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How to Find Direction in Life & Live Life on Purpose

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Are you wondering how to find direction in life? Do you want to start living your life on purpose (and with purpose) , but you have no idea what your life purpose even is? 

I’ve been there and it doesn’t feel good when it feels like you are lost and can’t find the right direction for your life. I assure you that while this moment feels confusing and distressing, it’s actually quite important.  In fact, it holds the seeds for growth and happiness.

It Happens to Most of Us

Sooner or later, most of us find ourselves wondering what our lives are truly all about. For me, this happened in my 20s and again in my 30s and now again in my 50s. I guess I must have been too busy in my 40s to stop and pay attention.

Every stage of life offers a new chance to reevaluate who we are, where we are, and what we want to be doing with our lives.  It’s wise to examine your life from time to time;  it’s how you guarantee  you’re making the most of your precious days on this planet.

The Search for Your True North

I feel like I’ve been on a constant search for my true north all my life (which reminds me,  if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend reading Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star …it’s fabulous).  Sometimes I know I’m on the right path while other times I feel so lost and wonder how I got that way. I’ve come to look at these very different times of clarity and confusion as life’s way of guiding me to my highest life — and I realize that every step of the journey is important, even on the days that I feel lost. 

I have this theory — okay it’s a borrowed theory — that the universe makes you uncomfortable for a reason. It’s so that you will grow into the person you came to earth to be and have the experiences you were meant to have. These times also give you the chance to find new ways to offer your gifts so your life will make a difference in some way. 

How to Find Your Ikigai

(Or to find your direction and live your life on purpose, with purpose)

I’m drawn to the Japanese word “ikigai,” which means “a reason for being.” There’s no single English word equivalent that conveys  this big concept so simply.

In Japanese
In Japanese "ikigai" means a reason for being (Image Source: EmeraldWorks.com)

Ken Mogi is a highly regarded neuroscientist and author of the book Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose. In an interview, Ken Mogi explained ikigai as “our life’s purpose, the reason you get up in the morning. It can be something very small, like taking your dog for a walk, or your ultimate goal in life.”

I don’t want to get into the full how-to’s of finding your ikigai here (though I highly recommend reading Mogi’s book if you do). To summarize, there are five foundations or pillars of ikigai. They are:

  • Start small
  • Release yourself — accept who you are
  • Embrace harmony and sustainability — rely on others
  • Take in joy
  • Be present in the here and now — find your flow

What I like about the ikigai is that it gives us all a break. Life is not about all the big, rare moments in our lives or about our accomplishments.  Imagine what pressure we’d face if we had to be achieving and doing grand things all the time? 

Instead, life is truly about how we live our lives every single day. It’s about the small habits we adopt. It’s also about how we view ourselves and others, and how that self-love and love for others is expressed. Life’s little moments of joy each and every day are far more important to the overall quality of our lives than that mega-vacation or big fancy car we’ve been yearning to get. Last but certainly not least, ikigai is about learning to live fully in the present;  living intentionally  is the path to great peace and happiness in our lives. 

You Say,“I Need Direction.” Okay, Here’s How to Find Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes

Adam Leipzig’s Ted Talk on How to Find Your Life Purpose in 5 Five Minutes has had more than 15 million views. Fifteen million! Ironically, the talk itself is over ten minutes long, so I’m not sure the whole five minutes thing is accurate. That being said, Adam makes some great points in his talk.

5 Questions to Find Your Life Purpose

In Adam  tells us that to find our life purpose, we need to ask ourselves five questions.  I’m paraphrasing a bit, but essentially the five questions are: 

  • Who am I?
  • What do I do?
  • Who do I do it for?
  • What do I want or need?
  • How will I feel as a result of getting those wants and needs met? 

According to Adam, these questions offer the perspective you need to find your life purpose. I’m not sure I agree with him 100 percent on that, but I do love the questions  and I encourage you to them and then see what they bring up for you.  

Life Purpose Is Not the Same Thing As Your Occupation

When you ask yourself the question “What do I do?” don’t just think about what you do for your occupation. Think about what you do from a whole-life perspective.

Too many of us get bamboozled into believing our life purpose and what we do to earn a living are always connected. For some of us, our jobs are an essential aspect of our life’s purpose. For others, purpose and occupation are not highly related.

In my opinion, HOW we do our jobs … intentionally, lovingly, and with respect for ourselves and others … IS ALWAYS part of our purpose in life. We’re here to be kind to ourselves and to others. That’s a non-negotiable.

My Mom Had More than One Purpose

My mom was the best mom in the world, and I fully believe that being a generous and gentle mother was a big part of her life purpose. She didn’t make money for being a great mom (too bad, really). Her occupation was as a kitchen lunch lady. Yes, the school kids needed to be fed, but the food itself had little to do with my mom’s second purpose. It was the love she poured into caring for those children that was inextricably tied to her purpose.

I don’t really know the other reasons my mom was born (though I’m so grateful she was born!).  She may have had many purposes that I didn’t understand.   My point is that my mother didn’t have just one life purpose, and in all likelihood, neither do you.

What Are You Dreaming About for Your Life?

“You will never be able to escape from your own heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”

From The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo Tweet

The dreams you have for your life hold clues to the direction you should now head. Is there something calling to you right now? What is it? Spend a little time exploring your dreams. Why are they so appealing to you? 

I recently watched the graduation episode of the YouTube show, Some Good News, and Steven Spielberg had some wonderful advice about going after your dreams. He basically said that your true dreams will test you. They’ll reveal whether you really want them or whether they are just an idea in the back of your mind that have no real weight or substance. 

Only you can decide whether the dreams in your heart are worth the effort to pursue. 

Just like Santiago in The Alchemist (by author Paulo Coelho — another book you gotta read!) — you will be tested. When you persist even in the face of tough tests and continue onward despite the difficulties, you know you are aligned with your life purpose.  

The right path for your life is not always the easiest; it’s the path that makes you feel most alive. So what makes you feel most alive? That’s a direction worth heading. 

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

From The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo Tweet

What Do You Want vs. What Do You NOT Want

Maybe you don’t have a dream for your life. It happens. If you feel at a total loss for which direction to head, then that last piece of advice on following your dreams felt pretty empty and useless to you. Take heart, I’m not done here. There are MANY ways to find direction for your life and uncover your purpose. 

If you feel stuck or clueless as to want to do in your life, consider what you want and don’t want. Make a two-column list and be as thorough as you can for what you want and don’t want going forward. 

TIP: While you could write down “I don’t want to feel pain” or “I want to make a lot of money,” those types of general wants and don’t wants are not going to help you get very clear about where to head next. The more specific you can be on your list of wants and don’t’ wants, the better. 

If you need a little help narrowing down your true wants, ask yourself “Why?” (as in “Why do I want this” or “Why don’t I want this”) with each entry you write down. 

Examples:

I don’t want to work for anyone 

Why?  Because I want the freedom and flexibility that comes from working for myself

I want a lot of money.

Why? Because I want a life where I don’t have to struggle with money so I can focus on doing X, Y, or Z.

Here’s a worksheet you can download to help you create your list (no email required to download). After you’ve  completed your list — which may take a few days — go back through and circle what’s MOST important to you.  Then consider how you can make that happen in your life; if you don’t know, it’s time to start doing some research on it.

What You Are Good At vs. What You Enjoy Doing

Another way to gain more clarity on your life’s purpose so you can find which direction to go is to do a self-audit on what you enjoy doing versus what you’re good at — and then find the overlap. This idea aligns with the ikigai concept I introduced earlier. 

Make no mistake: You were given your talents for a reason. Your gifts are meant to be used by you and shared with others. You must find a way to use your gifts, whether it’s at a job or elsewhere. Your heart sinks and your soul suffers if you don’t find a path for expressing your gifts in your life.

What you enjoy doing matters, too. The things you enjoy doing in life are not random. The things that light you up and make you feel good — not just for a moment but rather light you up to your very core — are signals. You were not born to slog through life, but rather experience true fulfillment and joy. While your life is not only about being happy, happiness needs to be a big part of the picture. (And frankly, that’s where the ikigai concept of finding little joys every day is SO powerful!)

Here’s another worksheet you can download for writing down the things that you’re good at as well as the things that bring you joy in life.  Take your time completing this list and once you’re done, circle the things that matter most to you.  These are clues to how to head in the right direction for you.

Experts Weigh in on Finding Your Right Direction

I know that there is no one single way to find your direction and hone in on your life purpose. That’s why I reached out and asked others to give their best advice. Here’s the wisdom they offered.

Use Alone Time to Get Clear on What You Want -Janice Holly Booth

Janice Booth“The first piece of advice I’d give to someone struggling with how to find their purpose or direction in life is to spend some time in solitude … You can’t figure out who you are, where you are, and where you want to go unless you spend some quiet time really thinking about the things that matter to you, and yet most people would rather endure a root canal than spend vast amounts of time alone.

Alone time, if you use it the right way, allows you to feel and hear and understand what’s really going with you. Going for a walk without your cell phone, without the burdens of work pressing down on you — going for a walk where you smell the air, feel your feet touching the ground, the sun or the rain or the snow on your face, even feeling the twings and twangs in your joints — these all bring you to a place of introspection, allowing you to come closer to knowing who you are and what you want. Equally important, when you spend time alone, you can figure out what you DON’T want. Introspection is so important for figuring out your path, but it’s only possible in solitude.

In order to embrace solitude, you need to start by slowing down. Take a moment each morning before starting your busy day to stand outside and just be still.

Every single day, the sky will look different, the birds will sing in different patterns, the air will carry with it some scent from close by or far away. Feel the temperature. If there’s a flower nearby, smell it. Breathe in deeply and notice. Observe how you are feeling. You don’t have to do anything about it, just notice. You need to devote only a few minutes to this process, but if you do it three times a day — at the beginning, middle, and end of your routine — you’ll cultivate the habit of quieting your mind and separating it from distractions.

This is a start. It prepares you for deeper dives. And it’s in these deeper dives that you’ll get closer to finding your new direction.”

-Janice Booth, Founder & CEO, The Teambuilding KIT www.theteambuildingkit.com

Your Purpose Is to Evolve into the Whole Person You Were Meant to Be -Lynell Ross

Lynell Ross“If you are struggling to find your purpose both professionally and personally, remember that your purpose is to evolve into the whole person you were meant to be. You were born with certain gifts and talents that you develop over time and bring forth those gifts in your work and in your personal life.

You can begin to uncover your true nature by doing self-reflection, journaling, and beginning to notice your thoughts and behaviors. 

Create a timeline going back to childhood. Recall what kinds of things you loved as a child. Were you drawn to nature, hiking, flowers, fishing, and outdoor activities? Did you love to learn and read? Were you very active or did you have a love of math and statistics? If you want to be happy and successful, realize that your purpose is not about what you do, it is about who you are.

Very often, we had to put away the things we enjoyed because life had other plans. It is never too late to start doing what we are drawn to. You can incorporate these into a career or into your personal life. If you need direction, follow the next step that feels right to you.”

 -Lynell Ross, Founder & Managing Editor, Zivadream 

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying

I realize the headline for this section sounds like a downer, but bear with me. In his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advised that we should begin with the end in mind. That’s not a bad way to look at your life right now. 

On the last day of your life as you look back on all that you experienced in life, which thoughts will make you most proud? Which will bring you the most joy? Which will lead you to say “I had a really great life — I truly lived the full depth and breadth of it!”?

It’s kinda hard to put yourself in the place of being at the end of your life, so you may want to take a lesson from what others have experienced in their last days. Bronnie Ware worked as a nurse in palliative care attending to the needs of the terminally ill. In Bronnie’s amazing book, The Five Regrets of the Dying, she discusses the wisdom imparted by the patients she cared for. Here are the top five regrets she found people had when they faced the end of their lives (paraphrased):

  1. They wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.
  2. They wished they hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. They wished they’d had the courage to express their true feelings.
  4. They wished they’d stayed in touch with their friends.
  5. They wished they’d let themselves be happier.

Looking back on your life today, do you have any of these regrets already in your life? Thankfully, there’s still time to do something about it. 

As you look for how to find direction in your life — as you explore what your life purpose is — please don’t neglect the things that make life so beautiful. You’re here to be happy, to connect with others, and to live authentically as you. And, you better believe that who you truly are — the real you — is perfect, no matter what anyone else says! 

Where You Go vs. How You Travel This Road Called Life

It’s not always about which road you travel down in life, but how you choose to look at the journey and the behaviors and mindsets you adopt as you travel this sometimes windy and bumpy road called life.

There is purpose in every single day of your life. There is beauty to be seen and joy to experience. There is love to give and receive. Be easy and kind to yourself each day and take time to smell the roses, watch some sunsets, and laugh along the way.

Join the Conversation

If you have any questions, comments, or advice to add to this  discussion, please add those thoughts in the comments section (see below). 

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find your direction and live your life on purpose

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