When I graduated from college with a degree in English Literature, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
So I started scouring the newspaper (the way you found jobs back in the day) for some kind of gainful employment.
One of the first jobs that intrigued me was a “special events coordinator” for a local department store.
Although I didn't know what it entailed, it sounded just up my alley. Once I did learn what it involved (setting up promotions, fashion shows, and media relations), I thought it was the perfect job for me.
Over time, I grew into the job and did quite well at it. After a few years, I was offered a public relations management job with another chain of department stores. This chain promoted me to an even bigger job in New York, and eventually I created my own consultancy.
As a young woman, I found the fashion PR world an exciting place, and I was passionate about my work. But as I got older, I felt more and more like something was missing.
One day I caught myself typing the words, “White is the most important statement this season.” It struck me how ridiculous those words were.
Ask people who are suffering or lonely or not making ends meet if white is their most important statement, and you might get their statement — peppered with some choice words. My work began to feel ridiculous and superficial.
As I matured and refined my value system, a career promoting other people’s goods and services wasn’t meaningful to me. In fact, it had come to feel quite empty.
If you are struggling to figure out what to do with your life, if your job has grown stale, or you can't figure out your passion, you might consider first seeking out your life purpose.
Having a purpose, something that gives your work intention and meaning, adds longevity and fulfillment to whatever passion you pursue. In fact, having a purpose can direct you toward your life passion.
Here’s how to answer the question, “What to do with my life?” and find your purpose and passion:
Define The “Why”
If your worldview includes the idea that humans have a responsibility to be good stewards of our planet, our communities, and our relationships, then the question of life purpose begs to be answered.
You are driven toward life purpose by the very nature of this higher responsibility.
You can start uncovering your life purpose by finding out the “why” behind your career decisions.
This is a question I never asked myself at 21 when I took that PR job. But it's never to late to uncover the answer. Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Why are you working in this particular profession?
- Why did you choose this job?
- Is it because you’re paid a great salary?
- Was it simply the best job that came along?
- Is it the profession you were working toward all through school?
None of these are bad reasons, but they aren’t sustainable reasons. They don’t reflect an authentic, deeply-considered reason, grounded in your values, your sense of self, your integrity, and the legacy you want to leave the world.
If you aren’t sure of your “why,” here are some questions to ask yourself to ferret it out:
- What kind of person do you want to be? Describe the most important characteristics of this person.
- What core values do you want your work to reflect and support?
- What aptitudes and skills do you possess that you find meaningful and fulfilling?
- What parts of your personality and your belief system do you want nurtured and supported in your job?
- What deeply moves you, inspires you, or motivates you to action?
- Who inspires you and whose life would you like to emulate?
- How do you think you can improve the world in some way? What legacy do you want to leave?
- Are there any ways you are living outside of your integrity in your work? What can you do to restore your integrity?
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Often we miss our life purpose because we’re trapped in the comfortable bubble of our day-to-day existence.
For the most part, our lives are relatively easy. We have enough food to eat, a roof over our heads, enough money to pay the bills, and generally good health.
But we are the exceptions. Many, many people in the world are suffering. Our environment is suffering. Animals are suffering.
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In order to find your purpose, you have to accept a bit of discomfort. You have to seek out suffering, allow it to touch your heart, and find a way to respond to it.
Having a purpose doesn’t mean you must save the world or find the cure for cancer.
It can be simple like sowing the seeds of peace or expressing yourself and empowering others through creativity.
Your life purpose can be expressed in your own community — even in your own family.
Often it’s not until suffering touches our own families that we recognize our purpose. Consider how Mothers Against Drunk Driving began or why Amber Alerts are now automatically sent to millions of cell phone users.
What has touched your own family that might become a purpose-driven endeavor for you?
Do Your Research
Your answers to the questions above should give you clarity on what your life purpose might be. You will likely find some commonalities in your answers.
Your core values might be shared by the person who inspires you. Your most meaningful skills and aptitudes might be exactly what’s needed to build the legacy you want to leave.
Once you gather and sort this information, then you can find the need out there in the world waiting for you to fill.
For example, I saw that my core values of creativity and helping others improve their lives worked well with my innate skills of communicating, writing, and listening.
I was able to meet the needs of people who sought guidance and direction in their lives through the profession of coaching.
You’ll need to research careers that match your purpose, or what you think your purpose might be.
Your skills, interests, and legacy might seem at odds at first, but you’d be amazed at the creative ways you can use your passionate skills to facilitate the bigger purpose.
For example, maybe you are passionate about playing the guitar, but the legacy you want to leave is helping people cope with depression. Perhaps you use your passion for the guitar in a therapeutic way to help ease depression in others.
Just Google “meaningful careers” or “careers that help people,” and you’ll find tons of ideas and information on ways you can serve a larger purpose through your work.
If you need help finding a meaningful position that matches your skills and experience, check out Rework, a site that brings talented job seekers together with organizations making social, environmental, and cultural progress.
If you want to make sure you feel passionate about the purposeful work you’ve uncovered, experiment with it before you commit. You can always volunteer, take on a side gig, or shadow someone working in the profession.
You might explore a variety of career options before settling on one that feels like the best fit. Allow yourself the time to do this experimentation and on-the-ground research.
If you’re going to take the time to find meaningful work, don’t settle for something that doesn’t make you want to get out of bed in the morning.
Volunteer Match is a great organization matching people to a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. You can also find a wide variety of volunteer opportunities in your own community through the United Way and other non-profit organizations.
Ponder Your Legacy
Pretend that you are age ninety and look back over your life. Think about the things you have achieved, the people you have impacted, and the legacy you have left your family, friends, community, and the world.
You don't want to look back with sadness that you never figured out what your purpose in life was. You don't want to regret your choices (or lack of choices) to create a life that made a difference, a life that was meaningful and profound.
Your life purpose isn’t something you attain at the end of your life. It is something you live in the here and now by constantly creating your life in response to your evolving awareness of who you are and how you wish to serve the world with what you’ve been given.
A purpose infuses your life with something we all deeply long for – meaning. At the end of the day, we want to feel our time on Earth has made a difference.
When you are doing something you love that makes even a small difference in the world, passion is inevitable.