If you’re reading this, chances are you’re someone who wants to do well in your work, and be paid well for it. But you also want more than that. You want to feel that it serves some purpose greater than a paycheck or a position.
Albert Einstein said, “Ever more today people have the means to live but not the meaning to live for.” That’s only become truer in recent decade. Research now confirms what many have long known: that only when our purpose for going to work transcends what we get from it to what we give through it, can we ever enjoy a deep sense of personal or professional fulfillment.
Having a sense of purpose in your work acts a little like the energy of light. Diffused, it has minimal strength. Concentrated, as through a laser beam, it can slice through steel. The clearer you are about your highest purpose in your life—your big why—the better you can channel your talents and time to make a meaningful mark on the world that leaves everyone, not just yourself, better off.
If you sometimes struggle with a lack of meaning in your work, or if what once gave you purpose no longer does, you’re in the company of millions. Despair not, though. Our purpose tends to unfold and evolve as we do. Sometimes, we have to sit in the wondering, open to discovering what lies beyond the obvious or what has been staring us in the face the whole time.
Here are 3 steps to find your true purpose in life:
1. Identify your strengths.
No need to be humble here; you’re good at many things. But there are some things you’re particularly good at. So much so that you sometimes wonder why on earth others find it so hard. Maybe it’s your quick read of people or balance sheets. Perhaps you’re brilliant in the details, a born entrepreneur, gifted communicator or tech maestro. Our greatest strengths often flow from our toughest times. So include here the “hard-won wisdom,” insights and skills you’ve learned from the school of hard knocks that no classroom could ever teach.
2. Clarify what you care about deeply.
“Live your passion!” says Tony Robbins. All well and good if you know what that is. But what if you don’t? Despair not. You don’t have to be on fire about helping at-risk kids, designing the Tesla, solving the world’s energy problems or mediating peace in the Middle East to live a deeply meaningful life. (Though if you are, go right ahead!) Since our emotions, not our knowledge, are the primary driver of action, you simply have to care enough about something that it triggers an emotional response in you—from what lights you up and puts you in flow to what makes you so barking mad you could be unstoppable in making things right.
Write down what you care about. Begin with the people and causes closest to your heart. From there move on to whatever ignites a spark in you: creative expression, sadness, anger, compassion, curiosity or an exciting sense of wild possibility. Every great feat of human accomplishment can be traced back to someone who cared deeply.
3. Discern where you contribute greatest value.
Physician Albert Schweitzer once said, “One thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” Of course unless you are financially independent, you’ll also need to establish not just the value you add, but who will pay for it. It’s hard to live your purpose if you’re broke and hungry.
Sure, it’s gratifying to gain status, win applause and make a name for yourself. But committing to a purpose more important than stroking your ego or avoiding it being bruised enables you to dig deep, find your courage and forge a truly good life.
As you finish this article, your purpose might remain unclear. Give yourself permission to live in the questions. Where is pride holding me back? What is the mark I most want to make? Where is my life calling me to be braver? You’ll eventually live into the answers.
Regardless of how uncertain your path ahead, trust that you are here to make a mark that no one else can and that fulfilling your purpose begins simply by asking yourself this four-word question: How may I serve? And then taking a brave step in whatever direction your answer beckons.
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