Purpose and meaning is a big source of stress for some. I know for me I have been searching for it for years. I think in retrospect, that is part of the problem. Purpose and meaning is something that you need to bring to everyday – a bit like joy and gratitude. Purpose is not a destination – it is a verb – it is an action that you can bring to every activity or initiative or job that you undertake. It isn’t an end point. And it changes over ones lifetime – it isn’t static.
For example, part of my life purpose is to help others – that has shown up in different ways over the years. I used to work at kids camps, empowering children through outdoor activity and challenges. I was an occupational therapist, helping those that had had a disability, to improve their functioning in everyday life, I worked in the corporate world and mentored and empowered the younger staff members who reported to me. All of these roles allowed me to mentor and help others so my overall purpose hasn’t changed but I have lived it differently at different times.
Using Simon Sinek’s Start with Why I defined my current mission is to mentor and empower others to believe in themselves so they can live the life of their dreams. That starts by defining what the life of your dreams look like- everyone is going to have a different dream.
Here are a few ways to help define what it looks like to you.
1. The Miracle Question – Assume you go to bed tonight and wake up tomorrow morning and a miracle has occurred overnight. When you wake up in the morning, your life is exactly as you have dreamed. Describe what that day looks like. Start by when you wake up and get out of bed and outline as many details as you can – where are you? Who are you with? When you get dressed in the morning what do you put on? What do you have for breakfast? Where do you go after breakfast? Etc. Use this to add as much detail as you can.
2. Make a List – The life of our dreams if often made up of the very things we love to do. Make a list her of all the things you love to do. They may or may not relate to any job or career or any activity you currently do. For example, I love to speak and teach and read and learn, I like to move –most often outdoors. I love to spend time with those with an open heart. I love to travel and explore other countries and meet people from around the world. As you can see these don’t necessarily make up a job title but many of them are things that I can incorporate in every day, regardless of what job I have. What are the things you love to do? If you are keen on lists you could break your list into three: what do I love to do that I will do even if no one pays me, what skills do I have and what gifts do I have that can serve the world.
3. Tap into your intuition. Meditate on your purpose. At first I found this too daunting and full of pressure. So I tried another route. Instead of meditating and expecting my purpose to come to me, I started to ask a different question – I started to ask what one thing I could do today to move towards living my purpose. This was much less daunting. I found less pressure in the question and it seemed like the answer came more readily to me.
Tapping into our intuition is something we don’t often speak about in Western society. We might hear business leaders say they “had a gut feeling” about something or that they “felt” it was the only way to go. It has only been recently when business leaders are starting to talk more openly about tapping into their intuition for guidance. Recently, I heard Oprah and John Mackey co-CEO Whole Foods talking about it which helps bring it more to the mainstream.
The last thing I would say is find something fun to do. Joy, laughter and a positive mindset are all good places to start. In fact, if you go do something fun before you try any of these activities, not only will it be more enjoyable, but it will shift your thinking. Positivity shifts the area of the brain that is functioning to the neocortex – it is the area of the brain that allows for higher level executive functioning – that means a greater ability to problem solve and ability to make connections between things in a more creative way.
So my advice would be this – go do something fun and then ask yourself a few questions – try out one or more of these exercises and see how you can apply what you learned to what you are already doing today.