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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tian

5 Ways to Discover Your Purpose

Updated: May 1

Imagine standing at the crossroads of life, where every direction promises a different adventure but only one path leads you towards true fulfillment and unparalleled joy. This isn't just about choosing a road less traveled; it's about discovering the compass within you that guides you to your destiny.

Finding Your 'Why' or "Mission in Life" is a lantern illuminating the depths of your soul, revealing the essence of who you are and what you are meant to do in this vast, beautiful world. It's about unlocking the door to a life where every morning is a new opportunity to make a difference, to live not just by the clock, but by a deep, resonating purpose that drives you.

Finding your "why" or mission in life can transform your approach to life, providing clarity, motivation, and direction (also see 5 Benefits of Finding Your Mission In Life)

Here are five ways to discover your purpose, inspired by reflections on what the world needs, achieving flow, understanding your values, recognizing your talents and strengths, and reflecting on your legacy.

1. Reflect on What the World Needs

Consider the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a global framework for identifying areas where your contributions can make a significant impact. Reflect on societal issues that you believe require improvement, such as good health and well-being, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequalities. By aligning your purpose with these global needs, you not only find your why but also contribute to a larger cause.

For example my mission in life most closely aligns with SDG #3 Good health and well-being. Specifically, I am an advocate for psychological well-being. One way I put this into practice is by sharing personal stories and well-being tips on this blog. I also like to discuss how to improve our happiness with my family and friends, helping each other on our well-being journeys.

2. Find Your Flow

Flow is a state of deep immersion, energized focus and enjoyment in activities that perfectly balance challenge and skill. For example, when your skill level is low but the task highly challenging, you tend to feel anxious (see diagram below). When your skill level meets the demands from the highly challenging task, you will likely enter the state of "flow".

Find your flow by keeping an activity log for four weeks, noting what activity you do every hour and rate (from 1 to 10) how much engagement and energy you feel during each activity. The key is to notice the patterns in the activities that make you the most engaged and energized.

Do they tend to happen when you are at work, engaging in a specific type of task and with specific people?

You can find examples of how you can log your engagement and energy here.



Engagement (1-10)

Energy (1-10)

For example, when I was in high school, I observed that I was in a state of "flow" when I consumed anything related to psychology (reading books, watching TED talks, etc.). This made me decide to study psychology and find my mission to help improve people's well-being.

3. Explore Your Values

Knowing your values plays a critical role in finding your mission because values act as the compass that guides your decisions, behaviors, and paths in life. They are the underlying principles that define what is important to you, shaping your beliefs, priorities, and actions.

Here are three ways you can identify your core values and your purpose:

💡Reflect on your pivotal experiences

Your life story, including pivotal moments that shaped your values, can offer insights into your purpose.

For example, in high school, I observed someone close who was considered financially well-off, but was still unhappy with their life. This first made me start to question the relationship between money and happiness. I started to read books in positive psychology, which then led me to find my passion in psychology and my mission to improve people's well-being.

💡Consider role models whose qualities and achievements you admire.

What do you admire about them and why?

For example, reflecting on all the role models I looked up to, I realized that what I admired most about them was the positive influence they were able to exert on others. This made me realize that I value having a positive impact and being inspirational to others' lives. So far, having lived out my values in my work and daily life explains why I'm overall very satisfied with my life.

💡Take a Values Assessment to find out your values

Through this exploration, identify the core values that guide your actions and decisions.

Alternatively, you can browse through a list of core values to find the top values that resonate with you.

4. Know Your Strengths

Our mission often involves leveraging our personal strengths. Integrating personal strengths into our mission not only makes our goals more attainable but also ensures that the journey is fulfilling and sustainable over time.

For example, Malala Yousafzai utilized her innate courage, resilience, and ability to communicate effectively to champion the cause of girls' education worldwide, transforming personal adversity into a global mission. Analyzing her achievements, garnering feedback from a global community, and experimenting with activism from a young age, she uncovered her passion and capabilities in advocacy. These strengths propelled her to establish the Malala Fund and become a global advocate for education, exemplifying how leveraging personal strengths can lead to fulfilling one's mission on an international scale.

Here are some ways you can find your strengths:

💡Analyzing your past achievements to uncover the qualities that contributed to your success.

💡Collect feedback from diverse sources (family, friends, mentors, managers and coworkers) to understand how others perceive your talents.

💡Take a strengths assessment to help uncover your character strengths.

💡Experiment with new activities to uncover hidden skills and interests.

5. Reflect on Your Legacy

Consider what you want to leave behind as your legacy. This reflection isn't about fame or material success but about the impact you wish to have on the lives of others and the world. Thinking about how you want to be remembered can help clarify your priorities and guide your choices. It encourages you to focus on the contributions and differences that are most meaningful to you.

The "funeral exercise" is a profound and introspective activity designed to help individuals gain clarity about their life's mission or purpose by confronting their mortality. It's a thought experiment that encourages you to think about the legacy you wish to leave behind and what you want to be remembered for after you pass away. Here's how the exercise typically unfolds:

Step 1: Visualization

You begin by visualizing yourself at the end of your life, looking back over the years. Imagine you are attending your own funeral, not as a morbid thought, but as a way to gain perspective. Think about the people who might attend and what you hope they would say about you. This step is about confronting the inevitability of death to understand what truly matters to you.

Step 2: Reflection on Legacy

Reflect on the legacy you wish to leave behind. Consider the following questions:

  • What achievements would you want people to remember?

  • What qualities or values do you hope they would speak of?

  • Is there a specific impact or difference you want to have made in the lives of others or in the world?

This part of the exercise helps you identify the aspects of your life that you value most deeply and how you want those values to be manifested in the world.

Using the insights from reflecting on your desired legacy, identify the core values and passions that underpin these aspirations. These are likely areas where you feel a deep connection or commitment, and they can serve as key indicators of your mission or purpose in life.

Step 4: Setting Goals Aligned with Your Mission

With a clearer understanding of the legacy you wish to leave and the values that are important to you, set goals that are aligned with this vision. These goals should not only reflect what you want to achieve but also embody the values and passions you've identified as central to your mission.

Step 5: Taking Action

Begin to take concrete steps towards these goals. This might involve changing certain aspects of your life, pursuing new opportunities, or deepening your commitment to certain activities or causes. The key is to start living in a way that aligns with the legacy you wish to leave, thereby making your mission a guiding force in your daily life.

Why It's Effective

The grave exercise is powerful because it strips away the superficial concerns that often occupy our thoughts and gets to the heart of what we truly value. By imagining our end, we can gain clarity about what we want our lives to mean, helping us to focus on the things that truly matter. This perspective shift can be incredibly motivating, providing a sense of urgency and purpose that might have been lacking before.

Engaging in this exercise can be an emotional experience, but it's also an enlightening one. It encourages introspection and prioritization, guiding individuals toward a more purposeful and fulfilling life.

Implementing Your Findings

As you explore all the 5 ways to find your why, remember that this process is unique and personal. It may evolve over time as you grow and change. Regularly revisiting your purpose and adjusting your path as necessary can ensure that you remain aligned with your core values and continue to lead a fulfilling life. Keep an open mind, be patient with yourself, and allow your mission to reveal itself through your experiences and reflections.


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