3 Steps to Find Purpose in Work and Life

Do you want your life and work to have purpose and meaning? If you know what your purpose is, can you put it into words? How would you feel if you knew exactly what you were supposed to be doing?

How to Find Purpose in Life by Laura Benjamin

You’re probably thinking, “What kind of fairy tale is this, Laura? Don’t you know I’m just trying to keep my head above water, hold onto my job, juggle the family and squeeze in a little sleep now and then? Purpose is something you get to think about when you retire – something I may never be able to do!”

Au contraire! It’s very possible to discover why you were put on this earth and what you were meant to do along with everything else on your plate. In fact, it will make your “plate” more fulfilling. It’ll reduce stress, bring more joy into your life and give you a greater sense of direction.

Sound like a miracle cure? Well, it is. But it takes some internal work to get there. I’ve put my thinking cap on, done a little research and pulled together resources and ways you can start the process:

Step 1: Become Self-Aware

You’ve got to know what makes you tick. Getting to the core of who you are with specific words and language makes it possible to keep a clear “avatar” in sight. (A graphical representation of a person’s alter ego, just like in the movie.) That way we stay congruent and avoid confusion when life throws us a curveball. It helps us make better choices about work and relationships. We won’t get distracted, frustrated or feel like we’re spinning our wheels as much.

So for starters, get the book StrengthsFinder 2.0. In the back of the book is a key code to take an in-depth online assessment. It will identify your top five personal strengths. It may validate what you already know about yourself. Here’s my profile if you want to see a sample of the report. You can use your strengths in a variety of occupations, but as long as you keep them front and center in your world, work and life will feel more rewarding.

Next, go to Imperative.com to learn your “Purpose Pattern” – there is no cost to this. You’ll get a purpose statement that clarifies who you impact, why you do what you do and how you achieve impact. I can’t speak to the validity of this assessment, but it seemed to spit out some pretty accurate statements when I took it. It definitely lined up with my results on the StrengthsFinder.

Create a Purpose Statement. Print out those assessments and use a highlighter to indicate keywords that really resonate with you. Then, combine the best-of-the-best into a sentence that summarizes your primary motivator. Ex: My purpose is to help individuals or groups create opportunities for success by leveraging strengths, building engagement and taking action. Your purpose statement will not include a specific occupation or cause. It should reflect what drives you – what makes life more meaningful, regardless of the job you hold. But the more you build your life and work around a purpose statement, the happier you will be.

I’m a big fan of DISC personality assessments too. (Here is my personal profile.) I’ve used DISC for 20 years in my work and think it’s easier to understand and apply than many others. Also, Dan Miller, author of 48 Days to the Work You Love, has created a few profiles on personality, values and spiritual beliefs from DISC theory. (Affiliate link)

Step 2: Experiment and Innovate

I don’t believe we wake up one day with a great epiphany about what brings us meaning in life. I’ve found it’s a gradual discovery process that follows the “lean” approach: try something on for size, experiment, and learn from our efforts. Then try it over again with new information. Over time, we get closer and closer to a perfect fit. As long as you’re innovating and moving forward, you’re successful.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David & Goliath, he says that innovators possess “openness” – they challenge their own preconceptions. They are also “conscientious” – they have discipline and persistence to carry out ideas. They are “disagreeable”, meaning they are willing to take social risks and do things others might disapprove of. They are willing to test and see what works. Then they adapt and test again.

What holds us back? Gladwell says, “We are prone to being afraid of being afraid.”

Step Three: Face the Fear

Art of Work Book by Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins has just written The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do. I haven’t read it yet, but I was pretty impressed with his podcast, The Seven Stages of Finding Your Calling.

In the podcast he says, “If you wait to feel courageous, you’ll never move forward. They (people who found their calling) learned to do it afraid. Fear does not prevent you from a dream. It tells you you’re on your way.” ~Jeff Goins

So list your fears. Bring them out in the open so you can stare them down, eyeball to eyeball. They serve a purpose. We take action when the fear of doing nothing outweighs the benefits of standing still.

“Work begins when the fear of doing nothing at all finally trumps the terror of doing it badly.” ~Alain de Botton

Second-guessing is fear in disguise. We talk ourselves out of some fabulous ideas. Stop over-thinking things. Few people are actually watching – they’re too distracted by their own problems.

Take a step. Give yourself a project. Don’t remain frozen in place. Your action may not be THE solution, but it will lead you closer to better outcomes. Movement helps us focus on process rather than fear.

Finally, please know that most of us wander this world wondering what we are meant to be and do. You are not alone. But rather than stay frustrated, put yourself in situations where you can apply your strengths and live out your purpose statement. It’s possible you may find purpose in one segment of your life at a time – faith, family, fun, work. And clarity in one area leads to another, and another. Have patience. Give it purposeful attention and the puzzle pieces will start to fit.

Additional Reading:

  • The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl