Where do we find our satisfaction and happiness in life? When you sit down after a hard day with a really nice sandwich and your favorite program on TV, and with your family by your side and your pet at your feet, then this can often feel like all it takes to feel happy and fulfilled. However while that might make you happy in the short term, what happens when you finish that sandwich? And more to the point – is that going to bring you the kind of real fulfillment that makes you feel as though you are achieving something worthwhile in your life? Is it going to bring you the kind of tales and sense of accomplishment that you can tell your grandchildren? And is it living your dream – or is it the case that every time you put on your tie for work or get out the hoover that a little part of you is dying that had a dream of something more?
Let’s face it, very few of us intended to have the lives that we ended up with. Most of us are not in jobs that bring us true satisfaction and most of us don’t see our careers going anywhere particularly interesting. Perhaps you’re the HR management at a firm that deliver and store cargo. Yes cargo is important, but is this really something that you can get excited about? Or is it the case that your friends and family glaze over as soon as you start talking about it? If you don’t genuinely get excited when you describe your job to people then there’s something slightly wrong.
But then again it doesn’t have to be your job that brings you the kind of satisfaction that we’re talking about here. It might be that you hate your daily grind, but that that’s not what you’re really about. Perhaps you have a website where you write about your passions, or maybe you like to go hang-gliding at the weekend and that’s what you’re really about.
But at the same time it’s not just about enjoying yourself either. It’s about feeling like you’re doing what you were meant to be doing. It’s about somehow feeling a sense of destiny when you get down to the nitty gritty and feeling as though you are doing something that’s more important than yourself, but that you are perfectly suited to doing. It’s about finding your purpose.
What Is a Purpose?
A purpose then is something that’s rather hard to explain, and in this sense it is very much an abstract noun. ‘Purpose’ as an intangible ideal that you strive toward but perhaps can’t yet grasp, purpose as something that can bring happiness or crush dreams.
Best put, purpose is what drives you and gives you real enthusiasm – it’s both what you are passionate at and what you are good at. It’s finding your role in life that is somehow fulfilling. It’s about doing more than living. When you find your purpose then it helps you to inform all of your other decisions and everything you do should have this in the back of your mind. It’s like your mission statement and as a psychologist might put it it’s what brings you ‘actualization’.
Finding Your Purpose
So how do you go about finding your purpose? Well if you thought that describing it was hard, then this is the truly tricky bit. It’s not possible to say definitively what your purpose is – there’s no set way to find it and for some people it’s harder than it is for others. However when you find it you will know, and more importantly when you find it you will feel like it was obvious and as though on some level you knew it all along. Though that’s not to say that your purpose can’t change once or twice along the way…
One way to find your purpose is to try and align what you love with what you are good at – and to throw in any personal experiences and character traits along the way. So for instance if you are brilliant at painting and you love space, then perhaps your purpose could be to paint planets, to imagine life on other worlds, to create star charts and to map the night sky? Or maybe if you are an artistic kind of person but you like connecting with people and helping them, then maybe you would be well suited to something like art therapy where you can help people to express themselves and to deal with their emotions through painting? Perhaps you’ve had a long illustrious career as a boxer but never really achieved what you set out too and now it’s too late – but then maybe your calling is to help others to achieve more, to train someone or to write a book. You might find that your purpose is to spread the word about something you truly believe in, or you might find that it’s to help people overcome something specific that has challenged you or someone close to you.
Another thing to do is to imagine some role playing and to experiment in your own mind that way. Take an evening and close your eyes and now imagine that you had no responsibilities and no ties. Imagine – if you could do anything and change your life in any way right now – what would you go about doing to change it? Maybe you’d move away to another country, and maybe you’d give up your work to try and make it as an actor in Hollywood – well there you go, that’s telling you a little bit about what your calling is.
Keep Asking Why
However ‘going to Hollywood’ to become an actor is not really a calling or a purpose – it’s a dream certainly and a career as well, but it’s not something that’s particularly unique or personal to you. So keep on asking ‘why’ and get to the very heart of the matter. So try this:
‘I want to become an actor’
‘Because I want to be rich and famous’
‘Because I want to live in a mansion’
‘Because I want to be able to support my family’
‘Because I want to be able to support my family’
And that’s when you stop – at the point where you keep going round in circles. In this case you want to support the ones you love and that’s the real purpose here – not acting. Alternatively it might be that you want to be rich and famous so that you can be free, or so that you can meet beautiful women/men, or so that you can take long holidays, or so that you can find a sense of fulfillment. This is a deep desire that will make you genuinely happy, so if you chase after that goal, then that’s what will make you happy.
Another way to find purpose is to look at the role models in your life whether they’re celebrities, people you know, or even fictional ones. Write down a list of your five top role models and then see what they all have in common. More importantly, see what it is about them that you respond to genuinely. Most likely it’s not that they’re rich – it’s more likely going to be that they are self-made, or that they are admired, or that they are role models, or that they are charismatic. So then that’s what you need to emulate.
Then as we’ve already mentioned you need to think about how you can take what you’re good at and what you’re capable of and apply this to that. It’s about inspiration – not about emulation. So how do you take what they’ve done and take your circumstances and then merge the two?
Part of the problem with knowing your purpose is all the white noise around us. The problem is that we started off knowing precisely what we wanted to do and what made us happy, but then life stepped in and made things more complicated. Now you have expectations, you have mixed information, you have too many other people’s views and you have responsibilities. All of this prevents you from knowing what it is that you really want and it taints your original vision.
You need to approach your dreams and desires with a ‘beginners mind’ which means thinking about the things that you wanted before everyone else told you what to want. So look back on old drawings and notes that you made when you were a young child and they should remind you what you wanted to do back then. You probably had aspirations to be an astronaut, or a scientist, or a writer, or an actor. So think – how can you live up to those aspirations and recapture that enthusiasm and wonder now?
Find the Right People
People to an extent fall into ‘types’ and if you see a group of artists together then you will notice certain similarities about them – they probably all have colorful clothes and out there ideas for instance and they are probably all quite flamboyant. Likewise if you meet a group of bodybuilders then they are all going to have certain qualities about themselves too – perhaps they have a camaraderie and competitiveness, perhaps they all believe in self improvement and perhaps they all enjoy a good action film. When you find ‘your people’ then you will know and you will feel at home, and this can give you a great example of what you need to be to be happy.
One thing that shapes us more than anything else perhaps is our beliefs – if we hold a particular set of beliefs – either about the nature of the universe or in politics or morality – then this can in itself give us a purpose and it covers everything else that you do. For instance if you believe in a God then you will be more likely to believe in hierarchy and rules – there is after all a supreme judge on the matter and an absolute right and wrong. If you are atheist however then you might be more likely to believe in absolute freedom with no hierarchy, and in right and wrong as abstraction (ala Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil). If you have a defined set of beliefs, or a message, or a political leaning, then you are likely to want to spread this and that could well be your purpose or your calling – or at least it might serve as a good lens through which to view your purpose.
A Personal Account
I’m going to break out of the third person for a moment now to give you a personal account – because serving by example is the best way to get something so abstract across. I myself found myself at a loss to achieve my goals which were to become an action hero. My idols were Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and I really idolized them. Problem was that becoming an action hero is something you can’t really tell people and that only a very few people achieve.
So I looked instead at the things about these people that I really responded too – what was it about all of them that I found admirable? The answer was that they were a) strong and powerful and b) role models. At the time I needed someone to look up to, and the powerful image of the heroic male was something I really responded too. I also liked comic books and my other heroes were Iron Man and Superman so that all made perfect sense.
So I took up bodybuilding and parkour and martial arts and these were all things I was very good at. But there was another side of me too and that was the side that enjoyed making ‘projects’, that enjoyed programming and that enjoyed writing books.
Then it hit me – I was into self improvement, in all its forms, and the reason was that I wanted to be free and that I wanted to be a role model and help other people who were perhaps searching for inspiration like I was. And to this end I took what I had learned from bodybuilding and from my intellectual pursuits and I spread the word – as a writer, on YouTube, and on my own websites. And when I post a bodybuilding video on YouTube and I get a comment from someone saying that it helped them to get strong and get the girl – then I know that this is something that brings me more fulfillment than anything else. That’s my purpose.