Did you think that the only time you’d be asking this question was when you stood on the precipice between childhood and adulthood? When you were at that tender age where the world lay ahead of you full of opportunity and possibility, and all you had to do was choose a path? For many of us this question has come up not once, but at several points throughout our life. You find you’re travelling along nicely, happy with life, and then gradually find yourself questioning things. Maybe it’s ‘what should I do with my life?’, or ‘what am I doing with my life?’ Either way, it can be an incredibly unsettling and difficult question to face when you’re at a point in your life when you expected to have it ‘all worked out’.
In my experience, facing this question at various points in my life has represented a wonderful opportunity to step back, review and recalibrate my life. Rather than simply living my life on auto-pilot, exploring this question has enabled me to define who and what I want to be and to then move on to pursuing a life with meaning. As the world renowned author of ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’, Stephen Covey, says; ‘If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.’
So how do you work out which wall to lean your ladder against? Well, the first step is to define your life purpose. Now this might sound a bit ‘hippy’, or a bit deep, but it isn’t about defining the meaning of life. It’s about identifying what gives, and will give, your life meaning. Here are just a few reasons it’s important to have a purpose and meaning to your life:
• Rather than living a random existence, knowing your purpose in life means you can take daily actions and set goals that will move you, with energy and motivation, towards the life you want to live. • You can break free of ‘societal goals’. What society dictates no longer matters when you have a clear direction and know what you are working towards.
• Pursue success on your own terms; many people chase success as an end in itself, which eventually lacks meaning and fulfilment. When you have a clear vision of your purpose, it becomes a meaningful pursuit of success.
• Live a life with energy, drive and passion rather than just biding time between weekends or that next holiday.
I’m not for a minute saying that this is an easy process. Defining your purpose can take some time and reflection. If you’re not used to thinking more deeply about what you want from life, it can be challenging and confronting, but it’s also an exciting time of discovery. Here are some questions to consider when mapping out your purpose:
• What do you feel passionate about?
• When are you happiest in life?
• What makes you feel good about yourself?
• Who do you most admire and why?
• What do you want to be remembered for? • What are your strengths?
• What would you change if you could?
• What do you want people to think and say about you (Stephen Covey suggests thinking about what you would want your eulogy to say about you)?
Don’t rush this; take as many days or weeks as you need to explore each question and thought in detail. Once you’ve got your thoughts clear, create a purpose statement that is short, succinct and accurately reflects who you want to be. In my next article on ‘What should I do with my life?’, I’ll be talking about values and how they are a key element in pursuing a life with purpose.