The quest to fill the void with a greater purpose is compelling. It sells books, seminars, and movies. It has been dramatized to such an extent that people are figuratively on the floor searching in the dark for the key that will unlock the secret to life contentment, purpose and happiness.
But they never seem to find it. And you know why? Because they’re looking in all the wrong places.
1. Stop looking for it. Start living with it.
This may sound counterintuitive, but if you want to find your purpose, the first step is to stop looking for it. That’s right. Get off your hands and knees. Stop thinking — and over-thinking — about why you are here.
You’ll never really know. We may get some clues about our place in the world, but full-on knowledge of why we are here might just be reserved for the afterlife. More importantly, trying to find your purpose has an inherent risk — you’re assuming it’s all about you.
You ask yourself, “What is my purpose that will help me feel fulfilled on a deeper level?” But here is the problem with this line of thought: Meaning and purpose come when we focus on others — not on ourselves.
If you really want to achieve your potential and live a more meaningful life, stop searching for purpose and start living with purpose.
2. Ask yourself: ‘What am I needed for?’
Instead of concerning yourself with what you need or what you want, ask yourself: “What am I needed for?”
If you really want to make a change in this world, reflect on what’s motivating you. Do you want to be the hero? If the answer is yes, then you are destined for misery. You won’t find meaning helping others if you’re really just trying to feel good or further your own interests. It’s not about what you need. The question is — what is needed from you?
The good news is that you don’t need to search very far. Opportunities are right in front of you — start with your friends, family and community. Within your grasp are people in need. Start asking what you can do for them.
But here is the nuance that often trips people up. I’m not suggesting that you ask what is needed. There could be a security issue, but you may not be a police officer. There may be a health risk, but you may not be a doctor. You can’t solve a problem you are not qualified to fix.
Instead, ask what you are needed for. What unique contribution can you bring to those in need? Identify the talents and interests that will allow you to be helpful and make an impact.
3. Take action steps.
Your purpose relates to your talents, but you can’t think your way to living with purpose. You don’t find your purpose by listening to an inspirational audio series or contemplating philosophy on a mountain-top retreat. You find it in action.
Just like exercise, you have to start somewhere. Find or create an opportunity to contribute, volunteer, open a business or take on additional responsibilities. Doing things to uniquely contribute to those around you should be part of your routine.
Without a concrete and sustainable action plan, the inspiration you’re feeling now will eventual fizzle, and you’ll wind up feeling empty and unsatisfied again. You don’t need to start big — but you do need to get started. Find a way you can give your time and your talent to others on an ongoing basis. Once a week? Fine. Once a month? That’s a start.
4. Review where you stand.
You won’t know where you stand without regular self-reflection. Every night, review what you did and ask yourself: Was that the best use of my time? Can I do more? Did I do too much? Can I delegate this, or should I spend more time doing it myself? Now you are learning by doing. That’s how you live with purpose.
In truth, you don’t just have one purpose. You have many. As you evolve, so will your purpose. When you were 15, your purpose may have been related to school, friends and parents. At 35, it could be attached to your spouse or child.
When you live your life asking what you are needed for, you adapt, change and grow. Along the way, you are able to contribute yourself to others — the ultimate purpose. Over time, you will gain insight into your unique purposes and better understand the things that only you can contribute.
In the end, whether you can pinpoint your purpose or not, you will have spent the better portion of your life helping others and living with purpose — which is always more more valuable than finding it.