What is your purpose? This is a common question many individuals ask themselves. For our military community, there are understandable reasons to join; a steppingstone for higher education, wanting to be part of something bigger than yourself, or for the honor of serving your country. These are only a few reasons; the list goes on. But what happens when the uniform comes off and you find yourself without a purpose? How do you discover your new passion and goals?
Finding your purpose is not an easy journey, it’s a difficult path to wander. It can be riddled with anxiety, self-doubt, and hopelessness. But it doesn’t have to be. Numerous resources are available that discuss this topic in depth, highlighting key skills and tactics that help form a better understanding of what purpose is. From Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on “Finding your Why” to Angela Duckworth’s book on “Grit,” everyone seems to have something to say about developing a purpose.
Four Block, an organization that True North had the pleasure of connecting with recently, focuses on helping veterans develop their purpose to better their job search opportunities and sustain their eventual career. One of the ways in which Four Block helps veterans find that purpose by asking questions like: What are your interests? When your mind wanders, where does it wander to? And, what is important to you? They strive to help servicemembers find their purpose because purpose leads to longevity. If you have something to strive for, you will not only notice when you are making progress towards your goal, but you will leave a positive impact on the world around you and will be left happy and fulfilled once you have finally achieved it.
So how do you develop your purpose? What is this innate thing that seems slightly out of reach? And how do you work to discover it?
In this article we discuss some tools that can be utilized to help find your purpose, or at least put you on a path that will lead to its discovery.
Let’s start simple. Your brain is filled with words, thoughts, ideas, opinions, and revelations—all types of things that can crowd your mind. A good way to organize your thoughts, and to make your mind less busy, is to write them down. This can be done in as little as 5 minutes a day or for as long as you would like, but set a goal of how often you would like to write. It may seem daunting at first, but journaling can be whatever you’d like it to be! It can be a diary of your day, a description of an event, a thought or idea, a doodle, even something that happened years ago–literally whatever you want.
Not only does journaling help you organize your thoughts, but it also allows you to do some self-reflection on how you’re feeling and why you might be feeling that way. This is crucial in trying to find your purpose because it forces you to be more conscious of your thoughts and feelings, making what really matters in your life more apparent.
Find your Why
Simon Sinek has an 18-minute video that describes the value of finding your “Why.” His foundation to finding your why stems from a diagram he calls “The Golden Circle.” This diagram contains three circles, each nested within the others, starting with “Why” at the center, “How” in the middle, and “What” on the outside. Each of these levels has its own meaning:
Why: Your purpose in what you do. This is the reason of your existence, your motivations and what you believe.
How: This is your process. The actions you take that help you identify and live out your why.
What: This is your result. This is your job, hobby, company, etc. the material thing that you can measure, touch, and feel daily.
Looking at your purpose through a different lens, or from ‘the big picture’ point of view, can sometimes help you narrow down what you want, what your passions are, and why you are interested in a certain field. However, this is not something that can be implemented overnight, it takes a long time to fully assimilate.
Interests Grow into Passion
While Simon uses the whole picture approach to find your purpose, Angela Duckworth takes specifics and turns them into big ideas. Angela has a PhD in Psychology and has made it her life’s work to study what characterizes “grit.” She has even written a book titled “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” in which she delves into how passion and perseverance are the key components to a gritty individual. In this book, she also dedicates an entire chapter to discuss purpose.
In this chapter, she claims: “most people first become attracted to things they enjoy and only later appreciate how these personal interests might also benefit others.” She believes that interest and purpose lead to passion.
So how do we find these interests? Angela states that people “need to play an active role in developing and deepening their interests” and that your calling is “dynamic.” She continues, “Whatever you do—whether you’re a janitor or a CEO—you can continually look at what you do and ask how it connects with other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values.” Angela then provides three recommendations on how to start cultivating a sense of purpose:
Identifying interests and finding purpose is not an easy task. Some people already know their purpose at 5 years old while others discover it over many decades. Don’t beat yourself up trying to answer a question that can take some deep soul searching to find.
If you are still struggling to find answers, start small. Answer questions like: What do I like to think about? What do I really care about? How do I enjoy spending my time?
Trying new things and realizing they’re not for you is also okay! It can still help you figure out what you like since it identifies things you don’t like. Don’t be afraid to experiment and guess! Your purpose will reveal itself in time. Instead of worrying and stressing about finding the right path, enjoy the journey! Learn to identify what your interests and passions are so when the time comes and you finally discover your purpose, you’re ready to run with it.