More than almost any other question, we often get asked, “How do I find my purpose?” Everyone wants to live his or her passion. We all want to do what we enjoy and are good at, with people we want to be around, in a way that will create value for others. As they say, do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.
So how do we navigate the realities of the world around us while pursuing our passions? My answer came to me through Paul Coelho’s masterpiece book, The Alchemist. It’s the story of a young boy in search of his personal treasure, which was really a metaphor for his life’s passion and purpose. The boy traveled the world under great peril in search of that which would set him free. Ultimately, he found his personal treasure, buried under an old tree in the yard where he grew up.
For most of us, our purpose is probably very close to where we are, and may even be right under our feet. Call it fate or whatever you want, but I believe that everything has a reason for happening. The decisions we’ve made and the actions we’ve taken have very likely brought each of us down a path very close to the one we’re actually meant to be on, alongside the people we’re meant to be on the path with.
The bigger problem for many of us is not being fully engaged in the lives we have. While we should all be constantly making adjustments to grow toward our purpose, we also need to be present and engaged with what’s in front of us. We also need to be attentive to what is going on around us and be prepared to seize the opportunities that present themselves every day.
Pursuing your passion does not need to be this major event. It’s a process of building purposeful momentum in your life by getting more from what you have and intentionally taking yourself toward where you want to be.
Here are 5 strategies for finding your purpose that you can help you discover your personal treasure:
My experiences have taught me that the vast majority of us are much closer to our purpose than we realize. There may be opportunities with our current jobs, or we may already know the right people who can help us take the much-needed steps forward. When I look at where I am today, it is most definitely the culmination of the skills I developed and the people I met along the way. It all seems so obvious now, but it didn’t when it was happening. I bet that if you really take stock of all the things that have happened in your life, you will find that they’re the scaffolding from which you can pursue your purpose.
Perhaps the best way possible to build on the great things already in your life is through a gratitude journal. They say energy flows where attention goes, so focus on the things you are already thankful for and passionate about, and let them become a foundation upon which to build.
2-Know who you are, not who you want to be
My entire life, I wanted to be an extrovert. I wanted to be the life of the party and the one that made everyone laugh. Problem is, I’m an introvert. It wasn’t until I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain that I fully embraced that aspect of myself. Only then did I fully recognize my own gifts, put them to use properly, and start to feel the energy that comes from what I believe I was meant to do.
You will never find your purpose until you understand and fully embrace who you are. Remember that what you may see as your biggest weakness can also be your greatest strength. My introversion, which does pose challenges, is also the source of great introspection, focus and creativity. Once you understand yourself, make sure to play to what I call the high-side or positive side of the attribute.
3-Ask yourself what your passions are
For many, the most difficult aspect of pursuing a passion is understanding and building confidence in what that passion is. First of all, our passions change and evolve over time, so be cognizant of that. Also, know that you have the answer within, and so the best place to start is to ask yourself what you’re passionate about.
Start paying close attention to the world around you and your emotions as you interact with it. Keep an inventory of your strengths, interests and values. Also take note of what feels truly important to you. Perhaps the most critical part of finding your passion is figuring out what will allow you to sustain that burning desire; what makes the dream bigger than any struggle or adversity you’ll encounter along the way?
Don’t beat yourself up if the answers doesn’t come quickly. Take your time in finding out what really makes you want to get up in the morning… it can be anything in the world!
4-Start small, finish big
I recently heard about the passing of an individual who was a true inspiration to myself and many of my friends and colleagues – Fred DeLuca, the founder of Subway, who provided a wealth of stories and ideas that inspired much of our work over the years. Among these, in his book, Start Small, Finish Big, DeLuca suggested a baby-step approach to building a business. Given the inherent risks of starting new businesses, he explained how vital it is to start small and grow a little bit each day. Before you know it, you’ll have the business you always dreamed of.
I would recommend trying the same approach to pursuing your passion. I’ve seen people drop everything, quit their jobs and essentially start over, and while there are some inspiring stories about those who’ve successfully done this, the results of rash, life-altering decisions are often more negative than positive.
If you think of your passion as a journey, not a destination, you will see the baby-step approach is exactly what you need. Think constant growth rather than instant gratification. You will get the energy you want and need just by knowing you are in the process of pursuing your dreams. You’ll also feel better each day and have more hope and optimism for the future. Before you know it, you will be living your purpose.
5-Start creating value
One of my favorite speakers is Andy Andrews, who once told a story of some advice he got early in his life when he was actually homeless and out of work. He was advised to simply start creating value. Andy did just that by helping people with their yards and taking non-paying gigs at local comedy clubs. Soon, he discovered something amazing: when you create value in the world, the world responds in kind. People started noticing him, appreciating his value and providing him with new opportunities.
As you uncover the things you’re passionate about, start sharing them with others. Expand your role at work, start a small business on the side, create a blog, start a Pinterest page or write a book. The process of putting your passion to work will have two benefits. First of all, it will build clarity as to whether it’s a true passion or not. Second, by sharing with others, you will make new connections, and new opportunities will begin to present themselves through them. Each day, you’ll align your life more closely with your “Big WHY.”
I have a new favorite quote by Howard Thurman that goes as follows: “Don’t ask what the word needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
We are all unique expressions of life. We are each capable of something nobody else has ever done or will ever be capable of doing. In a larger sense, I think that it is our purpose and our responsibility to learn what our unique gifts are and then to share them with the world to the maximum extent possible. If you can do this, you’ll be living your dreams for sure.
We can all start pursuing our passions today. Pay attention to what you already have, because I promise you’re closer than you think to being on the right track. Try to seize the opportunities that present themselves each day, and you’ll push forward in the ongoing process of growing toward your purpose. And it is a process, so don’t rush it – enjoy growing through it, and you’ll begin to feel the wonderful energy expand in your life!