I celebrated my birthday last week, and that milestone got me thinking: what is my purpose in life?
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ve (hopefully) gone through the exercise of laying down a company mission. Articulating a mission can make decisions easier, focus your efforts, and help attract like-minded supporters and customers.
The same goes for figuring out your life’s purpose, but it’s a bit tougher. Deciding what gives meaning to your life, what larger goal you want to devote years and years to, what’s most important to you in the entire world – those are lofty questions. Even someone with a philosophy degree (like me) can get stumped.
We asked nearly 100 entrepreneurs to share their tips for finding purpose in life, and their advice resoundingly centered on self-reflection, trying many things, being true to yourself, and having patience.
14 questions for finding your life’s purpose
“What is my purpose in life?” is an intimidating and, frankly, way-too-abstract question. Taken together, the questions below can give you clues to help solve the mystery. You could reflect on them alone, in writing, or with a friend or mentor.
If you got a billion dollars, what would you spend it on to make the world a better place?
When are you most happy? What are your favorite parts of your current job?
What makes you indispensable to the world? What is it that only you can do?
– Dez Stephens, founder of Radiant Health Institute
What words do you use over and over?
– Rebecca M. Farrar, founder and CEO of Tell ‘em
What’s the last thing you put down before you go to bed?
– John Hossack, President of Cardinal Path
What would you write a book about?
– Elizabeth Armstrong, PhD, CEO of Jazzy Eco Sustainable Community
Why do you get out of bed in morning? If you didn't, would anybody care?
– Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
– Jacek Grebski, partner at SWARM
What doesn’t seem like work to you, but does to other people?
– Paul Graham, cofounder of Y Combinator
During down periods of your life, what was missing?
– Donnie Miller, CEO of Technical Adventures
Imagine yourself on your deathbed in the distant future. What is the one thing you hope has happened in the world?
– Jeff Nosanov, CEO of Vital
What could you create that would still exist in 200-300 years?
– Tim Ferriss via Dan Martell
What do people like to listen to you talk about?
– Chris Ciborowski, founder and managing partner at Nebulaworks
If you could change anything in the world, what would it be? What frustrates you the most?
– Gayle Nowak, founder of TheStoryStylist.com, and Anne Balduzzi, founder and CMO of SameGrain
Try lots of things
Your purpose in life could be something you have absolutely no experience with yet, like making sure everyone in the world has drinking water or promoting self-compassion. Seeking out new experiences, activities, people, and places will expand your horizons and open your eyes to new possibilities.
“There is only one way to do it: exposing yourself to as many different new experiences as possible. Good, bad, and ugly. Travel, volunteer, start a new project, and take risks exposing yourself to failure. From that you'll find what you love and your purpose (or at least what it isn't),” says Denny Hollick, cofounder of Orangedox.
Brenden Dilley wasn’t sure what his purpose in life was, but he dove in and started writing a blog. Soon, he was writing a book, coaching people over the phone, and now doing motivational speaking.
“Try SOMETHING. Don't wait; identify something that sparks your soul and allow that to lead you to the next adventure,” says Dilley, author of Still Breathin’. “I never would have ended up doing what I'm doing right now had I not taken that initial plunge.”
Purpose is one of the most personal choices in life, right up there with picking a romantic partner and whether you like cilantro. It has to come from within, and sometimes it’s hard to hear ourselves amid all the external noise.
“Worry less about ‘advice’ and focus more on learning what works for you. Sometimes the things that motivate us might seem unimpressive or ‘boring’ to others. But you have to learn to be true to yourself, which can be hard,” says John Turner, CEO of UsersThink.
To do that, it helps to slow down and spend some time alone – whether that’s quietly meditating, going for a walk in nature, or taking a vacation.
“You need time away from your daily life to be able to sit and think about what you want. Most of us are constantly in a haze from working 50+ hour weeks that we give ourselves little time to rest, sit, and think. Before you know it, 50 years have passed and you have achieved nothing,” warns Paul Manwaring, marketing consultant at Internet Marketing Hustle.
Oddly enough, we may have already encountered our purpose but don’t recognize it because we feel it “should” be something else. That’s the external noise talking – tune it out.
A few entrepreneurs warned about spending too much time reflecting and not enough time doing. Is purpose something we can figure out by looking inside, or does it only come to us through experience? If you believe in the latter, you might just wait for your purpose to find you.
“Don't try to figure out what your life's purpose is, or you will be looking forever. Just live your life and it will come to you. You can't force it,” says Karen Cahn, founder and CEO of VProud.
That doesn’t sit well with an overthinker like me, but I know people who heartily subscribe to that view. Which camp are you in?
Image credit: Pixabay / CC0