Finding Your Purpose: A How-To Guide

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In response to previous posts Why Finding Your Purpose Is the Most Important Thing You Will Ever Do and But What Is A Purpose? I received a lot of great feedback and questions via comments and messages. One of the themes that particularly stood out was a request for more detailed help on the purpose process. The following is a guide to help you in your thinking, with questions that will scratch below the surface and links to some insightful tools as well.

The challenge: to get to a richer understanding 

As previously explained, the “formula” for purpose is to find where your strengths, passions and values overlap. At that point, you are at your most powerful, motivated and virtuous. When you apply yourself in that state to needs in the world, you bring your best to solve problems that call for your particular uniqueness. Although the strengths, passions and values framework is a helpful one, for many people, it results in a collection of seemingly unrelated and unprofessional ideas.

To give you an example, I have always excelled in math and languages (strength). I love to run (passion) and I believe that all people are of equal worth regardless of their background, opinions or behavior (value). But how could I possibly fit those things together in a meaningful way to come up with any sort of purpose that could help inform my life and career? There aren’t many job postings on LinkedIn for egalitarian, racing mathematicians. Most people therefore end up focusing exclusively on their strengths, thus ignoring the elements that motivate them and matter to them.

When I began this process, I worried that I simply had an unrelated collection of strengths, passions and values. Instead, I found that I was suffering from a rather shallow self-understanding of these elements. A passion for running is a book jacket description and the purpose process requires that we delve deeply into the pages of our lives, parsing particular passages and asking others for help. The following questions are to help you get to a more elemental level in your self-understanding.

When I pushed below the surface, I saw that my strengths in math and languages actually shared a commonality: I have knack for thinking structurally. When I asked myself what about running I liked, I found it was the self-discipline, pushing myself, competing and most importantly, reading about and understanding running training. All of sudden, I saw a connection. I was good at and loved researching an issue to uncover its governing structures. And because I believed in the inherent worth and potential of each and every person, it seemed natural to use those abilities and passions to examine life itself.

This is a very simplified version of my own process that led me to a purpose of uncovering and helping others to understand the dynamics of fulfillment and impact. I want to get below the surface of the happiness articles that tell you “7 Things Happy People Do On Their Lunch Break” to understand and make plainwhy they might do those things. Too much of today’s exploding coverage of happiness is on the what level. My purpose calls me to add the why and the how.

The challenge then, is to lean into the questions of “What are my strengths? What are my passions? What are my values?” and to really open our eyes to how we can help others. So many of us don’t really know what we’re good at. We accept what society offers us as our “passions” (TV, alcohol, shopping and sports) without ever really examining if we actually like them and want them to be our main hobbies. In the past, many people simply accepted the values of society. Now, although we’ve realized that we shouldn’t blindly accept the values of the world around us, we’ve yet to put in place the space to think consciously about our own values. The purpose process requires turning inward, really asking these questions and answering honestly.

The Workbook 

Following is a series of questions to think through that will help uncover the deeper layers of your strengths, passions and values. Return to these questions often, particularly when considering transitions or in times of unease. We are continuously uncovering answers; No response is ever complete or fully correct. You may find it helpful to work through this with people who know you well and can give you an outside eye.

Strengths

  • What subjects were your strongest in school? What element(s) of the subject came easiest?
  • Write down 3 accomplishments or successes you’ve had. What strengths did you use to accomplish them?
  • When do you feel most confident? What strengths are you using?
  • What do people thank you for?
  • What strengths routinely show up in feedback at work?
  • What are your hobbies? What strengths do you use in them?
  • What are your strengths in a romantic relationship? A friendships? With your family?
  • Ask 5 people who know you well from a variety of contexts what your top 3 strengths are. What do they say?

Passions

  • Write down three projects you have really enjoyed. What did you most love about them?
  • What are your hobbies? What do you most love about them?
  • What were your interests as a kid? What did you most love about them?
  • What issues most get you excited when you talk about them?
  • When do you feel most energized?
  • Which moments do you love most in romantic, friendly and familial relationships?
  • If you didn’t have to worry about money and you were assured success, how would you want to spend your days?
  • Without worrying about how realistic they are, what are 10 activities, trips, adventures you want to enjoy in the next decade? Think about the process (constant training and healthy eating) rather than just the outcome (completing a marathon).

Values

  • If the only advice you could give to your children were “ten commandments”, what would they be? Try to stick to ways of being (“be grateful”) rather than behaviors (“say thank you”).
  • What is most important to you in life?
  • How do you like to be treated? How do you think people should be treated in general?
  • How do you act when you are at your best?
  • How are you in darker moments? How would you change your actions when you’re not in the heat of the moment? How do you want others to care for you in those moments?
  • What big assumptions do you hold about the way people are?
  • List three people that you particularly admire. What is one quality about each you think all people should emulate.

Impact

  • Keeping in mind what is most powerful, motivated and moral within you, how do you feel most compelled to help others? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
  • If you have a clear answer:
    • Is this a purpose you can serve in your current job, volunteer activities and relationships? How can you do it more often and more effectively?
    • Is there a particular type of work that you’re not currently doing that would better allow you to help others in this way?
    • Purpose is a process not a destination. What steps can you take to live more fully into your purpose?
  • If you do not have a clear answer:
    • Can you come up with a list of things you would like to try? At this stage, trying something and finding out it doesn’t resonate with you is as valuable as finding things that do.
    • Are there opportunities you can pursue that will continue to open doors for you as you continue the process of discovery?
    • What can you do to help better uncover what you’re good at, what you love and what you value?

Tools 

Clifton StrengthsFinder – $15 – This instrument was developed by Gallup based on extensive data they have collected over the course of decades. “StrengthsFinder results give people a way to discuss and develop their unique combination of skills, talents, and knowledge — also known as strengths.” I recommend taking the “Top 5 Strengths” instrument. I found the “Strengths Insight Guide” which is tailored to your unique combination of strengths most helpful.

Myers Briggs: A personality test that isn’t directly focused on any particular element of the strengths, passions, values framework, but gives an in-depth outside view of your whole personality. Gives you many new ways to think about yourself and how you interact with others.

  • 16 Personalities Test: A simple, free approximation of the Myers Briggs test, with in depth descriptions of each type. A good place to start.
  • Myers Brigg Personality Type Indicator: Typically administered in person. Details on that can be found on the official website, or you can take it online for $175 with a follow up session.

 

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If you have additional questions, tools and resources that you have found helpful in thinking your purpose, please include them in the comments below.

See the previous posts in this series:

1. Why Finding Your Purpose Is The Most Important Thing You Will Ever Do. The theory of the purpose process. 

2. But What is a Purpose? What does it look and feel like to find your purpose? What does a purpose do?

Photo credit: Joe deSousa “The Thinker”

One thought on “Finding Your Purpose: A How-To Guide

  1. Great post, Will! Another great resource that was recommended to me by Elizabeth Wilson, and that I’m currently working on right now, is the book ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ By Richard Bolles. A new, updated edition comes out every year!

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