What does it mean to have purpose?
Your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning. Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behaviour, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, and create meaning. For some people, purpose is connected to vocation—meaningful, satisfying work but as we age and approach retirement our focus and definition of purpose is likely to change.
Some have said our purpose should be to be happy and that’s passion enough for some. Hedonism isn’t what most of us are after so maybe we should look deeper into ourselves and try and define our very own personal definition, something likely to be individual rather than generic, something that defines ‘me’ and for that reason what I should follow.
Some time ago I was with Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness, discussing his route to his personal happiness using his organisational skills crafted in the corporate world and his passion for positive psychology leading to him leaving that world and prompting him to lead Action for Happiness since before its launch in 2010 taking on overall responsibility for their amazing work in making the world a happier place for us all. His ‘epiphany’ came by answering just three questions posed by the coach, consultant and author Neil Crofts. The three questions are a very simple yet effective approach to articulating your life purpose. Following the simple steps may not be as easy as it may first seem, in fact it can be quite a challenge. Indeed we may well have had similar questions answered ‘automatically’ as children when we were freer to do what we liked and drop what we didn’t. There may well have been a time when this didn’t seem to be an option but somehow or other we either followed a path, imposed or defined by us if we were lucky. We were educated and entered the world of work. For some of us this may well have been us following our passion with purpose, for others a means to an end, either way we made it this far and now purpose and passion are not so easily defined by the job we do and possibly less so by family as they themselves get older and wiser and follow their own passions. Taking away the job and the hands-on rearing of a family and heading to retirement may for some be uncomfortable, especially if like me these occupy the vast majority of your thinking and doing time. However even retired we still have our circle of friends, hobbies and pastimes. However, we may well need to expand these hugely once the job ends and the family flies the nest to avoid Taboo #2 Boredom etc. We may also need to redefine who we are now we are no longer X,Y or Z. This may need some work and is likely best approached BEFORE we retire. Planning to live the TOYL now the TOIL is over is likely to be one of life’s big challenges – and it’s not all about the pension, Caribbean cruises and golf! From TOIL to TOYL.
Alan Watts in this video ‘What if money was no object’ gives advice to students on following their purpose and passion that has a great deal of relevance to us older folk too! – It’s never too late, you are only as old as you feel, so feel young!
Finding a clear purpose for your life is no small task and there is no single answer or approach which will work for everyone. However, we know that we’re at our best when we use our strengths and focus on topics and issues that really motivate and energise us. So a great starting point is to find a way to use our strengths in pursuing an area that we’re really passionate about.
Step 1: What are your talents?
We all have strengths and talents, but we don’t often recognise them and use them actively in our daily lives. Write down a list of 5 to 8 things that you’re really good at. Things that just come naturally to you. Don’t be modest, be honest. If you’re struggling then you might want to take the VIA Survey of Strengths.
Step 2: What are you passionate about?
We all have things that we’re passionate about and love to do, but very often we think of these things as hobbies rather than involving them at the heart of our life and work. Write down a list of 5 to 8 things that you’re passionate about. Things you love to experience, talk about, think about and do.
What does it mean to have passion?
Your passion can be anything that simultaneously challenges you, intrigues you and motivates you. Contrary to the idea that doing what you love makes work effortless, a passion puts you to work. It’s what you‘re willing to sacrifice lesser leisure and pleasures for.
In ‘How to Define Your Passion in Life’ Christian Fisher writes that knowing your passion in life gives you something to build the rest of your life around. Your passion can be anything that simultaneously challenges you, intrigues you and motivates you. Contrary to the idea that doing what you love makes work effortless, a passion puts you to work. It’s what you’re willing to sacrifice lesser leisure and pleasures for. Seek it and where you find it may surprise you.
Your biggest passion might have surfaced early in life. Natural talents often emerge when we’re young through sports, music, maths or science. Revisiting what you used to love when you were younger but have drifted away from over the years can be one way to recapture a passion. Look back on your childhood and analyse how old fascinations might transfer into your life or career today.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines passion as something you have “boundless energy” for. Make a list of the things that you think you could never get sick of doing. Additionally, realizing what changes you want to make in your life can give you insights into your passion. “Forbes” contributor Glenn Llopis suggests that passion is what fuels your intention and strategies for creating change.
Passion may be based on more general traits that unfold over time. For example, competence, creativity and making an impact can contribute to a feeling of genuine passion, but such traits are developed through practice and experience. Defining your real passion, then, may require taking time to develop the skills that will lead you to experience more empowering traits in work and in life. For example, it may take years fine-tuning your writing skills and establishing yourself in the publishing industry before the income, opportunities and notoriety you earn help you appreciate writing as your real passion.
Being aware of what you enjoy most about your life can help you define your passion. Your passion doesn’t have to be career-related. For instance, being a great husband, wife or parent can be your real passion. Discovery may come from objectively paying attention to your pastimes, hobbies, friendships, experiences you create for yourself, and even the types of conversation topics that exhilarate you, suggests author Sherrie Bourg Carter in a December 2011 article for “Psychology Today.” Ultimately, you might find your passion to be the underlying thread that connects all your favourite things in life.
Step 3: What would you like to change in the world?
Our purpose is most meaningful if it contributes to some wider social benefit or greater good – for example by helping to overcome a pressing societal issue (e.g. sustainability, fairness, alleviation of suffering, equality). Write down a list of 5 to 8 things that anger you about how society operates at the moment. Be specific. What are the things that make you really mad?
Step 4: Combine your answers to articulate your positive purpose
Now see if you can find a way to combine your talents, passion and anger in a positive and coherent way. If you can this could be the foundation for your life’s purpose. This might take the form of: “My life’s purpose is to use my (talents) and (passion) to (suitable verb) (anger)”. Here are a couple of examples;
- “My life’s purpose is to use my talent for engineering and my passion for alternative energy to help develop solutions to the climate crisis”
- “My life’s purpose is to use my talent for teaching and my passion for children’s well-being to help reduce the number of kids suffering with anxiety and depression”.
Step 5: Think and talk about your purpose
Having made a first attempt to articulate your life’s purpose spend some time thinking about it and discussing it with trusted friends and family members. Is it really you? Does it reflect how you’re living your life at the moment, or does it suggest that you need to make some changes in order to follow your purpose?
Finding your purpose or calling is not easy and pursuing it may not be practical immediately. But if you can then it leaves you with a significantly greater sense of well-being and fulfilment – as well as potentially contributing to the wider social good.
Q1`. What is your Purpose?
Q2. What is your Passion?
Q3. What’s the answer to “My life’s purpose is to…..”
I’d love to hear from you as to what you get from this!