Simon Sinek, author of the book “Find Your Why,” writes that it is only when you understand your “why” that you will be capable of pursuing the things that give you fulfillment. Your “why” (or your life’s purpose) will serve as your point of reference for all decisions and actions from this moment on. It will allow you to measure progress and know when you have met your goals.
The Japanese have a term for this concept: ikigai, whichtranslates to “a reason for being.” This is something that gives you a deep sense of purpose in life; what makes life worthwhile. It’s what gets you up in the morning.
What is Your Why?
If you’ve ever faced a crisis in your life, you will have experienced the power of purpose. You used your purpose to tap reserves of energy, courage, and determination you likely didn’t know you possessed. Your mission was crystal clear. Your goal was unmistakable. Your focus was sharp as it could be. Your potential was fully utilized. The power of purpose can be compared to the energy of light focused through a magnifying glass.
A clear sense of purpose enables you to focus your energy on what matters most. You are driven to take risks and go forward — regardless of the obstacles or odds.
The purpose of most animals is to simply survive, but human beings crave more from life than mere survival. Every person should have an answer to the question: “for what reason should I survive?” If you can’t answer that question, you quickly fall into feelings of despair, distraction, and disillusionment. The rates of depression, suicide, and drug abuse seem to indicate that many people fail to answer that single question.
When we look at studies on employee engagement, we see a crisis of purpose and meaning on a large scale. Average wealth is higher than it has ever been in history, but this wealth clearly isn’t cutting it in terms of life purpose for many.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why can endure any how.”Knowing your “why” is an important primary step in figuring out how to achieve the goals that excite you— to create a life you enjoy, rather than just surviving.
Only when you know your “why” will you find the strength to take the necessary risks to go forward. It will keep you motivated when odds are against you — and it will move your life onto a new, more rewarding, and more challenging course.
There is not one universal road someone can take to discover their “why” and their life purpose. But there are many ways to gain insight into yourself and a sense of what you have to offer the world.
Your life purpose sits in the crossroads of your skills, passions, talents, and core values. When you write down your qualities and traits for any of these four categories, it will help you find the “sweet spot”right in the middle.
What makes you come alive?
The word inspire comes from Latin, meaning “to breathe into life.” When you work on things that inspire you, you feel alive. What makes you come alive is not about watching your favorite team play football or taking your dream holiday. It’s bigger than that.
It’s about finding a “why” that grows from being about you into something bigger than you. It is about connecting with the things you’re passionate about. When you focus your attention on efforts that light your internal fire, you will grow your influence and impact in ways that you have never done before.
Don’t feel forced to state that you want to solve the world’s hunger problems, find a cure for cancer, or invent a new internet. Focus on connecting to a cause that is bigger than you are, but is also harmonious with what you care about and who you are.
What are your strengths?
Ken Robinson says in his book “The Element” that our element is the place where skills and natural talent meet personal passion. When people are in their element, they add more value, are more productive, and experience more personal fulfillment.
What are the things you have always been good at? Have you ever asked yourself why things that seem to come naturally to you are difficult for others? Are you creative? Is it easy for you to come up with solutions that are “outside the box?” Are you able to see opportunities amid complexity? Are you naturally good at executing on plans? Or are you a naturally gifted speaker, leader, or networker? If you are interested, you can take a free survey to discover your character strengths at the website of VIA Institute of Character (viame.org).
It is also possible to have a passion for things for which you don’t have natural talent. You might be good at things you have little to no passion for. In most cases, we don’t have big ambitions in fields for which we have no natural talent.
Civil rights leader Howard Thurman once wrote: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive, then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
What value do you bring to the table?
When you have a job you are good at, but dislike, you are not on the road to fulfillment. Knowing your biggest strengths can help you focus on the roles, opportunities, and career paths where you are most likely to succeed — and find the highest sense of contribution and accomplishment.
We tend to undervalue our own strengths and competencies, and the expertise we have acquired over time. If you find answering the question “Where do I add value?” difficult, reframe it to a problem-solving question. Ask yourself what skills you are equipped with to help solve problems in your workplace, organization, or career. You can also ask yourself what type of problems you enjoy solving.
You’ll have the most success when you focus on your natural strengths and the things that you are naturally good at, rather than trying to eliminate or avoid your weaknesses.
How will you measure life?
People without purpose and something to stand for will fall for anything. When you decide how you want to measure your life, you must also decide what you stand for and align your life with those principles.
Living with purpose means focusing on the things that matter to you most. For some, this is easier said than done. While some people are in a position to abandon the assurance of a regular paycheck to pursue a passion, many simply can’t — at least not in the short term or without endangering other existing values (like taking care of your family).
But you can be responsible with money and still follow your heart to a certain degree. By readjusting your view on what you are doing, you can probably shift your experience of it. No matter what your job is, you can find meaning in it, and discover a higher sense of purpose through the way you do what you do.
If you know your purpose, you might be compelled to take on challenges that will develop yourself. When you feel the power of a clear purpose, there is little you can’t do.
This article is an excerpt from my book. Interested in reading more?