Do you feel stagnant? Like there’s something else you should be doing with your time here on Earth? Are you contemplating your purpose in life and trying to figure out what your passions are?
Welcome, human. You are among friends.
Dr. Robert J. Vallerand, author of The Psychology of Passion: A Dualistic Model, states that the discovery of our life’s passion is an element of personal identity. Passion is more than a mere interest in something; it is an essence that gives our lives meaning.
In other words, discovering our passion is the same thing as figuring out the meaning of life. So, if we don’t find that one thing we are put on Earth to do, we may feel lost and unsure throughout our existence. No pressure or anything.
Purpose Is a Path, Not a Destination
Doesn’t this all seem overly dramatic? Do you really think that we’re all put on this planet for a particular purpose, and if we don’t fulfill our purpose, our lives are a big joke? No way. It’s probably just our gremlins hitting the sauce too hard.
The thing about the whole discovering our purpose in life thing is that the more we hunt for it, the more obscure it becomes. The more we attempt to clearly define what it is we are supposed to do, the more we blur the future.
See, our purpose isn’t a final destination, it’s a path. It’s not an Emerald City but a Yellow Brick Road. It’s not the pot o’ gold, it’s the rainbow.
When we make our purpose something tangible to attain, we turn it into something we can grasp. And grasp we do.
Purpose Aligns Us With Our Path
Dr. Vallerand goes on to say that:
…harmonious passion is rooted in a secure sense of self and aligned with the integrated self, thereby providing access to adaptive self-process, including flexibility and an openness to experience the world in a non-defensive and mindful manner.
Harmonious passion refers to a type of passion that is rooted in true love, joy and all the warm fuzzy stuff. This is different than obsessive passion, which stems from a place of emotional dependence and a need for others’ approval. (Check out Scott Barry Kaufman’s article on Psychology Today for more details.)
Some words to note in that quote: secure, aligned, adaptive, flexibility, openness, non-defensive and mindful.
Don’t these words sound familiar? As if they were repeated frequently by an old prince-turned-enlightened-leader?
I’m referring to Siddhārtha Gautama, also known as Gautama Buddha or just Buddha.
Buddhism teaches meditation as a means to open our minds, let go of the illusion of security, root ourselves in love and live a life of mindfulness. And as Bodhipaksa, a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, reminds us: Mindfulness requires us to be “purposefully aware” of our thoughts and actions. It’s more than just observing, it’s being actively involved in the observation (without attaching, of course, but that’s another conversation for another day).
How to Discover Your Purpose in Life
Warning: This may feel lame and ungratifying.
Just like there’s no magic formula for losing weight, eating healthy or learning new skills, there’s no delicious elixir to sip and *poof* yourself into the life of your dreams.
To uncover your purpose in life, your true passions, the things you should be focusing your limited time on, you simply need to dig deep and think about what’s most important to you.
There are two methods I like to teach. I call them:
- The Five-Whys Method
- The Five Most Important Things List
(I don’t know why they’re both “fives,” it just happened that way…or did it?)
Five-Whys is derived from a root cause analysis method I learned way back in engineering school, and Five Most Important Things is something my mom told me to do when I was stressed out one day. We did a Five-Whys exercise in 7 Mistakes You Make When Starting A New Diet and made a Five Most Important Things List in Best Advice When You’re Stressed Out Of Your Mind. Here’s a basic rundown for each:
The Five-Whys Method
For this one, get comfy and prepare yourself for some deep thinking. Go slow, this isn’t a race.
- State your goal or dream or whatever it is that you’re currently seeking.
- Ask yourself why that is important to you. Give a clear answer.
- Take your answer and ask yourself why that is important to you.
- Take that answer and ask yourself why that is important to you.
- Do it again.
- One more time.
Did you hit bedrock? Yes? Then your last answer is a good indicator of your true purpose. No? Go through another set of whys. Continue asking why until you can’t dig any deeper.
The Five Most Important Things List
To use the list method:
- Get out a piece of paper and a pencil. No, you may not use your phone, computer or tablet. You need to feel yourself writing this stuff out.
- Make a list of the five most important things in your life as of now. Don’t worry about the order, just jot down your priorities.
- Next, rank each item relative to the others. Write 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 next to each item.
- Evaluate your list. Ask yourself:
- Does this list truly reflect what’s most important to me right now?
- Is this list too general?
- Is this list too specific?
- Does this list reflect what I value or what other people think I should value?
- Modify your list to more closely match what’s truly important to you.
Be honest. There’s no sense in lying to yourself or embellishing. It’s just you and your list. Make it authentic.
Understand that this list is a constant work in progress. It is never complete, and it will always change. For now, what you wrote is a good starting point to orient your thinking and begin aligning your life along the path of your true purpose.
You went through a couple exercises, figured out what’s most important to you and now you’re ready to take action. Right? Wrong. Just hold tight there, my ambitious little bee.
I’m not gonna lie. You didn’t really discover your purpose in life. You certainly got a jump start and have a good launching pad, but you didn’t uncover the fundamental truth of your innermost being or anything like that.
Do you feel tricked? Sorry. But there’s still lots more work you have to do. This is just the beginning.
The next steps are to align your thoughts with what’s truly important to you, then align your actions with your thoughts.
Discovering your purpose in life isn’t just about sitting around making lists – it’s also about strategic thinking and doing. In upcoming articles, we’ll discuss the next steps and how to continue your journey of self-discovery.
Enter your email address and receive inspiration right to your inbox.
Please check your email and click on the confirmation link to complete your subscription.