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The idea of ‘finding your purpose’ comes with a heck of a lot of baggage. It puts me in mind of a Tibetan monk, or else my best friend in primary school telling me with steely-eyed determination at age 5 that she was going to be a vet.

Which is probably why as much as I’ve wanted to tackle this subject for a while, I’ve found myself putting it off.

I’ll just start by saying that it’s amazing if you know your purpose in life, and even more impressive if you’ve done so from a young age. But honestly? The vast majority of us don’t. We probably had a few passions as kids, before entering the solemn adult world of responsibilities, mortgages, and petty office politics.

However, there is a vast distinction between being propelled by a clear purpose versus being dragged through life. It’s the difference between fulfilment and a gnawing sense of emptiness, making it an essential pillar of intentional living.

Rather than aiming to uncover the grand, overarching reason for our existence, I believe the real question we should all be asking ourselves is actually quite simple:

How do we ensure we’re doing something meaningful with the limited time that we have?

The Existential Crisis: Why Are We Even Here?

The problem with questioning your ‘purpose’ is that you can go down all sorts of existential rabbit holes until you end up questioning humanity’s very existence.

Why on God’s green Earth were we put on this planet and what are we supposed to DO?

Whilst this is a rather terrifying question, it’s also one of privilege. After all, our ancestors were far too busy worrying about survival to question anything beyond their next meal. As per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we must first fulfil the lower levels like food, shelter, safety, love, belonging and esteem before pursuing self-actualisation (aka realising one’s full potential).

Ironically, the crisis we experience is precisely because of our fortunate first-world vantage point. We have the luxury of choice to do whatever we please, as well as time to ponder our existence and exactly what we should be doing with it.

In reality, no one knows WHY we’re here or WHAT our purpose is. We’re all just spinning around on a small piece of rock and acting as though everything is perfectly normal. Which is actually a pretty comforting thought when you want to put any of your problems into perspective.

But all of this isn’t to diminish the question of purpose. Whilst the inherent meaning of life remains a complete mystery, we all crave a sense of meaning and order.

In short, we all want our lives to have counted for something. Right?

What Do You Want To Do With Your One Precious Life?

Putting feet up and switching on the TV

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed contemplating our existence, but ultimately, we just have to get over the fact that we don’t know. We can either despair and use this as an excuse to indulge in mindless pleasures. Or, we can decide that despite not having all the answers, we want to build a life that feels meaningful to us.

The problem is, along the way, we don’t pay enough attention. We swallow a load of limiting beliefs, get roped into all sorts of things we feel like we ought to do, and our life starts to run on autopilot. Before we know it, we’re vegging out in front of Netflix with a niggling sensation that leaves us asking ‘Is this really it?!’

We act as if we have all the time in the world. But we’d do well to get clear on the fact that we’re all going to die. Every single one of us, and every single person we know – it’s the one given in life. We never know how much time we have left.

Living your life on purpose – aka with intention – is one of the most courageous things you can do. Because honestly? Most people don’t. They drift aimlessly then bemoan that they feel empty and unfulfilled.

And I get it, I really do. Because I’ve been this person.

The truth is, it’s your responsibility and no one is coming to save you. So it’s a good idea to get crystal clear and laser-focused on what you want out of life, ASAP.

How Can We Define ‘Purpose’?

A venn diagram showing the eastern concept of ikigai
The Hedgehog Concept by Jim Collins

Interestingly, both Eastern and Western concepts of purpose can be distilled into three main elements: Passion, Talent, and Value. As Mark Manson succinctly puts it, the sweet spot lies in the middle of:

  • Something you enjoy doing
  • Something you’re good at or have a particular talent for
  • Something that other people value

This framework serves as a useful starting point, but I can immediately spot some exceptions to these rules:

  • An activist may endure many hardships, but is driven by a strong sense of purpose to fight for justice
  • A van lifer finds purpose on the road exploring new places, even if it doesn’t require any exceptional skills
  • A mother who dedicates her time and energy to raising her children is purpose-driven, but she isn’t paid for what she does

To guide your self-discovery, I’ve created some purpose-driven archetypes. Please note that not everyone will fit neatly into these categories. You may identify with a combination of them or possess unique qualities outside of these classifications. They might be tied to your job, but not always. And that’s okay! It’s simply a launch pad to help you recognise where your innate sense of purpose may lie.

Note that I’ve given famous examples for ease, but these archetypes can be found in everyday life, too. For example, a teacher could be a classroom educator, an innovator might be a business owner, and a caretaker could be a loving parent.

Where do you see yourself?

What’s the common thread?

Psychotherapy, founded by Sigmund Freud, and logotherapy, developed by Viktor Frankl, both suggest that when you find something worth dedicating your life to, your suffering takes on a new meaning.

By discovering a purpose that resonates deeply with you, the pain and hardships you endure can become a source of strength and resilience.

Despite these archetypes having distinct differences, I think that there is a common thread to tease out. And that thread is an element of self-sacrifice:

  • The innovator sacrifices stability and personal time as they take risks to push boundaries, working tirelessly and facing numerous setbacks in pursuit of their vision
  • The strategist may sacrifice time, energy, and mental bandwidth as they focus on developing innovative solutions to complex challenges
  • The creator may sacrifice financial stability and career certainty, especially in the early stages of their careers, to pursue their creative passions
  • The explorer sacrifices comfort and stability to venture into uncharted territories, embracing uncertainty, psychological challenges, and a nonconformist lifestyle
  • The champion sacrifices personal time and often endures gruelling training regimens to excel in their sport and achieve success
  • The activist sacrifices personal comfort and financial security to raise awareness for their causes, facing opposition, ridicule, or even danger whilst fighting for their beliefs
  • The teacher sacrifices personal time and resources to share their wisdom and expertise with others, often going the extra mile to provide support and guidance
  • The caretaker selflessly sacrifices their own needs to provide support and care for others, devoting time, energy, and resources to the well-being of those around them

In short, it begs the question: What would you be willing to sacrifice your life for?

7 Questions to Ask Yourself To Get Clearer On Your Purpose

Here are some self-reflective questions to help you get clearer on your purpose. So grab a pen or laptop, make a cup of tea, and take a few minutes to answer these questions carefully and truthfully:

#1 What would you do with your time if money were no object?

That is, once you’ve got the lavish holidays out of your system (there’s only so long you can lie on a beach before you get angsty). What I really mean is, if you had the luxury of time and never had to work again, what would you be filling your days with?

#2 What would your life look like if you felt no fear?

Firstly, we ruled money out of the equation, now what if we ruled out fear? Think about it: a world of unexplored opportunities where you confidently take risks, pursue passions, and step outside your comfort zone. What would it look like to live authentically and embrace your true potential beyond self-doubt?

#3 If you had one year left to live, would you do anything differently?

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Steve Jobs

This poignant question serves as a powerful reminder to live each day with purpose and to avoid complacency. A similar morbid thought to entertain is: If you knew you were going to die in exactly a year’s time, what would you do with that time?

#4 What lights a fire inside you and makes time fall away?

‘Flow’, as conceptualised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to a state of being fully immersed in an activity where time seems to disappear (you know, the stuff that makes you forget to go for a wee for hours on end!). Discovering activities that ignite this passion within us – whether it be art, music, sports, or any other pursuit – can lead to a deeply rewarding and fulfilling life, where hours slip away unnoticed as we engage wholeheartedly in our passions.

#5 What can’t you help getting on your soap box about?

Are you a diehard eco-warrior? A strict vegan? Whatever causes ignite your passion are powerful starting points for uncovering what feels meaningful to you.

#6 What do you want people to say at your funeral?

Another slightly morbid one, but it’s an excellent way to shed light on the impact you wish to have on others and the legacy you hope to leave behind. This question helps you to think about your deepest values and desires.

#7 What are you prepared to suffer for?

What’s your favourite flavour of shit sandwich and does it come with an olive?

Mark Manson

I love Mark Manson’s wry take on this question, which essentially warns us of the harsh reality that all pursuits, no matter how meaningful, come with their own set of difficulties and sacrifices. As such, it’s a good idea to recognise the struggles we are willing to face.

How to find your purpose journal prompts

Why are these questions difficult to answer?

If you’re having a tough time answering these questions, then don’t panic.

It may be symptomatic of people-pleasing tendencies if you’re used to prioritising the status quo and diminishing your own needs. I understand this feeling completely, because I was in this position a few years ago!

I was keeping everyone around me happy in a desperate attempt to keep up the facade of the ‘good girl’. I had a nice house, a stable relationship and a good job. But I felt deeply unfulfilled. And that’s because I was doing the things I thought I should do, but they didn’t hold any real significance to me.

I remember getting to the point of literally writing out all of my own likes and dislikes in an attempt to work out what I genuinely felt! Was my favourite colour even my own favourite colour?!

The thing is, if you’ve never actively lived life on your own terms or you’ve consistently pushed your own interests aside, it’s hard to know what’s authentic anymore. It takes a bit of digging.

That’s why you need to take a crash course in intentional living and figure out your values:

7 Counter-Intuitive Truths About Finding Your Purpose

#1 No one else can tell you what your purpose is

Let’s face it, we’re used to Googling the answer to everything. But I hate to break it to you: finding your purpose is ultimately something only you can work out. You can certainly be guided as per the questions above, but ultimately it’s about taking responsibility for your own life.

I remember being in my late twenties, depressed and terrified that I didn’t have a clue what I wanted out of life. I obsessively searched for the answer in self-help books. And of course, I never found the mystical answer I was looking for.

What I didn’t realise then is that purpose isn’t something to be found – it’s already within you. Finding your purpose is more archaeology than quest. It’s buried under a ton of limiting beliefs, fear, self-doubt and societal pressure, but it’s always there.

#2 It isn’t a stereotypical vision of ‘success’

A fancy house and car

Do you feel like you’re just living a script of your life? That’s because we all have a blueprint – a set of beliefs about how life works – that comes from our friends, family, parents and society. It might say you’ll have this invigorating feeling if you achieve a certain thing. But an extraordinary life is a life on your terms, where you decide how you want to live.

Tony Robbins

Living a life of purpose is hard, because it involves deviating from the script of your life.

We think that life is all about getting our hands on those showy extrinsic rewards – a promotion, a bigger house, a fancy car. But whilst these things may provide temporary satisfaction, they don’t provide a sense of lasting purpose.

True purpose stems from intrinsic motivation, or the internal drive to pursue activities that align with your authentic self – independent of external validation or reward. As Simon Sinek says, always start with ‘why’.

#3 Your purpose is born out of your values

What does it mean to pursue activities that align with your authentic self? Well, your purpose is infinitely stronger when it’s informed by something you believe in. Your values are the foundations upon which you build your life, and will serve as excellent pointers towards finding meaning.

For instance, I identify my values as:

  • Health
  • Creativity
  • Courage
  • Independent thinking

Working on Intentional View encompasses all these things. I talk about how to lead a healthy, intentional lifestyle through the creative medium of writing.

In short, it gives me a strong sense of purpose because it encompasses my values. In fact, it literally gets me out of bed in the morning. I sit and write for an hour or so and it rarely feels like work. When you align your actions with your values, you’ll find endless reserves of energy you never knew you had.

#4 Look backwards to go forwards

Child playing with toy aeroplane

What did I enjoy at various points during my childhood?

  • Booting up Windows 95 so I could lose myself for hours playing The Simms
  • Reading Goosebumps
  • Discovering a love of art in secondary school
  • Writing stories, poetry, and later essays

Now, I could quite easily glean from this that I should be playing video games all day. However, I think it’s useful to try and understand what’s going on beneath the surface.

I wasn’t interested in the architecture of designing beautiful homes on the Simms. Instead, I preferred the actual gameplay. I tenaciously worked out how to get my Simms promoted to the top of their career ladders, build relationships and achieve success.

In a sense, I was already obsessed with the idea of personal development, before I even knew what the phrase meant!

Painting, drawing and writing are all heavily weighted towards the arts, which suggests to me that creative pursuits are where my intrinsic passions lie. To this day, writing a 3,000+ word article is something I’d rather do than go partying or drinking (it’s taken me a long time to reach acceptance that I’m okay with being seriously uncool).

Instead of just looking at what you liked in childhood, try to go under the surface and uncover what that tells you. Did you love climbing trees? Building ridiculously complicated Lego structures? This will give you insights into the kinds of things you naturally find enjoyment and fulfilment in.

#5 You don’t have one over-arching purpose

I don’t think we have one ‘soul mate’, and I certainly don’t think we have one overarching ‘purpose’.

Whilst some people, like my vet friend, have a clear idea of what they want to do from a very young age, understanding what is meaningful to you isn’t always obvious or linear. It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to pivot. It’s okay to evolve. Phew.

In an alternative universe, perhaps I lived as an extremely poor yet contented artist. And in another, I was a bestselling YA fantasy novelist. In truth, there’s loads of things I could have done with my life to achieve fulfilment.

It’s useful to remember that both positive and negative experiences can serve as catalysts for finding deeper meaning and purpose. For instance, a person who lost a limb could dedicate themselves to advocating for the rights and needs of the disabled community, or even developing cutting-edge prosthetics.

In this sense, finding your purpose can go full circle and actually help you to make sense of your life. It becomes your ‘why’ or origin story.

It’s an interesting exercise to write out your life story to help figure out the threads that have brought you to where you are today. What unique perspective do you have?

In my own case, I know that I’d never have started Intentional View if it wasn’t for the experience of hitting rock bottom. Trust that your life story – no matter how unexpected or confusing – is always guiding you in the right direction.

#6 It’s not always going to make you rich and successful

Unlike some of the more aggressive self-help gurus (naming no names), I don’t believe that you have to build an ‘extraordinary’ life. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you, I’d just caution you to understand the ‘why’ behind this motivation.

Is it fuelled by a toxic need to over-achieve or prove yourself?

I think one of the main problems with the phrase ‘find your purpose’ is that we’ve all internalised the message that if our purpose isn’t intensely heroic – if it doesn’t make us ‘special’ in some way – then it’s not worthwhile. But you can find purpose in anything that feels meaningful to you – from backpacking across Europe to coaching the local kids’ cricket team.

Fame and fortune shouldn’t be the goal. The only useful thing that money can buy you is more time to do the things you care about.

You can absolutely live a low-key, intensely purpose-driven life that brings you shed loads of fulfilment. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

#7 You’ll only find it when you stop obsessively ruminating

This is a harsh truth, but one that became clear through my own obsessive pondering and getting stuck in a cycle of overthinking.

If you don’t have a sense of purpose and none of the questions or exercises I’ve suggested have worked for you, then perhaps you simply haven’t found what makes you tick yet.

And that means that you need to actively immerse yourself in new experiences and activities to try and find out what matters to you. You’ll only find this out through curiosity, trial and error, and inspired action.

So get out of your comfort zone and try new things.

'Take Action' signpost

What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

If you’ve got the end, then thank you for sticking with me! This has been a deep article, but I don’t think we make enough space for depth in our lives. In fact, we mostly run around on the surface, barely pausing for air and then surfacing years later wondering where we’re going and what it’s all for. So think about it:

  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • What are you doing that’s meaningful with the limited time that you have?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice your life for?

By taking the time to figure out the foundational stuff – like your values and your purpose – you’ll already be so much further ahead than 99% of people. Then, you can start to intentionally design and craft your life in purpose-driven ways that are incredibly meaningful to you.

And, if you’re still pulling your hair out trying to get clear on your purpose, then take a little comfort in the fact that the journey is all part of the fun, you’re lucky you get to even ask this question, and we’re still all randomly spinning around on a chunk of rock. You’ve got this. 💪

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