What is my purpose in life

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

What’s my purpose? What’s my calling in life? What’s the ideal career for me? These are big, powerful questions. If you have ever pondered these questions you are demonstrating a desire, a curiosity, to reach for your potential and a longing to live a life rich with meaning and purpose.

Before I share with you four steps for heightening your awareness around your purpose in life, let me tell you what I’ve discovered about the concept of life purpose.

We all have a purpose in life

I firmly believe we all have a purpose or calling in life. I like the idea of my purpose being etched on my soul. I also believe that if we have come into this world with a purpose to fulfil, then within us we have the raw ingredients, the talents, the personality, the ability to learn what we need to learn, to live out that purpose. Our purpose may be aligned with a career, or it may not, but our purpose will always be the tangible demonstration of the best of ourselves.

Paying attention

It’s only the rare individual who knows their calling in life from an early age. Most of us start by first filtering through what we don’t want. When we pay attention to our life experiences we get what I refer to as contrast. Contrast means an awareness of what works for us and what doesn’t work. We can then steer a course towards what we want more of and away from what we want less of in our lives.

Purpose is an internal journey

One of my favourite quotes is by Joy J Gulliver ‘the meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.’ Discovering your purpose is a quest, a noble and worthwhile quest. It is only in the searching, the trying, the trial and error, do we learn and grow as people. And whilst teachers, books and workshops can help you on your quest, no one can ever tell you what your purpose or calling is, because discovering your purpose is a personal and internal journey. Only you can interpret what is etched on your soul.

Purpose is the process of becoming your true self

Purpose is not a destination; it is the journey of life. It is not about striving until you arrive, but living every day as your true authentic self. The one purpose we all have in common is to be 100% ourselves, 100% of the time. This doesn’t mean we don’t adapt to fit our surroundings, or alter our approach for greater impact, it simply means we don’t play a role or wear a mask to be accepted.

Having a positive intention

Living life ‘on purpose’ means setting a positive intention at the outset of each day. We set our intention to show up as the best of ourselves, harnessing our skills, talents and personality to be of service to others (this doesn’t mean being servile, far from it!) Detecting your purpose in life also starts by setting your intention, making the commitment to yourself to stay open to what that purpose might be. I believe most people know deep down what their purpose is, but because it is not what they think it should be, or what others want it to be for them, they ignore it and bury it, but of course it never goes away (not when it is etched on your soul!)

Our emotions are our guide

And here’s the cool part. We have an in-built detection device that assists us in determining our purpose – our emotions. If I’m feeling good, I’m on track, if I’m not feeling good, let me get curious about what changes I can make, what’s here for me to learn. View your feelings as your inner GPS, they will inform you when you are on route one, when you are stuck in a cul-de-sac, or when you have gone off course and your emotions are screaming ‘turn around!’

Steps for detecting your purpose

Step 1 – Get Curious

  1. Grab a pen and paper and mug of something warm, curl up and muse over these questions/ finish these statements. 
  2. Across every aspect of my life, what activities do I just love doing?
  3. What do I do naturally?
  4. What do people regularly compliment me on?
  5. What do I love doing that just makes me feel strong on the inside?
  6. I’m in my element when I’m........)
  7. What skills/ talents would I love to exercise every day?

Step 2 – Know your values

Your purpose will always be aligned with what is important to you in life, so this makes an awareness of your values a vital step in the process. Your values are the qualities, emotions, criteria that are important to you. Examples of common values include - family, integrity, sense of achievement, recognition, love, learning, freedom. I like to describe values as the ingredients in our individual recipe for living a fulfilled life.

The hero exercise is a great way to uncover your values. List three or four people you admire and the qualities about them you admire. The qualities you list will be some of your values. If you think about it, you have to have, at minimum, the seeds of these qualities in you, otherwise you wouldn’t admire, or recognise them in others.

More questions for uncovering your values.

  1. What do I want my career to do for me?
  2. What’s important to me about life?
  3. What brings me the most joy?
  4. What brings me alive, energizes me, reminds me of who I am?

Step 3 – Play with possibilities

Having looked within in steps one and two, now it’s time to look forward.

  1. What does future ‘success’ look like/ feel like for me?
  2. What’s possible for me in the years ahead?
  3. Who is the person I’ve been practicing to become? (deep question!)
  4. In twenty years time, what would make me proud?

Step 4 Review & Commit

As you review your answers patterns will emerge. You have probably noted some words or phrases more than once. Reviewing what you have written and your common themes, ask yourself - how can I engage in those activities more frequently and purposefully? Brainstorm how you can spend more time doing what you love, even if it is only for a few hours at the weekend. By making the conscious decision to put your energy into activities you enjoy, you are showing up, sending a message to the Universe that you are committed to living a life of purpose, on purpose.

These four steps have given you some indicators as to the direction in which your purpose lies. Your answers are clues on your individual treasure map. Remember, it is rare that someone’s life purpose can be contained within a job title or a line on a business card. As people we are too complex for that and our purpose too broad.

So how will you know when you are on the right path? Firstly, you will feel it, your inner GPS, your emotions will tell you because you will feel happy, lucky, blessed, excited, contented. (Of course that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges and down days.) Secondly, your purpose will satisfy these three criteria – it will be something, or more likely a combination of things you naturally excel at, the process itself, not just the end result brings you joy and it is of benefit to others.

Lastly, life purpose is something we often think about in the future tense, but our purpose can only be lived in the present. What we refer to as purpose, others (perhaps when our time on Earth is up) will refer to as legacy. Just as we will never know our full legacy, the impact we have on others and the world around us, we can never know the full scope of our purpose. Rather than choosing your purpose, perhaps your purpose has chosen you, so all you have to do is be yourself, the best of yourself, exercising your skills and talents in ways that bring you joy and is of service to others.

James Sweetman is an experienced Business & Personal Coach, Soft Skills Trainer, Motivational Speaker and Author. He specialises in a number of areas including Interview Preparation, Career Fulfillment, Motivation and Leadership Skills.

His popular ebook ‘How to Excel at Interviews’ can be downloaded for free at 


More information about James and his work can be found at www.jamessweetman.com