What is your purpose?
It’s not the easiest question to answer. “Purpose” is one of those intimidating words that can feel a little too big and significant to take on, so it makes sense that you might not have a ready answer for this question on any given day. And yet, defining your purpose can be hugely impactful to your career and life.
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” That’s Nietzche’s take on why purpose is important. When you have purpose, your ability to work hard and stick with it increases exponentially. Beyond gaining resilience, purpose also helps you spend your time more wisely. It gives you a specific metric for what’s worth your time: Is it propelling you in the direction of your purpose? Double down. Is it actually moving you further away? It’s time to put an end to it.
Recognizing you want to define your purpose is the easy part. Actually honing in on it is harder. There are plenty of equally vague questions yourself to start defining your purpose — What does the perfect world look like to you? What are your values? If you’re not there yet, we think a good place to start is by imagining yourself in these 5 hypothetical scenarios:
1. They’re handing out high school superlatives all over again. Which one do you think you’ll get? Which one do you want to lobby for?
“Most likely to run for president with Kanye in 2020”? “Most likely to kick as at being a parent”? “Most likely to put a smile on your face”?
The fun thing about this scenario is it makes you wonder not just what others recognize as your strengths, but also what you want to be known for.
2. A new dating app comes out that consists entirely of testimonials from your best friends. What do they say about you?
Which qualities are they likely to bring up to prove what an awesome catch you are? “Seriously has their shit together” maybe, or “Will watch a movie they hate with you just to make you feel better”? (And don’t feel bad about answering this one happily dating/married folks, it’s hypothetical.)
3. It’s the not-so-distant-future and a reporter is profiling you for a magazine because you’re pretty much killing it at everything. She calls up your parents (or closest family members) and asks them, “What was (your name here) like as a child? When did you know they were destined for awesome things?”
Your parents and the people who watched you grow up know you like no one else can. They notice things about you that you may not have the perspective to notice, and they often see your potential for greatness more clearly. This one might actually be worth a real phone call to see what their answer would be!
4. You’re transported to a distant future where technology has made it so no one has to work for money anymore (#optimism). Instead, you get to choose something you enjoy to do for the next year. What do you choose?
It can be getting really good at a skill, or trying to solve a problem you think is important, or anything else. As long as you know you’d have a great time doing for a whole year.
Follow up question – why would this be so enjoyable? Is it because you would learn something, because you would do something that’s never been done before or something else? Consider what this means about the kind of activities that make you happy.
5. Oprah wants to take her gift-giving to the next level by picking an entire group or community to do a give-away for. She’s not sure which deserving group to choose and calls on you for advice. Which community or groups you’re familiar with would you suggest she consider?
The neighborhood you grew up in? An organization you volunteer for? An underprivileged community? Your church? Who would you love to surprise with a positive experience?
Another way to think about this scenario is what communities and groups do you care about? And how can this inform ways you can make a contribution to them?