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Losing, or lacking, a sense of direction can feel like being stranded in the forest of life without a compass.
Maybe you want to leave a positive impact on the world, but aren't sure how to channel your boundless compassion into reality. Maybe you're just feeling stuck on cruise control, both at work in your personal life – and can't shake a looming sense that you've lost touch with who you are. Maybe you're realizing that the career path you've been pursuing isn't what you want after all – and those unknown alternatives feel too overwhelming to face.
When you're feeling lost like this, taking dedicated time to reflect and reconnect with yourself can help get you back on the path to your own true north. Here are six steps to get you started.
Step 1: Get into the right frame of mind for contemplation
The tricky part to unveiling our purpose is that we keep our minds so busy that we rarely have enough time to complete a thought before we are off to the next task.
Which is why Step 1 is to simply… stop doing. Sit with yourself, and get to know who you are.
Having a bit of an awkward “introduction?” Try this mindfulness-based exercise, which can connect you with your body through your breath:
- Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
- Keep both feet on the ground and your hands in your lap.
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Focus on the breath and the cool air coming in.
- Breathe out through your mouth for six seconds. Focus on the warm air going out.
Repeat as necessary until you feel in the moment, aware of yourself, and ready to clearly define your outlook.
Step 2: Answer these 6 “get-to-know-me” questions
Below are a few questions to ask yourself as you get to know the awesome person you truly are.
Grab a notebook or journal and jot your answers down. If possible, you can even head to your favorite coffee shop and order a drink you love to set the right mood for your mind to reflect and get creative.
Q1. What brings a smile to your face?
In other words: When you think about ___, you cannot help but smile.
This can be more than one thing, of course, but try to identify patterns as best you can.
For example, maybe it's planning get-togethers, attending theater or dance performances, or listening to podcasts on a topic that – up until recently – you didn't know you were interested in.
Q2. What improves your mood?
When you are feeling down or cranky, what activities or things help quickly elevate your mood?
This might be helping out other people, picking up a book of poetry, attending spin class, or getting out of the city for weekend camping trips.
Knowing what types of activities boost your mood can help you prioritize them in your life.
Q3. When you were younger, did you see yourself doing something in particular?
What did you dream of when you were younger? What drew you to that position or field?
For example, maybe you wanted to be a vet because you loved animals, or a politician to improve the world around you.
Does any of that initial attraction still remain?
Jot down those dreams and the motives behind them, however vague or specific. There may be ways to incorporate them into your current life through a hobby, class, involvement in local organizations, or career change.
Q4. Is there a career or job that someone in your life talked you out of doing?
Often, we have career interests that either overtly or subconsciously get rejected, either by those around us, societal norms, or our own biases and expectations.
Reflecting back on those can give us hints into our passions and what excite us.
Why were you drawn to those roles in the past?
What can you study or learn today that will bring you closer to that field?
Q5. What is your spiritual belief – and are you practicing it?
Religious or not, it’s often important for us to feel connected to someone or something greater than ourselves.
This can be a force – like karma, universal energy, or God; or as loosely framed as practicing kindness unto others.
Are you implementing your beliefs in your everyday life? What volunteer work can you do, or community can you join (or revisit), that will help you practice those fundamentals?
Q6. Close your eyes and visualize your ideal self five years from now. What are you doing?
Once you open your eyes, ask yourself:
Are you on a more-or-less path to get there?
Is there anything you can do today to make it a smoother journey? What about this week, or next month?
If you can’t think of the answer to one of these questions, go ahead and table it for now. Make a note to notice the answers as they arise in your day-to-day experiences.
Step 3: Reflect on your responses
The questions you answered are just the start to finding your purpose! The next step is to wait – and reflect on the answers you wrote down.
It may take a few minutes, hours, days, or even weeks before you connect the dots between your answers. Your answers may also evolve as you remember more about your history, and how it ties into your now.
Here are ways to get your brain neurons firing and create new synapses to get your creativity flowing:
Mindfully acknowledge any anxieties
Does anxiety about the future tend to cloud your thinking process? Rather than letting it overwhelm your progress, mindfully acknowledge it with deep breathing so you can move on.
Get out of your comfort zone
We tend to be habitual creatures and follow the same habits and routines: We drive the same routes to work, eat the same type of foods, buy the same type of clothing.
Break out of this and do something that makes you feel uncomfortable – ride your bike or take a different route to work, take a cooking class to learn a totally new cuisine, or ask a (trusted!) friend to style your outfit for a party. You may discover a part of yourself you hadn't embraced before.
Get moving with invigorating exercise
Creativity is at its peak when we get our endorphins moving. The endorphins make you feel balanced and at peace with the world.
This is when you are more likely to make great decisions and think clearly. You do not have to go join that boot camp down the street. Simply by walking we can get those feel good chemicals moving.
Explore the unknown – to understand yourself better
Go visit that friend who's teaching English abroad, or do a solo backpacking trip! We often find ourselves out in the world when we expose ourselves to new cultures and people – as we react in a way that's genuinely ourselves, and not anyone's expectation of us.
Meet a totally new group of friends
Socializing and having new experiences opens up new possibilities, whether it's as simple as going to a gallery together or as complex as be introduced to a new friend's culture.
Remember, even the act of thinking about what you want to do with your life can encourage you to start acting in a way that’s true to your goals. In the meantime, enjoy exploring what arises and is brought to you.
Step 4: Identify, and accept, the fundamentals of what you've uncovered
When you've reached a point where you're starting to notice a pattern in what makes you feel fulfilled? That's when you've started to identify your purpose (or at least, some semblance of it!).
Take a moment to accept and celebrate that discovery. Whether it's as vague as pursuing a creative career, or as specific as becoming a horticulturist, you're on your way towards an authentic version of self-empowerment.
Remember, the purpose you unveil today doesn't have to be a life-changing one
Right now, you might feel your purpose is to do good in the world through your job. At another time, your purpose might be to care for a loved one.
Your overarching purpose can change, and sometimes you just need to find a small, immediate sense of purpose to get you inspired. Note that you don’t need to have your life mapped out entirely – finding peace with ambiguity and a general direction is okay.
Step 5: Actualize your newly-found purpose in day-to-day life
Now that you have a better sense of what excites you, it's time to start clarifying how it will play out in your everyday life.
How are you going to move towards "walking the walk" of your newfound goal? Here are three ways to define your goal, and turn it into a reality.
Make a mission statement for your life
A personal mission statement is designed to make clear who you are and what your core beliefs are, and elucidate the components of your purpose.
When writing your mission statement, keep the following in mind:
- What are my values?
- What's the legacy I want to leave behind?
- How do I want to act, and to have others describe me?
Taking the time to declare the answers to these questions is a great way to make sure you prioritize them within the holistic framework of your life.
Share with your close friends and family
You don’t have to present your newfound knowledge as your “life purpose” right off the bat! You can simply frame it as something you’re excited about pursuing, or mention that you want to do more of whatever it is that you’ve identified.
If you do choose to share your mission statement, however, one benefit is that you can ask for feedback or insight from the people who love you most.
Return to your purpose when you need a refresher
Even after accepting your purpose, and taking strides towards enacting its fundamentals in your everyday life, there may still be moments when you're at a loss for direction. Keeping your purpose in mind can help steer your course in those off hours, or moments of confusion.
Step 6: Remember that obstacles aren't end-alls
You may get super excited about your discovery, like starting your own business or pursuing your passion – but face roadblocks along the way. Know that that is normal, and doesn't necessitate that your direction is off.
Think of your purpose like a lighthouse: There’s a light at the end, and the light becomes broader as it gets close to you. You may feel like you’re wandering but if you have a general sense of direction, and if you continue pursuing what excites you most now, as you learn more about yourself you will get closer and closer to the light.
Feeling stuck? Consider seeing a therapist, or life coach, for guidance
During the process of finding and creating your purpose, you may come across internal anxieties, fears, or roadblocks. When those feelings arise, you don't have to tackle them alone!
Seeing a therapist or life coach who can help you navigate, and overcome, those feelings can help you stay true to yourself and embrace your path in its entirety.
Staying focused on your purpose will take some work, but you should enjoy the journey, process what comes up so you can be emotionally healthy for your new life and celebrate your accomplishments along the way!