How to find your life's purpose

How to find your life's purpose

There is a plan and a purpose for your life.

It’s a phrase I use A LOT – in emails, videos and in face to face conversations with students. It is my belief that identifying your purpose is a major component in giving you a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction and giving life significance and meaning. Knowing your purpose in life provides a compass to direct your behaviour and action towards the field of study and career in which you are most likely to enjoy, excel and be rewarded.

The reason it’s sprung to mind this week is because I saw a Tweet a few days ago which said it was important to think about gaining skills rather than gaining a job at University. It caused me to stop for a moment and reflect on whether this is true and dig deeper into the topic. The result is this blog post.

“Okay Rachael, but what does this have to do with being a student? Why does it matter? Surely, I can only figure this out later in life by trial and error?”

Well, as time passes and you engage in more paid and voluntary activities then it’s true this will help solidify and hone your understanding of your purpose. But it’s still possible to find it now. Identifying it now is important because your sense of purpose underpins three of the biggest drivers of personal success – motivation, clarity and intention. And who doesn’t want more of those at Uni? More on those next week…

But first, here’s an explanation of what I mean by finding your life’s purpose.

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Your life’s purpose is the overall goal you want to achieve in life. Your mission. Your legacy. The sum of all the action you take and the results you accomplish. It’s the sweet spot where your passion, talents and vocation come together to impact the world.

I believe that everybody has a unique combination of interest and gifts which allow them to fulfil a unique purpose in life serving others. This is deeply rooted in my personal faith, but it's also a concept I feel sure you may relate to.

When I studied my MBA in 2003 I had the opportunity to study a language and I chose Japanese. There was a large percentage of Japanese students in my MBA cohort and I wanted the challenge of learning the hiragana and katakana syllables as well as the occasional kanji (the word picture characters). It’s from my classmates here that I first learned of the concept of Ikigai.

(My University interviewed me a while back about the benefits I gained from studying for my MBA, take a look here).

Ikigai is pronounced like Geeky Guy (you know, like the one who sits next to you in calculus).

 
Picture taken from: The View Inside Me

Picture taken from: The View Inside Me

 

It means your ‘reason to get out of bed in the morning’ or ‘reason for being’ a bit like the French phrase ‘raison d'être’. Coincidentally, it seems to be having a bit of a moment right now, according to the Telegraph, just like the Danish word hygge had last year. But you heard it here first :)

The power of the word lies in how it encompasses four different concepts which each contribute to a greater understanding of your mission in life. These are:

  • What you love
  • What you are good at
  • What the world needs and
  • What you can be paid for

The intersection of each pair helps to define your passion, mission, vocation and profession.

It’s not just your working life after the degree which it supports. Identifying and understanding these areas will assist you while you are studying too. Here’s how:

What you love

Most of us have an activity we are passionate about and which lights us up with joy. For me, it's writing. I had my first writing published aged nine, I always wanted to be a writer and at the first opportunity, I began work as a Communications Specialist and copywriter.

Come to think about it, I decided to write a blog about writing alongside writing the 100,000 word plus thesis. You get the idea.

For you, it might be engineering, or medicine, or politics. I have friends who love radio and robotics and Russian literature.  They talk about it all the time. Whatever your certain something is you’ll know because it will be what you do whenever you get the chance of free time such as during your evenings, weekends and holidays. 

It’ll be the topic that makes your friends and family smile and roll their eyes when you talk about it… 

“Mummy’s talking about writing again, how does she know all this stuff about imperative sentences and things?” (my daughter, last week).

Most people don’t have a problem with this part of Ikigai because it’s often quite easy to identify what you love. If you are struggling then ask yourself this question: if I could only do one thing for the next seven days, what would it be? That’s what you love.

What you are good at

Don’t tell me you’re not good at anything, because baby, it ain’t true!

While we can all improve in every area of our life with the right instruction, practice and targeted effort, there are some activities we are better at than others. I love writing, but I find statistics much harder. It’s something which I have had to put a lot of effort into to get to the standard I want to achieve. 

I have colleagues who love statistics and find it comes naturally. They instinctively understand numerate concepts and continually build their skills. 

What we are good at becomes encoded into our brains from a relatively young age. A virtuous circle is formed between what we love and what we’re good at – if you enjoy something, you often do more of it and then the more time you spend on an activity the better you get, which in turn makes you enjoy it even more. It’s self-reinforcing because it’s rewarding to have a passion which you excel in. Often when I am either writing I lose track of time and on many occasions, I’ve even forgotten to have lunch or leave the office on time!

What the world needs

Whereas the work you love and are good at is engrained deeply within you and your unique personality and talents, the other two aspects of your reason for being look outwards. This is where YOU fit into the world.

I’ve been on a mission to help people become better writers ever since I was small. I remember coaching smaller schoolmates and I’m sure I made a complete nuisance of myself pointing out where my friends made errors! In my corporate career, I was drawn to writing again, initiating leadership, management and employee writing programmes in every organisation where I've worked. 

There’s a need for YOUR passion and talent in the world. Whether you speak up for human rights, campaign to cure dementia or simply want to make sure people dress better on a budget, the world’s waiting for you to step up and solve its problems. Not any problem – the one that’s uniquely YOU-shaped. The one that only your passion and talent can fill.

If you’re laughing to yourself right now, remembering every time someone has said: “she’s on a mission” or “he’s on a crusade” when you're working on your passion project, then you’ll already know the problem you’re made to solve. And if you’re not sure of what the world needs from you? Journal about it. Sit quietly and write down the answers to these questions:

  • What fires me up?
  • What triggers me?
  • What sparks my curiosity?
  • What do I see that others don't notice or ignore?
  • What one thing would I change about the world?

Keeping digging deeper until you sense you’ve uncovered what it is YOU want to contribute to the world. 

What you can be paid for

You may be one of those fortunate people who happens to have a passion, talent and vocation for which you're richly rewarded  (Lionel Messi, I'm lookin' at you!). Those of you who are studying towards a profession you love with a clear career path such as medicine, law or accounting, this aspect of ikigai will be easier to determine.

With the best will in the world though, your life's purpose might not enable you to make bank in the same way. Don't dismiss it as impossible though. You may need to get creative. 

Out of the 168 hours we are blessed with each week, we'll spend around 40 hours or more working. This will apply to your study time while you are at university and I'll guess you'll spend at least 40 hours a week, if not more, in your first job after you graduate.

When you enjoy your work and can make a living doing what you love then you'll find work becomes more like play or adventure. If you go into a profession or career which you're not interested in or that doesn't reflect your strengths, you'll find it soul-destroying, tough work, where time seems to drag and you live for the weekends when you can indulge in the activities which make your heart soar.

I've seen it far too often, where people got into a profession because it was a safe bet, their parents suggested it or it had a good pension. And they paid the price. If you don't believe me take a trip on the London Underground during rush hour in the morning and you'll vow to never give up on your dream in the sole pursuit of money.

 
Picture taken from the Evening Standard

Picture taken from the Evening Standard

 

How do you figure out how to get paid for doing what you love? Look for role models of people who are doing the same job. How do they make a living from it? If there are few opportunities, then consider starting your own such as starting a charity or business. If you have more than one passion experiment with how you can blend them to design a role uniquely fitted to you.

Now, it's your turn...

Ikigai is my favourite explanation of how to begin to search for your purpose in life. Make a start today by brainstorming the four areas:

  • What you love
  • What you are good at
  • What the world needs and
  • What you can be paid for

Ask trusted friends and family members how they see you and your strengths and favourite pursuits. Then start seeking more opportunities to do those activities and become curious about how you might develop your unique ikigai.

In my next blog post, I'll explain how knowing your ikigai can boost your motivation, increase your clarity and firm up your intentions at University. I'll cover how you can use the insights you've gained from exploring your ikigai to turbo charge your study experience and avoid common student pitfalls such as procrastination, self-sabotage and lack of motivation. 

Until then, remember you have a plan and purpose for your life and study hard, stand out and start right now!