I recently wrote about how knowing your purpose is a key to living in joy. But what if we don’t know our purpose? What if we’ve never been able to work it out? – Then this post will really, practically help you…
Maksud continued to wander the wilderness, the cold east wind blowing her hair across her face. Strands of her long black hair blew into her eyes as she battled against the wind and sand, still unsure of her destination. She looked up from the ground into the distance, something mystically arising within her soul: Something that felt like hope despite the harshness of her surroundings. She had heard in the distant past that sometimes hope defies reality. She stared hard into the distance, willing some glimmer to appear. Maksud reminded herself that sometimes a glimmer of hope is all you need to feed the thirsty longing of your soul. Just for a second she thought she saw a shadow through the blowing sands.
Have you ever felt like Maksud? Your direction in life seems shrouded in shifting sands which blind you to the direction your life should take. It’s easy to feel like there’s no point – no purpose. It’s easy to feel that you are wandering while everyone else is ‘living a purposeful life’. Can I encourage you?
Let hope arise – sometimes hope defies (or changes) your reality
In this post I want to provide you with a practical idea based on a Japanese concept called ‘Ikigai‘ which may inspire hope to rise, and glimmers to appear in how you think about your purpose in life. You have something to offer the world that no one else can give. You are unique in the life experiences, education, skills, knowledge and ideas that fill you. No one else is like you, and no one else can give what you can give in the way that you can give it. In your life you will connect with people that others cannot connect with and you will speak into their lives in very unique ways. Understanding your sense of purpose is vital in this.
Seven Benefits of living your purpose
- You will be more focused – purpose directs your decisions, journey and destination because you will have a stronger sense of meaning in life
- You will be more passionate, with a deeper joy in living
- You will be more hopeful – it is a joy to know that every day you can do something (even a small thing) that is linked to your overall purpose in life
- Life is more straightforward – decisions are made through being purposeful
- You will be more motivated – you are able to move in the direction you want and will be doing what energises you
- You will be more resilient – having a stronger sense of purpose means that when life is tough (as it can be often!) you have strong reasons for weathering the storms and persevering to move forward
- Purpose has been linked with better health and stronger personal relationships
This list is not exhaustive – there are a great many benefits a purposeful life can give to you. So how can you practically work out your purpose? Here goes…
In Japan there is a simple concept called Ikigai (loosely translated it means reason for being). The image below shows the 4 main parts of Ikigai. They are:
- What are you good at?
- What do you enjoy?
- What does the world need?
- What can you get paid for?
Ikigai is the place where all four ‘spheres’ connect and overlap. The original concept of Ikigai does not place importance on what you can earn because true happiness in life is not about what you accumulate in life, but rather in how you live your life. The ‘earning’ part of the model is shown because we have to consider how to survive practically in life, and there is a monetary cost to that. It’s hard to feel fulfilled when your stomach is empty!
Ikigai is also not about knowing what career to choose – a career choice should come from having a sense of purpose.
Ikigai – A Purposeful Process
Get yourself a large sheet of paper and write the 4 questions across the top of the page (see the photo below for my example)
Next, start listing everything you love doing under the heading “What do I love?” – be exhaustive in the list. Take your time. You might need to come back to it many times (I spent weeks reflecting on this).
It can be helpful to talk with friends or family to get their ideas (but only write down what is true for you, not them!). This list is likely to be your longest list: add sports; musical interests; work ideas; creativity pursuits; tasks; everything you can think of that makes you feel happy!
Then do the same for the next three questions. Be sure to write as many things as you can think of. Put down everything you think is relevant to each question. Remember there is no wrong thing to write – you can always cross it out again – it’s vital to the process. Allow yourself to dream, but keep it real.
Look for ‘themes’
Once you have done this, look at each list and begin to look for what words or ideas reoccur – circle these as shown on my example – you should now be seeing how some of the initial ideas on the ‘love list’ are also on your other lists (if not, should they be?) – seeing words and phrases on 3-4 of the lists will help you see the parts of a greater ‘purpose’ or sense of meaning for you.
In the lists above, the person listed things like ‘inspiring others’, ‘telling stories’ and ‘teaching stuff’ – each of these could easily join together into the role of a Teacher. They also said they were good at ‘explaining things’ – a great teaching skill! They had always seen ‘public speaking’ as a presentation skill, but never as a teaching skill – this process changed their view and allowed their mind to open to wider possibilities!
Create a Purpose Statement for your life
Take the reoccurring statements from your first three lists and try to craft them into a statement of purpose for your life – this is perhaps the hardest part of the exercise. It will take time. You will need to draft , draft and redraft until you are content with the statement you have made. This part of the process took me over a month!
Ikigai does not guarantee that you will be happy in life, but the process will lead you to a clearer idea of what your purpose in life actually is. The purpose statement that flowed from the example above ended up being…
Inspiring others to learn from life through teaching, speaking and writing
Notice that this statement doesn’t mention their career – your career choices will flow from your sense of purpose. They could be a blogger, motivational speaker, teacher, life coach, youth worker, or a travelling preacher and still live their life ‘on purpose’.
Make choices based on your Purpose Statement
By the time you are reflecting on ‘What can I get paid for?’ you should have a ‘glimmer’ (or a clear insight) of what your purpose looks like. The person above knew before this point that they needed to work with young people and that they needed to be doing public speaking because it gave them a massive sense of happiness and energy.
If your purpose statement was about being fabulous in finances and impacting the banking world, you would not then choose a career path as a train driver. You would make choices that facilitate the fulfilling of your purpose. You would aim to work in finance, and to grow in depth of knowledge and experience with which you might make an impact. Growing in your purpose requires narrowing down your options – this is one of the ways you will become more focused.
Moving forward on Purpose
It is important to point out that purpose is not always about what career you have (although it can be). Purpose is about what gives your life meaning and this differs for each of us. Our situation in life can deeply influence our sense of purpose. A Japanese lady who was struggling with her purpose came to the conclusion that her purpose was to be the best mother to her children possible.
The key thing in finding purpose is about happiness – what will give you joy while you are giving yourself to the world around you? As you move forward keep on reflecting on your purpose – continue to draw on it in your life choices as you aim to live it out with passion, energy and meaning.
I must point out that knowing your purpose does not make your life easier (it might make it harder!) – it makes it more fulfilled (but only when you life according to your purpose. Living out your purpose will require grit, determination and a lot of perseverance. Other people will always try to get you to live according to their purpose for your life – stay focused and stay on your track – it will be worth it in the end.
May you know an ever deepening sense of happiness as you uncover your sense of purpose and give back to the world around you.
If you have found this article helpful please leave me a comment below, or drop me an email to let me know how it has helped you. You might also wish to share it with your friends, or on social media – this would be kind, and appreciated. With warm regards, Stuart.