If you asked me when I was five what I thought my life purpose was, I would have told you something in line with the Life Changers origin story. If you asked me when I was in my 20s I would have told you I was living it. And if you asked me today, as a man in his mid-30s, I would tell you something completely different. I imagine many people would say the same about their own lives. I don’t see anything wrong with that, though. Things change. People grow. Priorities shift. The idea of life purpose can be a complicated notion to wrap our heads around. It’s a very big concept that carries a lot of weight. An internet search for “life purpose” returns many articles on discovering your own. Some ideas are direct, some are more subtle and abstract, and others are…strange. The ideas and definitions might vary, but life purpose as a concept is much simpler than we tend to make it. I hope the rest of this article will show how simple it can be to understand, discover, and live your life purpose.
What Life Purpose Means
No two people alive or who have ever lived are exactly alike. That’s difficult to comprehend when you consider that there are approximately 7.5 billion people on the planet. As of March 2018, the Population Reference Bureau estimated that 108 billion people have ever lived in the history of mankind. And, when you get specific, each has a unique life purpose as well. I think of life purpose as the act of living in alignment with a calling, vocation, or talent that brings meaning to our time here. Looking at it this way makes it easier to understand how everyone’s purpose could be at least slightly different from anyone else. The people involved, the skills we use, the degree of impact, and hundreds of other variables make any life purpose unique. In the same way, we can summarize all life purposes as a responsibility to live purposefully. We’re getting a little meta here, but the idea is simple. Our purpose is to do what we are equipped, driven and intended to do, whatever that may be and to do so as well as we can. That is what brings meaning to life. Which brings me to another common (and related) question:
What is the meaning of life?
No one knows for certain, but I think the meaning of life is the same for everyone. It is to discover our life purpose and to live it with as much passion, intensity, and dedication as possible. If true, it could mean that discovering the meaning of life, is what brings meaning to life. We all want our lives to have mattered for something when we’re gone. That’s the meaning of life in my mind: to find and execute a way to make your life matter. The meaning of life is static. It doesn’t change. Our life purpose can. Many different factors can impact our life purpose, including experience, interests, skills, relationships, needs, and environment. Timing also plays a huge role in how we see our life purpose.
Purpose in the moment vs. purpose in life
Depending on what’s going on, our life purpose can change by the year, month, week or even the moment. My life purpose as a five-year-old was different than it was in my 20s. Both of those were much different than my purpose today as a husband and a dad. Changing our life purpose too often interferes with progress toward any purpose. But we don’t want to lock ourselves into a purpose and never consider changing it, either. That will only make us miserable. “Purpose in the moment” is a completely different way of looking at purpose. Sometimes unexpected things happen that push us in another direction. It’s usually temporary, but it’s often not something we can ignore. Let’s use this extreme example to make the point. Say I’m a teacher and my life purpose is to educate young people and help them develop important life skills. And then let’s say that I’m walking down a street and I witness a very bad car accident. The victims are still buckled and unconscious. The car is on fire. My purpose in life is now no longer as relevant as my purpose at that moment. My purpose in the moment is to do whatever I can to get those people away from the car. It’s a bit of a dramatic example, but you get the idea. We like to think of our life purpose as answering an internal calling or passion, it can be much simpler than that. Life purpose allows us the opportunity for input. Purpose in the moment is almost entirely dependent on outside factors. But we can’t ignore either one. Not if we want to live a life that matters.
Why Life Purpose Matters
It’s normal to think about this and ask Does it even matter? The answer is “yes,” and the reason is that without understanding our purpose, it becomes difficult to live a life of meaning. Remember we said everyone wants to live a life that matters in some way. Having a purpose matters because it makes your life matter. It can literallymake you healthier. In doing that, it gives enough meaning to the ups and downs of life to make all the lousy parts worth it. Let’s face it. Life is tough. It’s not always pleasant. Sometimes it’s no fun at all. When things get hard, it’s much easier to endure if there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Our life purpose affects others
Life has become so competitive we can’t understand that we all benefit when others pursue their life purpose. When someone who is meant to create music fulfills their purpose, we all are able to enjoy their art. When an engineer builds a bridge, we are all able to cross the ravine. This can serve as motivation for us to pursue our own individual purpose. Not everyone will affect the world on a grand scale, but everyone can affect it enough to cause a ripple. And that ripple flows further than we even realize. When we look at pursuing our purpose through the lens of how others might (or might not) be affected, it puts even greater importance on the things we do. Not only do we owe it to ourselves to live a life of meaning, but now we see that we owe it to the rest of the world as well.
Feeling fulfilled in life
Living a life of purpose doesn’t only benefit others, it is good for us, too. Nobody wants to spend a lifetime going through the motions, nor should we. There are plenty of ways to find joy — in both the simple and extraordinary parts of life. The discovery and pursuit of our life purpose are major parts of what makes life fulfilling. It’s cliche, but the journey really is more meaningful than the destination. And a journey with no purpose will always be missing something. Whether we realize it or not, most of us want to live a life that counts for something larger than ourselves. We all want to matter. When our purpose aligns with our actions, that’s exactly what happens. The connection is clear — we are more fulfilled when we feel like we’re serving a purpose.
How to Make Your Life Purpose Part of Your Life
Once we become aware of the value in having a purpose, a natural question is How do I live it every day?. Being conscious of our purpose is a good start. Articulating it and writing it down also helps. That can be uncomfortable for some. The basic awareness that there is a purpose to your existence (and that you can guide it) is what’s most important. Then we can begin acting toward it.
Others like us
One of the easiest ways to incorporate our purpose into our lives is to find and associate with others like us. It will reinforce our efforts and strengthen our commitment. There’s a lot of talk about negative peer pressure. Look at this as the positive kind.
Just do it
We live in an age where technology has ripped down almost all barriers to entry. There is almost nothing holding you back from living the life you feel you were meant to live. Fear, uncertainty, and lack of experience might prevent you from being great at it right off the bat, but that’s not an excuse to not start.
Opportunities are everywhere
Have you ever noticed when you first discover something you start seeing it everywhere? It could be a certain type of car, or a specific song, or an abstract reference. It seems like they come out of nowhere, right? The truth is they’ve been there all along. This is what’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon or frequency illusion. And the reason you suddenly start to notice them is a trick your brain plays (or stops playing) on you. There are so many things fighting for our attention that our brain subconsciously decides what to filter out. Once we acknowledge something as important, our brain tends to “notice” it more often. When we discover our purpose, the frequency illusion kicks in and we start to notice opportunities to pursue it all around us. Had we ignored or suppressed our purpose, we’d be less likely to notice those opportunities. Once we do, though, we see all sorts of new doors open.
The unacknowledged purpose
Everyone feels pulled toward a purpose (or they did at one time) — but not everyone is clear about what that purpose is and how they will pursue it. That’s not their fault. We’re all running our races at different paces. Just because they haven’t become fully aware of the purpose their life is serving doesn’t mean they’re not living in line with it. They could be living according to ethics or values that does align with a purpose, but they haven’t realized it yet. Different races at different paces.
A Life of Purpose and Meaning
The idea of us all having our own purpose in life can be overwhelming. It adds pressure to everything we do when we think about whether or not we’re living up to that purpose. If you’re anything like me, you’re prone to overthinking, and something as big as our life’s purpose is a minefield of overthinking and overanalyzing. Don’t do it. Don’t overthink and don’t force it. Our life purpose (and our purpose in any given moments) will show themselves when we’re ready for them. In the meantime, I’ve found that the best advice is to follow your heart. (Cliche alert!) You can read articles like this one for 100 years, and nothing will tell you more about finding and living your purpose than your own conscience. So listen to it. Do what makes you feel good, be good to others, and good things will follow.