Blog: Ask Isa: How Do I Find My Purpose?
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
Question: I feel a lot of pressure to find my purpose. I’m starting to think I’m never going to find it. Everyone in my life seems to know what they’re good at and have things “figured out,” and deep down I’m wondering if I even have a purpose. How do I find my purpose?
Isa: The best way to figure out your purpose is to identify the activities and experiences that bring you happiness. Think of an activity you enjoy—drawing, making model planes, playing computer games, watching the sunset, baking cakes. It could be anything.
A lot of people feel they have to know their purpose before they can choose their career or find the perfect job. When you’re trying to figure out what your purpose is in life, it’s really important not to think about these external things, but to instead be guided internally by what brings you happiness. When you understand what makes you happy, you can ask yourself, “Why does this make me so happy? What skills am I using to engage with this thing that makes me happy?”
If you like to draw, what is it that makes you happy when you’re drawing? It might be that you’re translating something from your mind onto paper, or that you’re working with color. By asking these questions, you can begin to understand what it is about the things you do that generates happiness. Identifying all the components of what makes you happy is going to help you know what your values are.
For example, if you enjoy cooking or baking, nurturing people and making them feel at home might be values for you. When you know what your values are, you can begin to express them in your life. This may be avocational, or it may be vocational.
Many people take jobs that are not in alignment with their purpose, but that pay the bills and give them time to focus on developing their purpose. Knowing your values can inform the kind of work you do in the world, and will enable you to keep refining your understanding of your purpose. When you’re clear on your values, engagement is essential to discovering your purpose. Engaging with the things that bring you happiness will strengthen and illuminate your purpose over time.
People often feel they need a “big” purpose, and that if they don’t discover it early in life, it’s some kind of failure. It’s important to let go of the idea that your purpose has to be a certain way. Starting with these simple questions is enough. You don’t have to become an elite athlete, or find the cure for cancer, or be the best at anything. Just being in the world and being happy is a huge accomplishment. When you allow yourself the space and time to engage in this inquiry, your purpose will emerge.
I teach a workshop called The Path of Service, and one of the things I talk about in the workshop is how, when we try to be of service to other people, we can begin to understand ourselves better. By its nature, purpose is often related to service. If you think about what or whom you would like to serve— people who are homeless, animals affected by environmental pollution or deforestation, children in need—you will become clearer about where you would like to make things better and who you would like to help. A sense of purpose will naturally arise from knowing who you are serving and understanding your intentions for being of service.