For me, the start of a new year always brings with it a renewed longing to find my life’s purpose. I think it’s one of those things we all ask ourselves from time to time…Am I doing something that really matters? Each of us would like to share our gifts with the world in a way that fosters joy and a sense of accomplishment.
This concept goes by many names: a purpose, a calling, one’s passion, or your life path. This time of year typically nudges us to come up with answers for two persistent questions:
What is your purpose?
How well are you living it?
In our busy world of almost unlimited choices, how do you find a clear direction for where you’re meant to be? This topic touches the hearts and minds of most people over the course of their lives. Some find a path through religion or their spiritual journeys. Others look for it in education and self-help books. Many take cues from their families or communities, while some seek a therapist’s help in order to find out what’s right for them.
Any of these places can shine a light onto the journey that lies before us…but only you can make the choice to take the first step.
Did you actually choose the path you’re on, or have you found yourself traveling there by default?
When is the last time you slowed down and took the time to check in with your inner compass?
No one is given a complete map of where they’re headed in life. That’s part of what we’re all creating on our day-by-day, choice-by-choice journey. However, we all have the ability to sense whether each step we take is moving us closer to or further away from where we’d like to be.
Let’s explore what this process looks like, and give you some questions for deciding how to choose your next heading.
We all have things that matter to us, and they’re going to be unique and significant to our own lives. Maybe it’s a social or community issue, which fuels your desire to seek change. Perhaps it’s a deeper sense of ethical living that you strive to follow.
What I’m talking about here are your core values, your deepest held principles…the things that move you. For me, I’m passionate about working toward a world of kindness, where all people can connect through their shared humanity, rather than hold themselves at arms length because of perceived differences.
Spend some time thinking about what issues rouse your emotions, or what principles you seek to keep alive through your thoughts and actions.
Take a moment to glance over your calendar and/or task list. How is your time spent? Which areas of life receive your priority? The commitments you keep are examples of your service to the people and causes that matter in your life.
Consider where the bulk of your energy is flowing—to what activities and which people? The places where we spend the most time (whether by choice or through default) reveal our priorities.
When I first evaluated my weekly calendar, my commitments included the professional duties of my job, caring for my family, and—overwhelmingly—life’s daily minutia. Other areas that didn’t see as much attention included my community, a spiritual practice, personal growth, and recreation.
The focus of your attention and energy will ultimately reveal those parts of your life where you are in service.
Pause for a minute and recall your responses to the last two questions. Write them down if you can, to clarify these concepts in your mind.
What has meaning for you?
Where do you serve?
Now take a few moments to go deeper, through some additional inquiry:
Don’t expect to find answers right away…it can be hard to take a close look at our lives and acknowledge if we’re not living in accord with our ideals. What’s important is to recognize those areas where there is a tiny bit of overlap…as well as how you feel during those times.
Returning to these questions by asking them over weeks, or even months, can help clarify ways in which you might be able to move closer to your life’s purpose. It’s a method of determining an inner sense of what you’re supposed to be doing, and choosing to walk that path.
For most of my adult years, I labored under the idea that my life would only be complete if I could find and live my greater calling. I yearned for, and expected, it to drop out of the blue and hit me like a tidal wave…leaving me awash with energy, enthusiasm and a clear direction.
Along my journey, however, I’m discovering that purpose isn’t a destination or a clearly identified spot on a map. Instead, I’ve come to view it as a process of discovery, which is revealed slowly over time, in little steps that are influenced by the people and places around us.
Rather than knowing for sure what I’m meant to do with my life, I can only discern if my choices and actions are bringing me closer or farther away from my passion. So I invite you to consider surrendering your need to understand the larger framework of your life. Focus only on observing whether you are moving towards or away from a sense of joy and meaning in your everyday experience.
Doing so involves exploring unfamiliar paths, as you search for something that resonates with your values and priorities. Here is a series of questions for deciding if you’re willing to walk into the unknown with faith in your future…
I’m aware this seems like a tall order—a feat requiring Zen-like patience and perseverance. For many years, I resisted the idea that my calling might find me. I devoted all my attention and energy to relentlessly hunting it down, ticking off what didn’t work in a frantic process of elimination, while hoping to stumble across my passion like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
I spent years in anguish wondering what was wrong with me—why didn’t I just know what I was meant to do? My only spiritual goal was to uncover my life’s purpose, and thereby achieve some imagined state of bliss.
And how stressful is that? To be constantly dreaming of a future filled with meaning, while ignoring the truth of our experience in the present moment.
As Eckhart Tolle said so profoundly:
“Your life’s inner purpose is primary, and your inner purpose is to awaken, to be conscious. In whatever you do, your state of consciousness is the primary factor.”
Perhaps your purpose is simply to be aware of the life you have—as it is now and as you continually create it with every choice and action.
I invite you to set aside 15-20 minutes for the following exercise. Bring with you an open mind and a compassionate heart. Surrender the idea of needing to have all the answers or see the bigger picture. Just trust, and be present to your own truth.
It could be a specific cause, a person or group, or a value you want to emulate. These are the things you’re willing to speak up for, that you believe hold importance for a life well-lived.
If you’re struggling with the first step, try using your imagination…
What if you found a magic wand that would smooth over the rough edges of some aspect of yourself, help disadvantaged members of society, or create a better world for us all to live in? The wand’s magic is only powerful enough for a single focus, and only you will know how you choose to use it. Where would you direct its transformative properties?
How do you feel about what you discover?
Perhaps through the work you do, the people whose lives you touch, or how you spend the free minutes of your day. Keep this Small Step tiny…a letter to the editor, a kindness for a stranger, a hobby that brings you joy.
Is this a feeling you’d like to cultivate or eliminate?
Our desires and passions aren’t constant, so keep checking in to see if the path you’re traveling still feels deliberately chosen and true to your Authentic Self. If these small daily actions fuel your spirit, then pursuing them is what will give your life purpose and meaning.
While we sometimes convince ourselves otherwise, no one in this world can tell you what to do, where to go, or how to get there. But with so many available choices, we can easily become overwhelmed while making even small decisions.
However, most of the time when someone finds their true purpose, they will admit it’s nothing like what they expected or planned for. Our life’s calling is almost always found by living our lives NOW—deciding in each moment to move towards love, joy, and passion.
So spend some time tuning in to what matters to you, what really moves your soul. Then find one small way to experience the impact of embodying your values, and see what changes.
That’s what I’m doing here each week—reflecting on the qualities I wish to cultivate in my life, as well as sharing my ongoing awareness and questions with others.
We can all choose to live each day deliberately and with enthusiasm. I hope you’ll be as surprised as I was at how easily and effortlessly your daily choices will help your passion find you.