Signposts Pointing to Your Life Purpose
Life purpose is something that we all think about at various stages throughout our lives. I mulled and chewed over my life purpose as a teenager and again in my mid to late twenties and early thirties. In my daily work, I meet people of all ages who are grappling with their life purpose and finding meaning in the world of work.
Life purpose can be described as our calling or our vocation. Discovering our purpose is a journey and no one can tell us what our purpose is. Having purpose allows us to become our best selves. Being ‘on purpose’ can give our lives meaning. Paulo Coelho’s words spring to mind, he invites us to “be a fountain that overflows, not like a cistern that contains.”
There are things that we can do, to read the signs, and discover ways to clarify our life purpose.
Being True to Ourselves
Shakespeare said “To thine own self be true”. In terms of life purpose, we are required to listen to our inner selves, and watch our interactions with the outside world. We need to be true to and acknowledge our natural talents, notice the skills that flow, observe the times when we are most engaged and to notice the environments and settings where we comfortably reside. Become curious and ask yourself:
When am I most alive?
When am I tapped in, tuned in and turned on?
What am I most curious about?
What catches my attention on twitter, facebook, in the media or in the world around me? When am I in my element?
Ken Robinson in his book ‘The Element’ describes ‘the element’ as, that “place where the things you love to do and the things that you are good at come together.” Robinson suggests that we examine the following indicators of ‘the element’:
When do I have a sense of ‘I love it’ (I have passion)?
‘I get it’(it comes easily to me)?
‘I want it’ (I have the hunger and desire to do it)?
and, ‘I need it’ (It will benefit my life)?
Knowing when you are in your ‘element’ requires reflection in order to decipher what you love and to notice what you do well. Of course, family, friends, supervisors, colleagues and mentors could offer you an insight into your skills and natural talents. Often, it takes another person to shine a light on our talents. I recall being 25 and sitting down on a regular basis with my friends, Beth, Jody and Angie to discuss our career directions and try to uncover our life purpose. These conversations allowed me to see myself more clearly.
What matters most to us is another signpost to our life purpose. It is useful to examine what we care deeply about. Do we value money, family, the environment, invention, security, risk, health, fitness, service to others, making technological advancements?
Aristotle said, “Where your talents and needs of the world cross lies your calling.” This is the quote that most resonates with me around life purpose. As well as your gifts and natural talents, it makes sense that the needs of the world are yet, another signpost on the road to life purpose.
Look around you and see which needs in the world create a stir in you. What is the world crying out for? Which cry would you like to respond to – global warming, the welfare of children, specialist energy saving engineering devices, medical advancements, person-centered care, job creation, providing excellent service, supporting the homeless, promoting the arts, making good music, ending world hunger, the delivery of hospitality, health and fitness?
When thinking about the needs of the world, I am brought back to my time in Trinity College Dublin when I listened to a presentation from a girl studying mechanical engineering. She had devised a solar powered, portable stove to help people in India. This practical invention saved people money while reducing global warming. This innovation really captured my imagination as; it was an excellent example of how her engineering skills met a great need in the world.
Of course, in recognizing both, our talents and our life purpose we then need to have the courage to follow through. My friends all had the courage to follow through on their life purposes; Beth wanted to communicate through the written word and became the Editor for Empowering Parents; Jody stayed true to her love of languages and intercultural communication and established a Translation company with her husband called VOVF while Angie followed her heart, qualifying as a Homeopath assisting peoples’ sense of well-being. Paulo Coelho said, “We all have the ability …we just don’t have the courage to follow our dreams and follow the signs.”
It takes courage to follow your heart. It can be daunting to put yourself out there. When I wanted to improve my public speaking skills through Toastmasters, I had to break through lots of fear, procrastination and resistance to sign up and actually take part in the talk club. In the beginning, I held on tightly to my notes and hid behind the podium.
I realise that it takes great pluck for others to put themselves forward – particularly in the area of arts, drama and music – in the face of fear, rejection, criticism and even the risk of not being noticed in the first place. Yet, when people do take risks, opportunities can follow.
Getting out of your own way and getting out of your comfort zone is another key to living your life purpose. Consider work experience, volunteering, shadowing, internships, part-time jobs, committee involvement, joining clubs and societies all as vehicles of growth. Say ‘yes’ to things that stretch you, scare you and accelerate your growth.
Conduct a self-audit of the things that you like and don’t like. Notice when you go beyond your comfort zone, when your energy is high or low. Notice when you are feeling cold or indifferent, lukewarm or passionate about different tasks.
Seek mentor, buddy or support group. They could give you honest and good feedback on how you are performing and areas for development and growth. A mentor could be someone with experience in business, in your local GAA or rugby club; it could be someone in school or college that you respect. Model yourself on the aspects of their personality, skills and attitude that you admire. This will allow you to up your game and move closer to living your life purpose.
Uncovering your life purpose is a process and it takes time. Investment in this process will pay huge dividends in terms of your work satisfaction, confidence, life meaning and pride. Living a purposeful life leads to a life of no regrets.