As a counselor, the biggest question I get asked is, “How do I find my purpose?” This is always such a hard question to answer, because our purpose ultimately comes from what we take away from our experiences and aspirations, and is incredibly personal. Plus, I too struggle with defining my purpose and with finding ways to remain truthful to it.
The truth is, finding your true purpose is just step one of the process. You then have to create goals that define your focus, create an intentional routine that will help you achieve these goals, and then continuously check-in with yourself to make sure you are aligned with your goals and purpose. A lot of us (myself included) get really caught up in creating goals and placing focus on the wrong things.
Let me explain.
Four years ago, I was a senior in undergrad studying medicine and biology. I was part of a sorority, had a position of leadership in a couple clubs, and had a pretty great social life. However, I was completely and utterly detached from myself. There were many times where I would be in tears wondering how I felt so alone, unhappy, and unlike myself. When a problem would occur, I would ask myself, “What would Taylor do?” just constantly trying to get back in touch with the girl I once was.
My purpose in life has always been to help others. I have felt this since I was just a gal in diapers. However, as I got older my why had become clouded with wants and desires. This caused me to create goals that weren’t truly aligned with my purpose, and were more about pleasing others and my superficial self rather than focusing on what I actually wanted just for me.
For instance, I had zero interest in being a doctor. I just knew that doctors made a lot of money, and I would be financially taken care of. Also, no hate on the people in my life at this time, but I was surrounding myself with people who were not at all aligned with who I was. I kept them close simply to check the box of having a social life. I was only going after outward goals.
Outward vs. Inward Goals
There are two types of goals that we aspire to achieve, and they are outward and inward goals. You can think of them as external and internal goals.
Outward goals are those that are more about other people rather than yourself. Examples of outward goals are making more money, growing your audience, and having nice things. Outward goals will ultimately bring you pleasure, but only for a short period of time, and if these are the only types of goals you are achieving you will wind up feeling empty, because they really only serve others.
Inward goals are rooted in what you actually want and need for you. They serve your core self, and are the goals that result in long term fulfillment.
I want to be clear for a second and say that outward goals are ok, but they must be rooted with an inward goal. For instance, I do want to have a lot of money one day, but that’s rooted in the goal of caring and providing for my family (a core value.)
At the time of my undergrad career, I only had outward goals, and had completely lost myself and my true purpose in life. So I embarked on a journey to infuse my life with purpose and to start focusing on inward goals rather than outward.
I still use these practices each and every day to continue to fill my life with purpose, and I pass this onto my clients who have often known their purpose all along, but have just lost their way, just as I had.
Where to Start: Finding Your Life’s Purpose
The best way to get in touch with your purpose is to re-discover your why. So, I want to do a little experiment with you. These are the exact questions I use with clients, and were the questions I asked myself. The answers to these questions will bring you back to your why (your purpose) and will help you establish inward goals.
Purpose Experiment: How to Find Your WHY
First, I want you to imagine that you are 90 years old and on your deathbed. You start to look back on your life. Your beautiful, successful, and fulfilling life. This is a life that feels just as beautiful on the inside as it looks.
- What fired you up in life? What made you the happiest?
- How would the people closest to you have described you?
- Why do you think you were born?
- In your current life, how to you feel you are lining up to this purpose? How are you falling short?
- What can you do now to help you align with your purpose?
It’s so important that you are truly honest in answering these questions. It can be scary to answer how you are falling short, and then come up with actions to help you get aligned with your purpose. Trust me, I know. When I took a hard look at my life that day I realized I had to walk away from a career that I thought I wanted, and friends I thought I needed in order to get back to that why and start living my truth.
Practices to Infuse your life with purpose
I used to practice this daily, and I just started it back up again. This is the best way to self-assess and check in on your focus and goals.
For me, I like to do a mix of freestyle writing, and intentional writing. I spend 3-4 minutes writing everything I think and feel in that moment in order to completely clear my head of any negativity I may have. Then I write about what I did that day, what I could have done differently, and what I will do moving forward.
Journaling has been the best way to track my goals! I am able to write about where I am in accomplishing my goal, steps I can take to accomplish them, and what I can be doing better.
Download my Journal template so you can start tracking your goals, too!
- Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude everyday has an insane amount of benefits, but when it comes down to purpose, it reminds you of your why. I like to end each day with a list of what I’m grateful for.
Now if you are in a place where coming up with a list seems daunting- start with just three things. They can be small, like, my soup was the perfect temperature. Then slowly you will naturally start coming up with more reasons as you will be in the mindset of looking for moments of gratitude throughout your day.
Then I read my list each morning to immediately thrust myself into a headspace of positivity and gratitude.
- Practice self-awareness and self-love
In order to live out your purpose you must have a deep understanding of who you are. You need to know your strengths, weaknesses, triggers, and desires. There are so many ways of practicing self-awareness and self-love, but the two that I find most helpful are, spending quality time alone, and practicing mindfulness.
When we spend time alone and allow ourselves to just be without any influence from anything or anyone else we are able to learn what we truly want and need. Examine what you do in these moments with yourself and then when you are surrounded by others you can ask yourself, “Would I do this if it were just me?” “Would I think this was important?”
Also, spending time alone is a great way to assess how happy and connected you are with yourself. If spending time alone is just about the worst thing you can imagine then you might need to do some self assessment and build up the self love muscle. Practice affirmations, positive thinking, and self-care in order to start reconnecting with yourself.
Mindfulness is simply the art of being present. When you practice being present and attentive in the moment you are better able to process your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Examine what upsets you, what energizes you, and how you behave. You will quickly learn what you need to avoid and what you need to seek more of.
- Seek out relationships with people who challenge you
You are the reflection of who you surround yourself with. This is where the importance of self-awareness comes in. You need to be in touch with your strengths and your weaknesses so that you can surround yourself with people who balance out your weaknesses and support your strengths. In addition, you need to take initiative and surround yourself with people who are positive, strong, and accomplishing the things that you aspire to have.
These people will not only change your whole outlook on life, but they will push you like no one else. It can be scary to surround yourself with people who are better than you at something, but here’s the thing, if you are the smartest, most successful, and most creative person in the room- you’re in the wrong room.
Put yourself out there and network with people who are living a life that is aligned with your purpose and life goals. Ask them questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with them. Offer them advice and seek to learn from them. You’ll quickly learn that what you seek you gain.
- Challenge yourself to grow
I like to see our comfort zones as limitless. They can expand and shift. There is no limit to what you can do. Every time you master something, appreciate it, and then move onto something else. Get completely comfortable being the newbie and a student, and make life all about expanding your comfort zone.
- Give before you receive
Every time you reach out to someone for help- try and offer them something in return. Explain what you can do for them. Get in the practice of selling yourself and knowing your worth. There is always something to be gained. When you practice giving to others- you practice confidence, and you practice gratitude. You will see that your relationships will be strengthened and so will your self-esteem.
- Decide exactly what it is that you care about and let everything else go
One of my favorite books is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson. Manson discusses the importance of knowing what it is that you care about, and decide to go all in on those things, while also practicing letting go of everything else.
There will always be stress, mistakes, and challenges, but when these hardships are the result of chasing your dreams then you won’t care as much- you will view them simply as a part of the journey.
The other side of this is letting go of all other stress that you may experience. It’s a muscle that you have to work on for sure, but here are a few questions you can ask yourself to see if it’s worth your time. “Is this aligned with my goals?” “Have I been through something like this before?” “What did I do then to help me overcome this?” These questions not only help you assess the importance of the challenge, but will also help you find solutions to the problem rather than dwelling on what doesn’t matter.
- Examine your mistakes and then let them go
We are all human. We are bound to make mistakes and fail along the way. The important thing is to see these setbacks as lessons to be learned and to not judge yourself too harshly.
For me, the hardest thing to do is to be vulnerable, whether it’s with others, or just with myself. However, it’s 100% necessary to put yourself out there if you want to live a life full of success and purpose.
When we make mistakes or fail the best practice to follow would be to objectively look at the role you played. What could you have done differently? What can you do in this moment to improve the situation? What’s next? After analyzing your role and what’s next you accept that the mistake or failure happened and then forgive yourself.
When we hold onto shame and guilt we remain stuck- unable to grow and change. If you really want to feel better about the situation at hand you have to move forward. Take what you have learned, wear your wounds proudly, and know that you will not be making that mistake again.
The thing about failure is that it’s universal. There is not one single person that has lived a full life that has never made a mistake or experienced failure. Failure is an indication that you put yourself out there. When you look at someone you admire who is doing exactly what you want to be doing, know that person is where they are at simply because they have failed more times than you have.
Your life is what you make it. If you take anything away from this post, let it be that action is the answer. If you want purpose, happiness, love, etc then actively start seeking it. Use these practices as a launch point and then never stop working on you. Dream. Try. Fail. Learn. Grow. Then do it all again. This is where your purpose lies. This is where your inward goals will be met. This is where that fulfilling life that you dream of awaits.