How to Find Your Purpose in Life

[Note: This is the 3rd article in the series How to Make Your Dreams a Reality.]

Growing up, I spent a lot of time thinking about the purpose of life. In church they would tell you the purpose is to go to heaven and to be a good person. “Why?” I always thought. There’s no question that being a good person is essential for living a fulfilling life. But what’s the point? Why do anything at all?

Why is a meaningless question. The reason being, why always leads us in an infinite loop. You can always repeat the answer to “why” with another “why.” The only time the question really ends is when you answer “because it’s fun” or “because I enjoy it.”

This took me a while to accept, but the purpose of life is to enjoy it. If you’re trying to find the purpose of life, by looking for something outside of life, you’re never going to find an answer. That’s because the purpose of life is life.

That doesn’t help you much, does it? We all want a larger purpose, something to give our lives meaning when everything seems meaningless.

The truth is, life doesn’t have a purpose. That’s hard to swallow. When I realized this, I felt lost. I felt confused and I felt like giving up.

What I failed to realize is that life doesn’t have a purpose because of free will. There is no purpose forced on  you. You can choose to have a purpose, or to not have a purpose, but life isn’t going to give you one. You don’t need to let this bother you though. The only reason you need for having a purpose is because you want one.

The only question you need to answer now, is do you want a purpose or do you not want one? As soon as you figure that out, let me know. I’ll wait.

I’m assuming that if you’re still reading, your answer was yes. That’s good, because not having a purpose isn’t very fun. At least not for me.

Now that we have that sorted out, we need to understand one crucial thing that drives people to insanity and causes them to spend their lives in the confines of a cubicle.

And that is:

Your purpose is not your job

Yes, that’s right. Your purpose has nothing to do with your degree, your resume, your career, or vocation. Your purpose is independent of all those things. In fact, it’s much bigger than any of those.

Purpose has to do with your creative self expression. It has to do with what makes you feel alive. It’s something you do, where at the end of the day you think “I made a difference.”

Now, if you want to find out what that is, take a minute to do a little exercise that I originally found here.

  1. Take out a blank sheet of paper or open word, notepad or textedit. Whatever works best for you.
  2. Now write at the top “What is my true purpose in life?”
  3. Write everything that comes to mind. Don’t think about it too much, just write.
  4. Keep writing until you write something that makes you cry. That is your purpose.

When you come up with your final answer, you will know it. It won’t be something you’ve decided logically, you will simply know it in your heart.

If you find this exercise to not be structured enough, change the question to “How would I want to be remembered when I die?”

After you’ve discovered your purpose, your job is to live as closely in alignment with it as possible. The more you live in alignment with your purpose or your bliss, the more you will deeply enjoy your life.

Now remember when I said that your “job” is not your purpose? Well, it’s half-true. Your career can be a medium for the expression of your purpose. If your purpose is to help others live in truth and express your inner creativity, you’re probably not going to be able to do that very well working as an file-clerk for a company that is greedy and self-serving. You can live partially in alignment with your purpose this way, trying to help others and going against the morals or your employer, but you’re still ultimately assisting corporate greed.

You’ll probably find living in complete harmony with your purpose isn’t easy. It might take you a year, or a few years before you find a medium (a career path) that best serves the expression of your purpose. If you can’t find a job out there that does that, you might have to create one (like I’m doing here, through this blog).

So how do you move more in alignment with your purpose? How do you take your purpose and your dreams and make them a reality? That will be the next article in the series. See you next week!

For more ways to make your dreams a reality subscribe to Illuminated Mind today.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Simple Sapien October 30, 2008 at 11:47 am

Excellent post Johnathan.

I read that article from Steve Pavlina about a month ago. It is an interesting method. I never got to the point of crying with any of them (maybe I did not do it long enough), but I definitely narrowed it down to a few things.

I agree with you. We could spend our whole lives waiting for our purpose to land right in our lap… but it will never happen. We have to create our purpose. Easier said than done, but I think it is essential for living a happy life and “enjoying it”.

The day we stop caring is the day we die!

Great job with your blog by the way. I enjoyed this series quite a bit. Keep em coming!

- Jack Rugile
Simple Sapien

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Maria | Never the Same River Twice October 30, 2008 at 11:55 am

“There is no purpose forced on you. You can choose to have a purpose, or to not have a purpose, but life isn’t going to give you one.”

This is a real shift in perspective, Jonathan. It implies not only that we have to accept full responsibility for any purpose we pursue, but also that we can change our purpose as needed. I’m sure most of us never thought about it in that way.

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Bill October 30, 2008 at 12:00 pm
Joey the plumber October 30, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Running out of ideas….?
Seems like a copy from this article… http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/01/how-to-discover-your-life-purpose-in-about-20-minutes/

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Fred October 30, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Hi Jonathan,

Great post. I will say that you had me there at first with the no purpose thing. Reading further I found that I agreed with you completely. I have known this myself for a while but didn’t really know how to express it. You did a good job.

I actually found in the 7 Habits book by Stephen Covey a statement similar to the one you made about how do you want to be remembered when you die. He said to imagine yourself at a funeral, yours. What would you want the people to say about you as they spoke? This is really a very simple concept but something that most people just don’t get or are afraid to approach.

Now, for you answer to the why question. Why is it fun? :)

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy October 30, 2008 at 2:11 pm

Care to share what you discovered was YOUR purpose Jonathan?

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Jonathan October 30, 2008 at 4:32 pm

@ Bill and Joey: I absolutely did get that from Steve Pavlina. That’s why I linked to him in the article and stated I originally found it there. =)

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Kevin October 30, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Wow, great post. It’s my first time visiting here, and you gave me something to chew on for the next couple days with this posting.

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Vish-Writer October 30, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Hi Jonathan,

Great post. There is no meaning to life. Life simply is. The purpose of your life is to make it whatever you want to.

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Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul October 30, 2008 at 7:24 pm

So true! We are here to express ourselves fully. So often I get people asking me about their purpose in an intuitive reading – as if God assigns us all a “job” or task for this lifetime. We are so much more powerful – and it does boil down to free will. We get to choose exactly what we want to create. We can either be terrified by that level of responsibility, or embrace that level of empowerment.

Blessings,
Andrea

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Vincent October 30, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Hi Jonathan,

Great post. Our job is definitely not our purpose in life. Can you imagine that you are born into this world to sit behind a desk for 9 – 5? I cannot bear to picture the image in my mind.

Cheers
Vincent
Personal Development Blogger

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Davina October 30, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Beautiful! I learned this the hard way when I lost a job over 10 years ago. It took me about a month or so to ground myself and climb out of a black hole of depression. All my identity had been tied up in 9 to 5.

“Write until you write something that makes you cry.” — perfect! That IS your purpose.

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Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome October 31, 2008 at 1:19 am

As someone with lots of drive and ambition, I am totally in tune with what you say, but I wonder about those whose life purpose isn’t anything grand.

I want to inspire people to leave Plato’s Cave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato%27s_cave), but what of someone whose purpose is to live life day to day without grand ambitions? How does all this self-help stuff relate to someone who simply wants to live a quiet life (quiet in terms of leaving a lasting impression at least)? How do we as personal development mentors tailor our words to help those people? I can’t imagine them crying when writing down their purpose as being: “living life.” But there’s nothing wrong with that and they also deserve assistance in doing just that as happily and as fulfilled as possible.

(Yes, these are early morning ramblings, but I think they’re questions you’d enjoy thinking about Jonathan… ;) )

Cheers,
Alex

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gayle October 31, 2008 at 4:35 am

Hi Jonathan,

I understand completely what you are saying. However, I see it with a twist.

If you look at everything on this planet, it gives something. Either it becomes food, or raw materials for something else, or a trigger to start a different process, everything gives selflessly because that is the natural circle of nature. You are born, you provide something, you die and become something else.

For those stuck in a cube, and I know what that is like, that can sound like the only purpose of living is to die and become worm food. But if you look at every element of your life with the intention of, “What can I do right now to ease suffering, or some other dissatisfaction?” you can find many ways of giving without expecting anything in return. Even if it is just a smile.

Agreeing with your thought that it is our choice. There is always a choice.

So, while I agree with your view overall, I think you’re shortchanging yourself when you say that there is no purpose to life and then have to explain that. Simply put, the purpose of life is to selflessly serve.

Namaste,
gayle

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TNT October 31, 2008 at 7:52 am

Nice post – I tried the Pavlina method but didn’t get very far. I like your twist on it much better – “How would I want to be remembered when I die?”

“Begin with the end in mind” indeed! =D

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gayle October 31, 2008 at 8:26 am

Re: being behind a desk 9-5. It all depends on what you’re doing behind that desk. How are you striving to be remarkable? What are your intentions? How can you make this place better – even one small improvement.

Your job may not be your purpose, but instead may be your vehicle to fulfilling that purpose.

You make infinite small choices every day, all day long. How are those choices enabling you to help your body, mind, self and world?

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Adrilia V. Pedersen October 31, 2008 at 8:33 am

Jonathan,

What a beautiful post. Have to confess you almost lost me when you said purpose had nothing to do with your work … but then you included work as part of purpose which was great. I agree with your article. Very freeing, actually. I recently wrote about purpose but from the angle of service and success. If interested or curious, the post lives at http://www.adriliavpedersen.com/service-success-powerful-link. Keep up your great inspirational writing!

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Jonathan October 31, 2008 at 10:38 am

@ Maria: Absolutely, you have the power and the choice to change your purpose at any time. Or to choose not to have one at all. Personally, I think it’s much more powerful to live with a purpose, than without one.

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Chris October 31, 2008 at 10:43 am

Great post Jonathan,

It inspired me to share mine http://theabundancesite.com/journal/173/APurposeDrivenLife

Thanks,

Chris

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Chris Edgar October 31, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for this post. I think another perspective we could adopt on the idea of purpose is simply to say that our purpose is to do whatever we are doing right now. If I am aggressively pursuing my career, my purpose is the moment is to do that, and if I am lying around, my purpose is to do that as well. I think this view can free us from the fretting we often do about how our purpose isn’t being fulfilled. It also focuses our attention on the present moment rather than on the happiness we may or may not get in the future my achieving our goals. — Best, Chris

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Laurie October 31, 2008 at 8:02 pm

I did what you wrote about and created a job that is lined up with my purposes and passions. I now get to teach in an innovative way that excites kids and ignites their love of learning and inspires them. I get to be the crazy, animated teacher that is so out there when she is in her flow.

I have other purposes to like to connect with God and people on an intimate level and to also connect with nature. I also have to be creative and be a constant learner.

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Kathy November 1, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Jonathan
Do you think that sometimes we get so caught up in finding our life purpose, the big thing we are meant to be and do, that we forget that purpose is also revealed in our small everyday experiences? My purpose today may be to show my husband how much he means to me by making his favorite meal. My life purpose may be to help eradicate hunger. If we listen and observe, our everyday purpose points us to the thing that makes us cry.
Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

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CB November 2, 2008 at 11:03 pm

Jonathan started off by saying that the purpose of life is to enjoy it.

To me, that statement says it all. Period.

There *is* a purpose in life… enjoy the life that you have within you….each breath…. be there with it…and enjoy each breath as it comes… until the last one

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Martin Wildam November 3, 2008 at 5:56 am

I agree with you that life does not give you a purpose. Although it seems sad in reality this gives you the complete freedom to put a purpose you like.

However, the question what purpose to choose reminds me to advertisements trying to create a need in you to buy something that you perfectly could live without before getting knowledge of that product.

So why bothering to search for meaning?

It is the same as if I would work my whole life to be able to buy a Ferrari.

You could also live perfectly just with the little meanings that unveil day by day or month by month without searching for the big meaning.

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Jonathan November 3, 2008 at 1:52 pm

@ Kathy: That’s a great point. Our purpose is realized in all of our actions, whether they be large or small.

@ Martin: Yeah, like you probably didn’t realize you NEED OxyClean until you saw the commercial. Or that you NEED a swiffer gadget before you saw it on tv.

Great point.

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Jim Littlefield November 4, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Our purposes are more about being of service to others more than to ourselves. We risk spending too much time thinking about ourselves vs. taking action to assist others in our shared journeys.

Jim

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Arami November 5, 2008 at 2:31 pm

I really enjoyed this exercise. However the only thing that I would have to disagree with is the part it says about writing until you cry. For me, crying is deeply attached to sadness. However, when I was writing one of my several answers, I knew it was the one because I had felt this immense happiness swelling up within my chest.

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Evan November 5, 2008 at 10:05 pm

A characteristic of life is regularity and structure. Dead things are random.

If purpose is internal to life (dead things don’t have their own purpose) it is still possible to experience purpose. In my view purpose is part of life. If you don’t believe me try this: I’ll email you a purpose at random, you then get to live by it. How do you think you will go?

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KC November 25, 2008 at 11:02 am

Jonathan,

Great post. I agree with everything you have written. I also agree with Gayle’s comments regarding your purpose being serving selflessly. To me if I put two of the concepts together it simply means your purpose may be to give or help or serve selflessly and it could be something you enjoy doing.

Since most of us spend a lot of time at our job, my personal opinion is that having a job that is closely aligned with your purpose is a more fulfilling life experience. I have realized (painfuly :)) that that is not the case for me. I like your idea of creating one if you do not currently have such a job.

What are some thoughts on an individual’s personality and the role it might play in finding purpose? Would it help to look at your strengths, your personality and your passions and align them to find your purpose? I found Enneagram personality assesment fairly accurate (http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/). According to this I am a type 2, helper/giver. I have not found my purpose yet but I am thinking my personality traits may help point me towards the right direction.

Thanks for your article and thanks to everyone who post their comments and shared their views.

KC

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julia April 30, 2009 at 7:42 am

i just really love your blog..
it gives the plain truth, not in a fancy way a lot of books or personal development articles are like.

the best part is that it is realistic.

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Freddy July 12, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Hey Jonathan,

thanks for the great post. Tried Steve Pavlina’s method of finding my purpose though I modified the question a little bit. My question was “What motivates me everyday to wake up?”

I bawled when I did the exercise and my purpose??

To laugh and dance with the people that I meet… cause perhaps before we came into this physical existence, we had promised each other that we would meet up and enjoy this adventure (of life) together.

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boz July 15, 2009 at 6:27 pm

I often think too many steps ahead to fall for simplicities as offered on Pavlina’s site. To my mind, if I find something to cry about and call it my purpose, I’m really just chasing a compensation to some event I haven’t dealt with or some other personal lack. I’d be living my sadness projected onto someone or something else.

I’m also not convinced of the whole “let’s save the world” or “be a servant of man” approach. To truely help someone you must know an awful lot about them and the problem, and sometimes what they truely need is not within your power to give and opposite to what logic would suggest. The world is a strange and topsy turvy place.

Some of my personal problems are common problems for everyone else and I think, ok, if I pursue the answers to my problems I may help one other person or I may change the world. But why do I want to change the world and why do I want to help? The world was doing fine before i came along. Millions have died of famine war and disease and the world keeps spinning – obviously they were superfluous to demand! How can I be so conceited as to think my life actually means something when millions of better men died in vain? Am I not already convinced that politics has done nothing good for mankind since it first appeared?

and the search for purpose comes to a deadend, because I have to accept that whatever good I may be able to do, my ignorance of what should be done may cause more problems than it solves. In any case it doesn’t matter, because the search for answers to common problems is close to impossible and that’s why they are common problems.

So I take comfort in eastern philosphy, as illustrated in some of the above posts and give my brain a holiday: a metaphorical opiate of the mind. But the original question remains unanswered and I can’t ignore that I live within western culture.

Just becasue we can ask a question, does it make the premise it true?

If we suggest to our minds that purpose can be found, does it mean that purpose truely exists? Or have we tricked ourselves?

And why is it so fuckin’ hard to find something true, that doesn’t fall apart under basic mental examination?

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charnchai lersbantornkul November 23, 2009 at 3:26 am

Life is complicated. I totally agree that life is not your job.

Everyone has so many ideas and dreams that he or she can think of. Not every one can easily be done. I can see from most of people. It is just really hard to take the action of what he or she has in minds. So is the purpose of life of each person. I think what makes you feel happy is enough. It is sort of fulfil your own will that does not make trouble with other people. So, just take the action of what you want to do. :)

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Ella Emma July 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain’t nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we’re on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride

– James Taylor, “Secret o’ Life” lyrics

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M. A. Tohami May 19, 2011 at 4:08 am

You will find your purpose in life, when you find THE answer to these two key questions:

1. How to find joy in your life?
2. How to bring joy to others?

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Leo Tabibzadegan May 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Great post! Reminds me of a story I heard by Peter Buffet (son of a great investor).

A school teacher asks 3 kids what they want to be when they grow up.

Kid 1 says a fire fighter.
Kid 2 says a doctor.
Kid 3 says happy.

(insert puzzled face here)

Kid 3 had the right idea! =D

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MONDO CANNIBALE June 17, 2013 at 2:33 am

what is my true purpose in life?

to serve others
to be powerful
to create
lo love
to be loved
to survive
to think
to dance
to be
to be remembered
to be destroyed
to not be
to tear my flesh apart
to serve god
to fulfill my youth´s desires
to fulfill my parents desires
to fulfill society´s desires
to fuck
to have children
to be outrageous
to have fun
to enjoy
to change the world
to write a book
to make people miserable
to save the world
to find empathy
to destroy empathy
to resolve a questionnaire
to find answers
to find questions
to ask questions
to die
to die in solitude
to die in company
to reserve
to explode
to counteract
to revolt
to revolutionize
to be a product
to create a branch
to create a business
to be like my father
to be like my father´s absent father
to be dead
to be alive
to surpass
to recede
to disappear

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Allex September 7, 2013 at 11:38 am

Hi,
this seemed too general for me ,
because one can live out his life hurting others and enjoy it ,that is an exception right?
I didn’t try it and it makes me cry .Too generic I get it..

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