to stop it.
One way to find your purpose is to ask yourself: What pain or injustice or unhappiness have you witnessed? Is there anything that drives you simply because you don't want to live in a world where it exists? Often, a powerful purpose can come from deep pain.
STEP 2: Find out what energizes you
It was a sunny but cool spring morning. I had just started my shift at the addiction rehab center where I worked. As usual, I went to the back yard to make sure none of the teenagers were smoking on the back roof. One of them was so I told him go back inside. He spent the next 8 hours cussing at me, right up until the moment my shift ended.
This was the day I learned that your life purpose can burnout if you pursue it in ways that deplete rather than energize you. It is not enough to know the problem you want to solve, you have to think carefully about they way that you want to solve it.
So ask yourself: What energizes you?
Step 3: Find out what you are willing to sacrifice for.
Feeling deflated and defeated after working at the addiction rehab center, I paused to ask myself what I really wanted to do. I don't know about you, but often I'll think I want to do something, but then I don't follow through or put in the work required to succeed - a sign that whatever it was, it wasn't really important enough to me to sacrifice for.
I decided I wanted to go to graduate school to study emotion and mental health. I had applied to graduate school before, and even enrolled in a masters program for one year, but I wasn't clear about my purpose and wasn't yet willing to sacrifice my time, efforts, and energy for it.
This time was different though.
This time, I listened to GRE words on my iPod during my lunch break at work. I volunteered in a research lab on my days off. I studied and wrote and learned until I passed out from exhaustion while preparing my graduate school applications.
This willingness to sacrifice didn't end when I got into graduate school. I worked relentlessly to the point of burnout. Now, I'm not recommending that you sacrifice to the point of burnout. All I'm saying is that when you find something that you are willing to sacrifice for, you know you've found your purpose.
Step 4: Find out who you want to help
I have taught hundreds of students across 4 different universities and created positive technologies that have reached more than a million people worldwide. But the time I felt like I had the biggest impact was when I mentored a student during my first year in graduate school. Always eager to learn, she'd smile big, excited about each new project and responsibility. At the end of our time working together, she became the first person in her family to graduate college.
Even though most Psychology PhDs help students in universities, help customers or employees in companies, or help clients as therapists, I feel most inline with my life purpose when I support the change-makers - the people who will make this world a happier, healthier, better place. In fact, most of my work now focuses on doing just that - consulting with entrepreneurs and organizations to help them increase happiness in their communities.
To find your life purpose, ask yourself: Who do you want to help? There are many ways to chip away at the same problem. By figuring out the specific person or people you want to help, you can more easily find your purpose.
Step 5: Find out how you want to help
When I first started working with entrepreneurs, I helped in any way I could. I conducted research, ran statistics, and created surveys. This is what I knew and was good at, but it didn't energize me (remember Step 2). As I acquired more and more clients with different needs, I found a real passion for product development and content creation. Yup! I like to write and like to create happiness products. I'm sitting here on a Saturday afternoon writing this article... because I feel like it.
What do you love to do? And how do you apply this passion to your purpose? To find your purpose, you need to figure out how you can best use your passions and skills to achieve your unique goals and solve your unique problems.
Taking the steps to find your life purpose
Finding your life purpose is a life-long journey. It's okay to take it one step at a time. It's normal to pause and re-evaluate regularly. And it's ok to feel overwhelmed. Nothing worth doing is easy and this will not be easy.
You will encounter frustrations and challenges along the way. Some days, you'll throw your hands up in the air in defeat. But then you'll remember Step 1 - you're driven to solve this problem, and you wont let yourself give up.
Click Here to join me on this life-long journey towards greater happiness.