How to find your purpose and why you don’t have to

Introduction – how to find your purpose…or maybe just contentment

I’ll be honest, this idea of finding my purpose appeals to me. Maybe it’s the dreamer in me, maybe the altruist, maybe it speaks more to the spiritual side of me, or maybe it’s just my Strategic mindedness strength craving meaning and sense-making in the bigger scheme of things. Anyway, my point here is that I do quite like the idea. But it doesn’t appeal to everyone. For some it’s just too esoteric, too difficult to tie down, too big, too out there. And you know what, that’s ok. In today’s blog, I want to give you some tips on how to find your purpose, if that’s what you’d like to do. And I also want to give you some practical tips on how to live a more contented, happier life, even if the idea of finding your purpose isn’t your thing. The first part of today’s blog, then, is for purpose-seekers and the second for contentment-seekers and also it’s ok to be both. Both will help you be happier and live your life more authentically, so what’s not to like?

By the way, massive thanks to my colleague Steph Tranter for all her input on this blog, Steph’s coaching often focuses on this topic so I was delighted to be able to capture many of her many many thoughts when we chatted shortly before I recorded this podcast.


Seeking purpose? Consider these things first…

First then, if you’re a purpose-seeker and you’re keen to work out how you might find it, there’s four things that you need to know and/or think about upfront…

Purpose is often context-dependent

  1. Your purpose may well depend on your context – most often, people are more open to asking questions about their purpose when they’ve hit a particular life stage. Maybe between school/college and getting a job, or when they become a parent for the first time, or when their kids leave home, when they lose a loved one, when they hit retirement or really at any other point which leads them to ask the question why? What am I for? Or, Am I doing what I love? And we’ll come back to some more of those questions later on, because asking yourself questions are what will get you closer to purpose.

You may not need a life purpose, just a purpose for right now

  1. You may not find or need to find a life purpose…purpose can change over time and by life stage. Because your context changes, your purpose can change with it – the thing that you really focused all of your energies on for a certain part of your life, like for example, being the best possible parent to your kids, will likely shift or need less effort or attention when you become less of an influence day-to-day in their lives. So a helpful way to think about purpose might be to think about what is your purpose right now? In your current context? Rather than searching for a whole life version.

And why are you seeking purpose again?

  1. If you’re seeking purpose, it’s probably worth asking yourself why you’re seeking purpose. Is it because you feel there’s something missing in your life? That something isn’t quite aligned? That you could or should be doing more? That you feel you could be happier than you are right now? Each of these possibilities may mean that you need to take a slightly different tack in looking for your purpose. So be clear on your ‘why’ before enquiring of yourself about your purpose. It may be that you end up in a place where you decide that being you fully may be enough of a purpose – living your life in all the entirety of who you are – with honesty, passion, authenticity and in alignment with your values. And we’ll come back to that when we explore how to find contentment.

Purpose or direction…you decide

  1. If the word purpose doesn’t work for you, maybe the word direction will – it’s less absolute, but it still gives a clear indication of the way you’re going without there being a sense of destination in there, or falling short of getting there. If you have a direction, you know which way you’re going. So if that word fits better for you, use it.

OK, so once you’ve worked through those first things, let’s get to some questions which may get you closer to finding your purpose (or your direction).  My advice is to listen to the questions and jot down the ones that really speak to you, for whatever reason.

Questions for purpose-seekers I: Mark Manson

The first three are from occasionally potty-mouthed author Mark Manson.

What can I do with my time that is important? – this question helps you get under the skin of the word ‘important’ and what that means for you.

How am I going to save the world? – how can you make a difference, what problem do you care about that’s bigger than you and that will help the planet in some way?

What am I scared of doing? – whatever it is that you are scared of doing and so haven’t done yet might point towards your purpose. Look back for my podcast on Self-sabotage at Season 4, episode 2 if you want to know more about the reasons why you might not have gone there…yet!

Questions for purpose-seekers II: Noeline Kirabo

Next up are two questions from TED Talker Noeline Kirabo – when she posed them, they related to uncovering your passion and turning that passion into a career but for me, they also work well for if you want to explore your purpose or direction:

What truly makes me happy or gives me a deep sense of fulfilment?

If I had all the money in the world, what would I spend my time doing? Steph recommends an extra question to supplement it – write down all the things that you’ve ever imagined you’d want to do if you had all the money in the world (like all the material things and experiencey things) and that you’ve got all of that and done all of that too. Then what?

Questions for purpose-seekers III: Steve Jobs

One from Steve Jobs now, a question that he reportedly looked in the mirror and asked himself every day…

If this was the last day of my life, would I feel good about what I’m doing today?

Jobs always said that if he answered no to this question too many days in a row, he needed to think whether he was out of alignment with his purpose and do something about it.

Questions for purpose-seekers IV: Paul and Steph

These last 2 questions are from me and Steph, which we worked up together:

What have you lost along the way from childhood to now, what were the things that were important to you then? – ask yourself whether there’s anything more you can gain from those things that you’ve left behind and whether they could point you back to your purpose or direction?  My sister was always very clear, from a really young age, that she wanted to save the world by protecting and helping nature, in a direct, hands-on way. And I was always clear that I wanted to save the world by building businesses that would have broad reach and so would make more impact than I could achieve on my own. And we both followed those paths. Steph tells me that when she was a kid, she couldn’t understand why people would wait until they retired to get to do the things they loved, so as a pre-teen, she decided to retire at 30. And while she didn’t actually retire at 30, soon after she left corporate life to get paid for doing what she loves and she’s still doing that today.

What’s happened to you in your life that’s made a big impact on you and that you want to bring to others or that you want to help others to avoid/deal with? – for many people, something profound may have happened to them at some point in their lives that sets alight something inside them that they want to take to the world in some way…it may be a traumatic event or it may be a euphoric lightbulb moment. Both can create deep insights and a desire to want to create change.

Final tips – no judgement and find a purpose expert

A last tip on finding your purpose is to try and take any judgement out of the insights you reach on what you truly want. When you’re true to your feelings and values and passions, whatever they are, you’ll get closer to discovering your true purpose.

Steph’s last tip is to find people who are clear on their purpose and ask them ‘how did you get to that?’ as that will likely throw up insights that you may not get to on your own.

Contentment-seekers read on – greater contentment awaits

OK, moving along to a focus on the contentment-seekers out there who aren’t necessarily looking to answer the big question about purpose or even direction. The question here is (and actually this is also true for purpose-seekers), how can you be content right now, purpose or otherwise? I have three tips and 2 questions for you on this…

Ask the wheel of life how you can be more contented

  1. My first tip is to enquire of the wheel of life as to where you could get more contentment right now. If you’re not familiar with the wheel of life exercise, just give it a Google and it will come up straight away. Essentially, this is an activity where you grade your current contentment in various aspects of your life. Depending on the version you find, categories typically include: family, work, friends or social life, personal growth, partner, money, health, you get the picture. In fact, you can make your own one. Then, you give yourself a score for your current level of contentment or satisfaction with each area. And to get to a greater contentment, reflect on those areas where you scored yourself lower and decide what you’d like to do about them.

Live by your values…always

  1. Live in a way that’s aligned with your values – Check out my podcast at Season 4, episode 5 – How to find your values and why it matters – to get more on this, but living in a way that’s aligned with your values should always give you a sense of reassurance that you’re broadly going in the right direction, and that you can feel contented with that at least. It means that you’re living your life in a way that’s true to you and what you believe and that should bring a sense of peace and satisfaction.

Remember, your life IS in your control

  1. This is kind of a tip and kind of a reminder but it’s important if you feel some discontentment or dissatisfaction with how things are for you right now: just know that your life IS in your control – there are many things you can change (not everything, maybe 50% is outside of our control but that gives us a good chunk of our lives where we have control and choices. There will be consequences for those choices but they are in your control.

Questions for contentment-seekers

Lastly, I said I had two questions to get to greater contentment. One comes from a coaching friend of mine who does a lot of walking coaching and he often poses this question at the start of a coaching walk or at the foot of hill before the climb: What do you want your life to be like?

My second and last question for today comes from Steph and it’s What would bring you peace?

Keep asking the questions and you’ll find your way

My final piece of advice is to keep asking the questions, you don’t need to know the answers right now and they will change over time, but keep asking the questions. For now, live in alignment with your values and be doing things that you feel good about and that go some way to answering some of the questions that you’ve asked and you’ll be a good way along the path.

And don’t forget Ikigai!

For more on this subject, one more of my podcasts you could check out is on why you need Ikigai if you want to live longer – a lot of that podcast relates to purpose and passions and how to align them practically with your life. That podcast is at Season 6, episode 6. Thanks for listening, I hope you enjoyed. If you did, please subscribe and please share with anyone who you think might find today’s podcast useful.  Till next time, stay strong.