4 Ways to Get Clear About Your Reason for Being
From the Talking Heads “Road to Nowhere” to the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man,” rock stars have created some powerful lyrics about being aimless in life. Even Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a political rock star by every measure, said “If you do not know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” The point is that people need a purpose to truly thrive in life.
Unfortunately, a lack of lack of clarity about where you are headed can leave a person rudderless during the best of times. When the landscape of society changes as dramatically as it did over the past few years, more individuals feel lost than before.
“Things have always been uncertain; you never really know what’s around the corner. However, because of everything that has happened recently, uncertainty is now smacking us in the face,” Career and Executive Coach Tammy Gooler Loeb, MBA, CPCC and author of Work from the Inside Out: Break Through Nine Common Obstacles and Design a Career That Fulfills You, told me.
“Because of that, people need to know their ‘why’ so they can stay grounded and focused on what it is that they are here to do,” she continued. “If we lose sight of that in the midst of an unstable time, then people have nothing to hang on to. Recognizing one’s motivation gives us an anchor when everything else feels out of our control.”
Everyone Has a Purpose
Whether you recognize it or not, everybody has a purpose in life. It’s the reason why we are here, the impetus for our existence and meaning. Sometimes we just get so bogged down by life, the expectations of others and more that it is hard to see it. When that happens, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.
As Jack Canfield, the bestselling author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series has noted, “We are all born with a deep and meaningful purpose that we have to discover. Your purpose is not something you need to make up; it’s already there. You have to uncover it in order to create the life you want.”
Finding her purpose was the last thing on Patrice Tanaka’s mind when seeking help from an executive coach in February 2002. Like other residents of New York, she continued to reel from the September 11 terrorist attacks five months earlier.
Tanaka was exhausted from caring for her husband, who had been fighting a long battle with a brain tumor and the challenges of building her Public Relations agency, PT&Co., with 12 partners. Many days it was hard to get out of bed in the morning.
She was surprised when the coach asked Tanaka to rethink her purpose in life during their first session. It proved to be a challenging assignment. As Tanaka considered possible purpose statements, she couldn’t stop thinking about the thousands of people who died in the Twin Towers attack.
“The moments before you know that you’re going to die, I would want to believe that I had done what was most important. But like most of us, those individuals were banking on living long enough to do the things that mattered most, and they just ran out of time,” explained Tanaka.
“I wanted a purpose where I would never be in danger of that,” she added. “So, I told my coach that my purpose was just simply to choose joy in my life every day, to be mindful of that joy, and to share that joy with others.”
When asked to name one thing that had brought her joy in the past, Tanaka said she loved to dance. As an eight-year-old, her dream was to dance like Ginger Rogers but in all of the decades that passed, she had never taken a dance lesson. Prodded by her coach, Tanaka signed up for lessons.
It was awkward at first but soon she was hooked. Tanaka began competing in ballroom dancing competitions locally, then nationally and internationally, winning championships along the way. It was a joyous experience that opened up her world.
Tanaka wrote a book called Becoming Ginger Rogers: How Ballroom Dancing Made me a Happier Woman, a Better Partner, and a Smarter CEO. The lessons she learned from ballroom dancing helped her thrive professionally. In 2015, she departed the public relations world to create Joyful Planet, LLC to help build purpose-drive individuals and organizations.
“While most people agree that a life purpose is important, they just don’t place a great sense of urgency around it,” she said. “But research shows that having a life purpose helps people live longer and enjoy healthier relationships while equipping us with a competitive advantage that can focus and drive us to accomplish what matters most.”
How to find your purpose
Becoming clear about your purpose can add a whole bunch of happiness to your life. Just remember that it doesn’t have to remain fixed, like a GPS coordinate, the chemical composition of oxygen or adorableness of Reese Witherspoon. As you grow and change, it can evolve as well. Here are four ways to help identify your purpose:
Make time for reflection.
Understanding yourself is key in becoming clear about your purpose. Get curious about what matters, who you are and why you are here. Post those questions to yourself and journal until you have answers from your authentic self that aren’t influenced by others.
Consider partnering with a friend or a professional, like a coach or therapist, to help you explore what purpose means to you today and how it could potentially evolve.
Focus on your values.
Define the principals, beliefs and ideals that guide your behavior. For example, Jo Ann Herold’s personal motto is “good goes around” and one of her core values is being of service in the world. That purpose has defined many of her professional and personal choices, from the moment she donned the McDonald’s Hamburglar costume as a part-time store area representative at age 16 to entertain kids at their birthday parties.
An award-wining marketing executive, Herold has helped major brands focus on eradicating childhood hunger and promoting sustainability in the course of doing business. She volunteers her time as a member of multiple non-profit boards. That desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives was behind her decision to return to the Honey Baked Ham Company as their Vice President of Marketing after an eight-year absence.
“I love helping and serving others,” said Herold. “Leading the marketing efforts for a company that plays an important part in many people’s celebrations and milestone events makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger.”
Home in on your passion.
Consider what motivates and excites you. Let’s say that you’ve had a lifelong love of sports. You were never going to be a professional athlete, but perhaps it manifests now as coaching a little league team, supporting your favorite franchise by being a die-hard fan, bringing your friends together to watch the big game or applying true sportsmanship principles to a business, and seeing it thrive as a result.
Develop a statement of purpose.
Once you’ve started to uncover your purpose, it is time to bring it to life by developing a purpose statement. You can start crafting a purpose statement by using this template: I am here to _____________, and I do this by ___________.
Depending on your interests, that could flow: I am here to help others enjoy financial freedom, and I do that by sharing my wealth management expertise. Or, I am here to make the world a better place and I do that by volunteering my time with non-profits that fight cancer. Develop some initial language and keep playing around with it. At some point, it will feel right to you.
What is your purpose in life? How did you identify it?