Living a life of purpose is a noble pursuit.
For some of us, when we envision living with purpose, it conjures up images of serving others all day every day and our heads hitting the pillow at night with a satisfied haloed glow of good deeds done and heart full of joy at having poured ourselves out in the service of our fellow humans.
For others, we know we probably should be living more purposefully but the concept feels nebulous. We don’t envision ourselves as the Mother Theresa type and aren’t sure, then, how to channel our passions and live a life of purpose when we’re a little less, ya know, saint-like.
Here’s the good news: your purpose is entirely your own.
And - more good news - living with purpose is not exclusively about helping others.
Serving others may be part of your genuine drive in life, but there’s a great deal that we, ourselves, gain from choosing to live with purpose.
Why Living A Life Of Purpose Is Important
A sense of purpose can certainly bring a great deal to others’ lives, but it also allows us to live fulfilling lives and provides us with a sense of clarity, joy, and accomplishment.
In a world full of near-infinite distractions and possibility, clarity of purpose allows us to point the needle on our internal compass to our own True North.
It guides us as we make decisions about what to pursue and - ever more important - what to choose not to pursue.
When we commit to living a life of purpose, we can begin to take action in a direction of our choosing and chart our own unique path through life.
It is only through taking action that we impact the world around us and those who are sure-footed as they pursue their purpose send ripple effects of goodness into the world at large.
Our world is a better place when we live out our truest calling.
This is no small thing. And it’s important - on the road to more intentional living - that we acknowledge if the idea of our joy mattering feels selfish or unworthy.
Because if you struggle with that concept, you do need to wrestle with the whys behind it if you want to make any progress here.
We all matter. Who we are intrinsically and what we bring to the world matters.
We are a portal of incredible magic. Creativity and possibility flows through us. Each of our magic is slightly different and it all matters.
And - not to get too dreary on you - we only get one shot at this. One life to live and all that.
Since our time is finite, shouldn’t we be aiming to make the most of it?
I believe we should.
I also know that - counterintuitively - the clearer we are about our purpose, the more fully we can rest or pursue additional delight when our day’s work is done.
You may be avoiding naming your purpose because it feels like having a singular sense of purpose would be limiting, but the reality is that not knowing, not looking what’s feeling uncomfortable or painful right now is a significant and often hidden limiting factor to your overall satisfaction with life.
It’s like going through life with blinders on and sensing there’s something outside your field of vision but not being able to explore it.
Your self-determination won’t be hijacked by clearly naming your purpose.
So if you’re worried that you don’t have a direction in life or that you are on the wrong path, you may as well explore those feelings and figure out your next steps.
It’s all just information. And information is good and freeing and actually gives you more choices.
Choosing to live with purpose ultimately cuts away the bindings of your current straightjacket of limited visibility. So get out those scissors and cut away.
It’s time to level up and fully step into a life lived with purpose, on purpose.
5 Steps Towards Living A Life Of Purpose
By naming our purpose and choosing to live out our purpose every day, we impact our world positively.
The more we cultivate our self-knowledge and sense of purpose, the more we hone our skills and direct our actions in the direction of our purpose, the more progress and impact we can make in ways both big and small.
To reap the tremendous benefits of living a life of purpose, follow these 5 simple steps…
Step 1: Observe Where Your Passions Naturally Lead You
Unfortunately, the conversation around naming your purpose often starts with one of three actions:
a flagellation of our past self,
frustrated gnashing of teeth around our current situation, or
a desperate search for answers from experts.
We wonder why figuring out what we want in life feels so hard. We’ve been trying to figure ourselves out for forever. Why have we tried so much and given up so many times to only end up right where we started.
We think: "Why don’t I know what I want to do with my life yet? Everyone else seems to be doing so well. What is wrong with me?"
We seek out books about purpose and read them quickly hoping they’ll deliver the answers to us fully formed.
But the problem is that this search usually starts with us trying to escape our current selves or our current circumstances. We seek answers that take us beyond ourselves.
And while exploration and outside resources can help inform and support your journey, the most powerful journey to purpose begins with going deeper into yourself - into what already exists within you.
In the same way that Dorothy had the power to return home to Kansas all along, your truest sense of purpose is already inside of you.
The challenge here is that our truest self is sometimes buried under heaps of “life stuff”.
We’re weighted down by any number of things:
natural tendencies towards compliance or defiance of real or perceived expectations
…the list goes on.
But the answers don’t lie beyond your reach. They’re within you already.
And that’s a great thing because that means - rather than trying to find the needle the haystack of a purpose that is hidden somewhere out in a world of endless possibilities, you - everything that already makes you you - are the haystack.
Digging into your past and present and figuring out what naturally lights you up is a significantly less intimidating haystack.
It’s much smaller and the needle is much bigger.
So take a moment to get quiet and reconnect with your truest self.
Reflect on the following…
In what moments in your life have you felt most deeply content?
What actions are you engaged in when you feel most in flow?
When do the people around you reflect to you that you are most lit up?
Make a list of the experiences that leap to mind. They can be from any point in your life so don’t be afraid to mine your childhood experiences all the way up to the present.
Then move on to step 2.
tep 2: Identify Your Core Values
Now that you have your list of fulfilling experiences from step 1, take a step back and look for patterns.
What do these core memories or hobbies or experiences or activities have in common?
What’s the golden thread of meaning that strings these most important things together?
What core values am I living out in the moments that came to mind?
See - actions that feel genuinely fulfilling and nourishing to our soul usually indicate that, during those moments, we are living out a deep-seated value in some form or fashion.
What we often think is that the action is producing a positive emotional response. Instead, though, those moments of true flow are usually illuminating the unseen element of a core value being expressed through action.
In short, we think we’re experiencing this…
Action > Fulfillment
But it’s more like this…
Core Values > Action That Expresses Our Core Value > Feelings Of Fulfillment
Those flashbulb moments of contentment and fulfillment are times in which those most precious values are being expressed above the average everyday experiences of them.
We’re not fulfilled due to the action alone. We’re fulfilled because the action we chose expresses a value we already hold.
SEE! You did already have the answers inside of you! And you didn’t believe me... 😉
Now, if you’re struggling with finding those shiny, happy moments, you can choose to go a different route.
You can take a negative tack with this too.
Your most unhappy or uncomfortable memories can also point you to where your values are being violated.
So if you find you’re coming up empty on the sunny side, you can make like Eleven and flip to the Upside Down.
Mine some of the darker corners of your life’s story. Ask what core value you hold that was being violated in those moments.
Whether you find them in the good or the difficult, once you’ve identified the core values you hold dearest, you’ll be able to find ways to turn up the volume on your most precious values and live them more fully in your day to day.
Which brings me to your Big Why…
Step 3: Craft Your Life’s Purpose Statement
Crafting a personal mission statement - what I call your Big Why statement - is a tricky business.
There are plenty of personal mission statement generators and quizzes to help you find your purpose. But - spoilers - none of these ready-made solutions are very useful. They are tools but the best tool of all is your own brain and heart working in alignment to create a purpose statement that resonates with you on a gut level.
Whether you want to spend 15 minutes noodling it today or take a deep dive with an online course about purpose, here are some guiding principles to keep in mind as you craft your personal purpose statement.
1. Use Your Core Values And Life Experiences As A Beacon
Use the values you just named to guide your exploration. Let them lead you deeper into yourself and what lies at the root of all that matters most to you.
That’s the rich wellspring from which your most powerful purpose statement will flow.
2. Only Choose Language That Deeply Resonate With You
Your statement should be chock full of language that connects with you deeply.
For example, I worked with someone in my course who loved music and was an accomplished singer, but now worked in a different domain. She was tremendously caring and was most happy when she made life easier for others.
Her Big Why…
I bring harmony to my own life and the life of those around me.
The word harmony held deeper meaning for her and connected with her on a soul level. Look for and play with that kind of language in whatever way it’s most meaningful to you.
3. Write Your Personal Mission Statement As A Single Sentence
One thing that can happen as you create your purpose statement is that you feel tempted to come up with numerous statements. You might start by crafting one for yourself then suddenly you’re creating one for your career, one for your solo entrepreneurship venture, one for your parenting style, one for how you interact with your partner or friends, etc.
Fight this urge.
Creating multiple statements leads to a fragmented sense of self.
Ask yourself what you - your one beautiful self - consistently bring into each domain of your life.
Strive to encompass your whole self with your purpose statement.
Live your one purpose in the different domains of your life and you will be shocked at how quickly you will be able to answer the question: did you live out your purpose in some way today?
Of course, this is the briefest of synopsis of what should be included. I guide my students through this process over two full modules of the Big Why Life course.
There is so much more to say but, for the purposes of brevity, these 4 guiding principles should help set you off in a solid direction.
If you decide you’d like more support as you explore this, I’d love to invite you to check out Big Why Life.
It’s such valuable work. I love helping folks find their purpose. Our whole world is better when more people live in their purpose so, if you would like help, please do check out Big Why Life to learn more.
Step 4: Shift Into Daily Actionable Alignment
Once you’ve crafted your resonant values-based Big Why statement to guide your life, it’s time to shift into action.
Humans are built to create.
When we live life between our ears and don’t move what we desire into action, our purpose statement is not a blessing. It becomes a curse. Our desires fester inside of us and become a source of feelings that range from frustration to despair.
When we see the gap between what we want to do and what we choose to do widening, we can start to feel powerless to close it.
The key to shifting the tide in these moments is action.
And - in the same way that our purpose is small and quiet in the cosmic scheme of things - the actions we take do not require Herculean effort.
As my dear friend Jen Hoffman is so fond of saying: Small hinges swing big doors.
But small hinges must be set into motion in order to effect change.
So choose a few ways that you will live out your purpose daily and/or weekly. Find small ways to start to live in your purpose.
Do it quietly first. Just for yourself. Let it settle into your bones and become part of you. Let it fill you up and light you up. Let it be a secret. When people ask about that glint in your eye, demure.
Meet your purpose-driven actions with the same energy that Elizabeth Gilbert advises we meet our creativity in her inspiring book Big Magic…
Stop treating your creativity like it’s a tired, old, unhappy marriage and start regarding it with the fresh eyes of a passionate lover. Sneak off and have an affair with your most creative self. Lie to everyone about where you’re actually going on your lunch break. Pretend you’re traveling on a business trip when secretly you’re retreating in order to paint or to write poetry. Conceal it from your family and friends, whatever it is you’re up to. Slip away from everyone else at the party and go dance alone with your ideas in the dark. Wake yourself up in the middle of the night in order to be alone with your inspiration, while nobody is watching.
Author & Creator of a Whole Lot of Big Magic
In this dormant period, when the seeds of your purpose are hiding in the darkness and you’re tending to them and watering them with care, be sure to check in with yourself at night.
Ask yourself if you took at least one action today that moved you forward on your path of purpose. And always remember to express gratitude to yourself for doing the damn thing - no matter how small.
Just because your action is small, doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.
Step 5: Empower Others To Support You Living A Life Of Purpose
Once your habit of taking small, meaningful action in the direction of your purpose has begun to take root, once the tiny shoot has broken out into the world and you feel like it’s strong enough to be given a bit more light, share why you’re shifting your habits and taking on new actions.
Start by sharing your purpose with a few trusted folks who are close to you.
Don’t ask for feedback. Ask for support.
And keep taking action.
Then begin to slowly widen the circle. Invite more folks in on your secret.
As you share your Big Why, also get curious about others’ purposes.
You’ll be stunned by the people who start to cross your path. You’ll begin to be drawn to those you can help and who can help you.
After a fashion, you can’t help but feel as though you’ve become a divining rod and you’re being led to rivers where those who share those values are all hanging out and having a grand old time doing work that feels like play and making the world a better place.
Suddenly you’ll be knee-deep in friendships that are so rich and fulfilling and in alignment with you that you’re all tumbling over one another to help and support and lift each other up and further your shared cause.
Keep taking action.
And always remember to express gratitude to every person you can help, to every person who helps you, and to yourself for taking the leap into the unknown and finding your truest calling that lay buried deep within you.
The world is going to be an infinitely more wonderful place because you did.
Ready For Your Next Right Step?
One of steps is most often missed when it comes to living with purpose is the practice of naming your core values.
When our values are clearly stated, it's as though we've set True North on the compass of our life. That magnetic charge pulls the needle of our purpose statement into alignment.
True fulfillment flows from this resonant alignment.
To help you take action on this vital step of the process, I've curated a PDF list of 111 core values you can choose from.
Simply enter your name and email address below and I will send it your way right away.