What gives your life meaning? What calls you from your bed to face the day? Maybe it’s your dog nuzzling you awake that starts your day of caregiving. It might be your curiosity about the intellectual puzzle you are wresting with. It could be the calming routine of daily tasks that give your life an enjoyable rhythm, or you might be drawn to the experience of pure adventure. Purpose can be public and heroic, or quiet and unassuming. Either way, having an articulated purpose offers your life a guiding principle, a life compass.
You can tell if you are connected with your sense of purpose if you feel engaged and invigorated by your life. Feeling apathetic suggests a lack of purpose, and depletion might be a sign of loss of purpose or burn-out from unsustainable giving.
Being able to name your core purpose can help you to keep it in sight throughout your life, even as your roles change over time. But many people struggle to articulate what their life’s purpose is. If you aren’t sure, observe yourself over the coming week. Ideally, your purpose is expressed in your professional occupation, but pay attention in all corners of your life to see where you are most engaged. What stories in the news draw your attention? What issues or experiences resonate deeply? Notice when your body and energy perk up. What are you willing to take a risk for? When do you get so caught up in an experience that you lose track of time? Look for themes that tie together these experiences of engagement to help you identify your core purpose.
For example, when I did this exercise, I discovered that my life’s purpose is to facilitate the fulfillment of potential. This purpose is clearly expressed in my professional work as a psychologist, writer and speaker. But it also shows up all over my private life. My steadfast commitment to my own personal development stems from the desire to fulfill my potential. As a parent, spouse, daughter and friend, I support my loved ones to be at their authentic best. I am drawn to volunteer work where I can help close the gap between what is and what could be. My core purpose even moves me as a homeowner, as I tend to my 120-year-old Victorian home. Seeing the thread that ties together all of my activities and interests helps me to feel fulfilled.
Having clarity about your purpose is especially important during times of transition. Maybe you are switching jobs, deciding about a volunteer opportunity, pursuing a hobby, or considering retirement. Understanding your purpose will open up options for self-expression and fulfillment, and will foster lifelong health and well-being.