As someone who’s struggled to identify my purpose most of my adult life, I feel I can speak to this issue with real understanding and insight.
I struggled so long and worked so hard to answer this question for myself, I wrote a book about it, here, just to come to terms with all I learned.
While I can’t condense the book into a brief post, I can give you the short answer: you’ll know you’ve found your purpose when you can answer two questions.
- What is your gift you share with others: what do you give?
- What feeds your spirit: what do you need?
The answers will be two sides to the same coin. I believe the secret is that whatever gift you have to share…with your family, your friends, or the world at large…the very act of sharing and giving will in turn feed your spirit and give back to you.
Can it really be that simple?
Yes it can.
You see, your gift, your purpose, isn’t necessarily tied to what you do for a living, or how you care for your family, or even a passionate hobby or interest. These aspects of life, though they are important, may not be the way your purpose is manifested.
Don’t be confused. Purpose and job are not necessarily the same; in fact, I would say purpose lives outside of work as often as it is found in our work.
But work, even if it doesn’t involve our real purpose, can still be purposeful. Our work provides income for life, for the individual who is working, and for the commitments he / she fulfills.
Also, purpose is not necessarily tied to specific relationships. Caring for family and others doesn’t automatically equate to purpose.
Third, just because you have an interest, even a passionate interest, pursuit of that interest may have nothing to do with your purpose. You may just have a great hobby.
So if work and purpose are not synonymous, and if purpose is not necessarily demonstrated through relationships, or found in personal interests, what exactly is purpose?
Well, it may in fact be defined by your work. And your purpose may in fact be best seen in context of a relationship. Your purpose may encompass a passionate interest.
But whether these are true for you or not, purpose can always be identified as the gift(s) you have to share that flow out of you…whether from a natural talent or gift, a passionate interest, or personal motivation to do specific things…champion a cause, care for specific needs or individuals, or reach a certain goal.
When you’re giving to others or striving for a goal that comes from your purpose, that effort will flow back to you. You’ll be fed by what you’re giving.
Let me explain it another way.
When I’m doing something that connects my talents, interests, and goals, and giving to others, it may take work…even a lot of work…to accomplish my task. But the work will feed my spirit instead of exhausting it.
This kind of effort is the kind we accomplish joyfully. It’s the kind of work that makes us feel happily tired at the end of the day, instead of drained and dispirited. Your purpose will inspire you; you’ll be eager to get to your tasks and the work that grows from it.
When we find purpose, we have enthusiasm for whatever work our purpose requires.
So, one more time…
- purpose may or may not be connected to job.
- purpose may or may not be displayed via relationships.
- purpose may or may not be associated with a specific interest or hobby.
Purpose will always be demonstrated by some type of service or giving to others. I believe purpose always encompasses service, in some capacity…me reaching out to others.
Purpose always generates a return, in some capacity…the way I reach out to others comes back to me to complete the cycle. This is not a manipulative cycle, where I give just to receive.
Rather, it is a natural and perfect completion of the truism that only in giving do we fully receive.
I’d be thrilled if you read the book and give me feedback. It took me a long time to understand that lacking a focused career wasn’t a barrier to finding purpose, and that giving of myself was really the key to identity of my purpose.
So what do you think? This is my definition of purpose. Does it work for you? Please share!