The most fulfilling life is one that is lived on purpose. When you have purpose, you have a goal, life has meaning, and there’s a reason to wake up in the morning. However, many people just stumble through life, jumping from one job to the next, going wherever the wind blows.
In contrast, people who have found their purpose are energized and excited, and even in the face of adversity, they’re not afraid.
Two high profile examples of people who found and walked in their purpose include the following:
Malala Yousafzai: As a young girl in Pakistan, she spoke out against the Taliban prohibiting young girls from getting an education. Yousafzai was shot in the head during an assassination attempt, but recovered and continued to speak out. She created the Malala Fund to help other girls get an education, and even received a Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17, the youngest person to be awarded the prize.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: the second woman, and the first Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. She spent most of her adult life advocating for gender equality, co-founding the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and contributing to significant gains for women.
Two traits that these women share is a passionate commitment to their values, and a realization that by pursuing their goals, they could make a significant difference in the lives of others.
Not everyone who follows their purpose is going to be famous, and most of us are not going to make the sort of difference that these two individuals did. However, by following your purpose, you can help to change your corner of the world.
Lighting the fire
One of the ways to find your purpose is to figure out what you’re passionate about. For example, are you the person always trying to convince your friends that they need to invest their money instead of letting it sit in a bank? If so, perhaps you should be a financial advisor.
Or, are you the person your family members and friends call when they’re frantic, because you’re known for being clear-headed? This could mean that you would find fulfillment as either a counselor, or in a high-stress job that requires people to be cool and calm under pressure.
Your purpose is also going to be something that you’re naturally good at. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have to learn more about that area (for example, in college or postgraduate studies). However, it’s something that you have a natural ability to do.
My purpose is to write, and I can give you several examples of how I knew it was my purpose. Even as a child, when someone would pass me a note in class or church, I would correct their grammar before writing my response. (And yes, this irked my friends to no end.)
When my friends applied for jobs, I was always the person they asked to edit their resumes. That’s because, for example, I would change, “I installed a new system,” to something like, “Single-handedly implemented the successful upgrade and deployment of a time-and labor-saving system.”
When I was in grad school, I worked as an administrative assistant for a group of hospital administrators. I would always have comments: “This doesn’t make sense . . . you didn’t explain why the budget is getting cut . . . I wouldn’t advise you to say it like that.” I spent more time editing their written communication than I did answering the phones and doing the tasks in my job description.
That’s because, when something is your purpose, it just bubbles up and flows out of you. That’s why I never get tired of writing. I may get tired in the sense that if I’ve been writing for 8 to 10 hours, I need to take a break to rest my eyes and my brain. But the actual writing, the research, the interviews, coming up with the right words, that never gets old.
Making the world better
When you’re in your purpose, you’ll also be helping people. That’s why no one’s “purpose” is to be a bank robber or drug dealer. No one’s purpose is to charge 24% interest or kick poor widows out of their homes. Because none of those actions help people. They may generate a lot of money, but they actively cause harm.
Also, don’t assume that you’ll need to make gobs of money to live your purpose. I know people who followed the “money-path” and they hate their jobs – so much that they burn through their vacation time, and wouldn’t dream of staying at work one minute longer than required.
In addition, your purpose can’t be based on someone else’s desire for you. Admittedly, your parents, closest friends, or spouse may be able to see your purpose – even if you can’t. For example, I have a niece who wanted a high-paying job, and everyone close to her said, “No, you should be a teacher, you’re a natural teacher, I can’t imagine you not teaching.”
This was based on how she interacted with children. In any setting, she would always gravitate towards kids and speak to them on their level. (She’s the type of person who gets on the floor and crawls around with kids, with no concern about getting her hair or clothes dirty.) And she was always trying to teach them something – how to tie their shoes, how to count, etc. In high school, she worked with kids, and they would run to her as soon as she entered the room.
When she decided to pursue teaching, doors opened up. She was her high school’s valedictorian and received a full scholarship to pursue education. She graduated from college (valedictorian) with a degree in childhood education, and along the way, won every type of award relevant to that major. Several years later, she says every day at work is fun.
Willing and able
However, it’s also important to note that your purpose is not going to be something that you’re terrible at. For example, if you can’t hold a note, and your singing makes dogs yelp, it’s probably not your purpose to sing (unless you’re in the shower). You may be passionate about singing, but you don’t have that ability.
If you faint at the sight of blood, nursing might not be your purpose – unless you can overcome your fainting spells.
On the other hand, you can’t assume that encountering adversity means you’re on the wrong path. For example, if you get married and have kids, that doesn’t mean you can’t go to law school and become a lawyer. It may not be easy, and you may have to delay your plans for a while, but it’s definitely doable.
Perhaps your purpose is to be a stay-at-home mom, school bus driver, pastor, electrical engineer, a firefighter, or thoracic surgeon. It’s up to you to figure out what it is, and then pursue your purpose. And you’ll be happier than you’ve ever been.
The world needs so many different talents, and finding your purpose not only helps you, it helps everyone else as well.