I have spent most of my professional career asking the question: What does life purpose mean and how does one find and fulfill it?
I believe you have a life purpose — we all do. Since there is no other individual on the planet exactly like you that has the exact combination of nature and nurture, it seems obvious and logical that you must be capable of providing some value that nobody else is capable of providing. That unique value is your life purpose, the gift only you can deliver to the world and it is intrinsically tied to who you are as an individual.
I began my professional career as an estate-planning attorney, who worked with the super wealthy and helped them plan for their death while avoiding paying as many taxes as possible. Death and taxes are famously said to be the only two certainties in life.
Funny, because I believe that life and purpose are equally as inevitable.
While many believe that money and death are two taboo subjects that families do not like to discuss, even more taboo in my experience are conversations about the meaning of life or one’s life purpose. I cannot think of anything more important than finding one’s life purpose. I believe in its importance so much that I traded in my estate planning hat some years ago to build a business that helps individuals discover their life purpose and design a life that ensures its fulfillment. I have spent most of my life and professional career pondering this very issue and asking the question: What does life purpose mean and, more importantly, how does one find and fulfill it?
1. Your life purpose is bigger than any solvable problem or circumstance.
Your life purpose cannot be solving a particular problem or based on some circumstance that could potentially no longer exist. Otherwise, your purpose could end while you are alive and then your life will no longer have a purpose or meaning. For example, some may believe that finding the cure for cancer is their life purpose. Finding the cure for cancer may embody their life purpose and be a major accomplishment along their journey, but their life purpose is bigger and beyond cancer. The same is true of being a doctor or scientist. Nobody is “born to be” a doctor or scientist, but their life purpose may be fulfilled through that profession, at least for some time. Understanding the difference between your life purpose and opportunities that fulfill your life purpose is important because life circumstances and opportunities will change over time. That does not mean, however, that your purpose ceases to exist.
2. Your life purpose is a journey, not a destination.
Your life purpose is not something you can define today, nor is it something you will ever fully know or accomplish during your lifetime. Only in hindsight, once your life has ended, will we have the full picture to be able to look back and say, “This is what that person’s life meant.” If we are unable to know what our life purpose is in advance, however, how do we live in pursuit of fulfilling it? How do we design our lives and make the best choices that will lead to fulfilling our life purpose? The answer is that we work with the pieces of the puzzle that we have and follow life’s clues. The remaining lessons are pieces to the puzzle that we all possess and can use.
3. Play to your strengths.
We are not capable of being all things to all people. You were born with certain natural talents and abilities — use them. Develop your natural talents into skills by studying, exercising and practicing those talents. There is nothing wrong with trying to learn new things, but the likelihood is that you were born with the abilities needed to fulfill your life purpose.
4. Pursue your passions.
For whatever reason, we all feel passionate about certain things in life. In order to live your life purpose, you must become completely immersed in whatever it is, which means it must be something you are passionate about. Otherwise, you will be damned to doing something that ultimately makes you miserable and resentful, in which case it will be impossible to perform at the highest level. Your purpose cannot be something you will resent or resist doing, which leads to my next point.
5. Do what makes you happy.
Living your life purpose will undoubtedly bring you joy and a sense of personal fulfillment. If you are unhappy in your life or if you feel a sense of incompleteness, then you are not living your purpose, plain and simple. Ask a room full of people what the meaning of life is and most answers will come back to happiness. Positive Psychology — the study of happiness or wellbeing — ascribes five elements to wellbeing: positive feelings, engagement, relationships, meaning (or purpose) and accomplishments (commonly referred to by the acronym “PERMA”). Each of these elements is naturally achieved and increased when you commit to living in pursuit of your life purpose.
6. Go where you are needed.
Opportunity is the most revealing clue to living your life purpose. A purpose, after all, must be served. There is a need for you to fill that you must discover. Unfortunately, you do not get to decide where you are most needed. The opportunities you have in life are how the world tells you where you are needed. The trick is making sure that you choose the opportunities that best align with your talents, skills and passions. Opportunity is tricky because often you must instigate opportunity. In other words, some doors require you to knock (and sometimes more than once) before you realize they are open. Nevertheless, whether that door ultimately opens requires someone letting you in — the final decision of which is always beyond your control.
If there is one lesson I have lived repeatedly in my life, it is that there is only one thing you can control: yourself. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much your actions may be based on intended or expected outcomes, you absolutely cannot control the results of your actions. All that we can do in life is put forth our best efforts. That means cultivating your mind, body and spirit to achieve your greatest potential and always acting with the best of intentions. The path to living your purpose is paved with good intentions and continual self-improvement.
8. Embrace your creativity.
We are all capable of producing something that is both original and of value to the world. Those two components — originality and value — make up the definition of creativity. By nature, you are both original and valuable to this world. That means you are walking, talking creativity and it is about time you started embracing that fact. I am not talking about being artistic, which is one form of creativity. I am talking about tapping into the unique lens through which you view the world and the value your perspective can add. Of course, when you focus on cultivating your talents and immerse yourself in what you are passionate about, creativity comes easily.
9. Listen to your muse.
You do not choose your purpose in life any more than you choose your ideas. The creative process has always fascinated me because it feels so unintentional. You do not choose to create something; you are compelled to create something. Whether it is a melody, painting, invention or business idea, the idea just seems to come to you from some magical place that feels equally a part of you as it does separate. It is like looking in a mirror and suddenly your reflection is telling you to say or do something. I call this your muse because it is your source of inspiration.
Get to know your muse. Try to identify what your muse is saying through you, what it is expressing and stands for. Most importantly, when your muse speaks, listen. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had to pull the car over to write down an idea that just came to me. These are important moments. Pay very close attention.