Someone once said that there are two truly important days in our life: the day we are born and the day we discover what we were born for. That “what we were born for” could also be described as our purpose in this life. It’s something a great many people search for over a span of some years… even decades… and some will tell you they’ve never figured out what their purpose is. I’d like to make a few observations about how to discover your purpose and how to know you’re living it, even if you weren’t even aware you’d discovered it.
First, let’s talk about finding it: you might never. It’s not out there, somewhere in the world, waiting for you to find it. It’s inside you. It’s created by some arcane mixture of your personality, your life’s experience, your knowledge, your likes, dislikes, values and more. It flows from within the conglomeration that is YOU. The discovery isn’t so much of a discovery as an epiphany. It’s that light bulb moment when you realize, however sharply, what you have a drive to do deep down in your soul.
Second, you may not ever have that moment. I have to believe that there are tens of thousands of people living their purpose every day without ever having consciously identified that purpose. If that’s you, how can you tell that you’re living your purpose without having first identified it? Here are a few thoughts on indicators you might identify or experience that will let you know.
Serendipity: Do you often find yourself thinking how awesome it is that circumstances fell into perfect sequence to allow something to happen that was just what you or someone you’re trying to help needed to have happen? Serendipitous circumstance is the result of effort, timing and intent. It’s what happens when you pursue a goal with motivation and positive outlook and then recognize things that happen around you that help or impact you in a positive fashion. No matter how circumstantial serendipity may seem, it’s not pure circumstance. It’s the result of your work fitting into surrounding circumstance. The absence of either one can slow you down, but not stop you. The presence of both is the result of your motivated pursuit of a given goal.
Staying true to you: How often, as you go about your day to day life and work, do you feel like you are being challenged in staying true to your own sense of values and beliefs? If the answer is, “all the time,” then that’s another indicator that you are living your purpose. Since our purpose in life is partially driven by our basic value system, it only makes sense that if we’re living our purpose then our values should rarely be challenged. We might be challenged to stay true to them, but we should never feel like they’re being questioned as to validity. So if you’re easily staying true to your value system, it’s another good sign you’re living your purpose.
Passion: Are you one of those people who wakes up in the morning just hating the daylight, wanting to pull the covers up over your head and ignore the world? Or are you one of the people who wakes up, smiles, appreciates the new day and immediately starts thinking about everything you’re going to accomplish? If you’re that second one, then it’s most likely you’re living your life with a passion for what you do. If you truly love doing what you do day to day then it’s another sign that you’re likely living your purpose.
Learning from Challenges: This is a big one. No matter how fantastic it is to be living your purpose, and even if you aren’t aware that you are, when we’re faced with challenges there’s another reality: Sometimes we overcome the challenge; we beat it. Sometimes, though, the challenge beats us. It defeats our purpose in the moment and we have to step back, regroup, gather our wits and motivation and start again. Those folks who are living their purpose never stop this process. Success, defeat, win, lose… it’s all the same to them. They never lose… they simply learn how something won’t work given that particular set of circumstances. It’s not defeat. It’s not failure. It’s a learning experience that will increase their chance of success the next time they try… which is almost always immediately.
Seeing results: One of the coolest experiences you can ever have is seeing the fruits of your labors… in totally unexpected ways at totally unexpected times. These results – what happens when you work hard toward a goal and everything falls into place – are a sure indicator that your intent, desire and effort have aligned. When so many things align and what happens is exactly what you’ve been working toward, it’s a sure sign your purpose is being fulfilled.
Those close to you: Have you noticed any difference in the people you surround yourself with? Whether they are friends, family, work associates… whatever the relationship, have you noticed a change in the type of person you’ve grown closer to? They are the folks you’ve invited in. You’ve attracted them by your actions, your words, your motivation, your accomplishments and, sometimes, how you’ve handled adversity. They are people who share your values, desires and drive. They feed off your energy just like you do theirs, and the more positive and supportive they are, the more it’s safe to assume that you’re fulfilling your life’s purpose. Surely, one of life’s best purposes is to improve the quality of life for others; and the biggest benefit is that doing so is reciprocal.
Steadily growing and improving: If you’re standing still, you’re falling behind. That’s an unfortunate truth of reality. Life is, in some ways, a race. People all around us are growing and improving in some way every day. If we remain stagnant, even in any facet of our life, we’re falling behind and that’s just not good. So sit back and take a look at your life. Are you growing and improving in some way? Daily? Weekly? What’s the rate? It’s a safe bet that if you’re seeing steady growth… some steady improvement in yourself day to day, you’re likely living your purpose. Why? Because if we’re living our purpose then part of it is to be able to do more in the future. Whether that’s tomorrow or next year or next decade, if we’re living our purpose the good feeling… the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment… is addictive and we want it to grow. For it to grow, we have to do more and be more. We have to improve ourselves and increase what we can accomplish.
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Contemplate those indicators. Ask yourself if you’ve discovered your purpose and if the answer is:
Yes – read through the indicators and see how they measure up. Are you seeing the positive impact in your life, and the lives of others, from having discovered your purpose?
No – read through the indicators and evaluate each one. Have you really not found your purpose? Or have you just not identified it cognitively yet?