There’s a lot of talk in today’s culture about finding your passion and knowing your life’s purpose. Consider it a luxury of modern times. Until quite recently our ancestors worried about survival, not how they were going to make an impact on the world. In that regard, worrying about your life’s purpose is a good problem to have. The downside is it’s one more angst-producing thing to worry about. If you aren’t clear about your passions or your life’s purpose, you can feel lost and confused or empty and unfulfilled. There are two types of people in this situation.
The Passion Problem
The first type of person in this situation is passionate about everything. They move from one exciting bright shiny opportunity to the next bright shiny experience, without committing to anything for long. These people see the potential in everything. Everything is enchanting. Or at least it until it becomes difficult. Then they move to their next “big” thing. They have the mistaken belief that if you’re passionate about something, it should feel easy and empowering. If this is you, you might say something like, “There are so many things I want to do, I can’t decide” or “I’ve found my new thing!”.
The second type of people who don’t have any clarity about their purpose are those who don’t feel particularly excited about anything. Everything is fine. But fine feels ho-hum and no one wants a ho-hum life. If this is you, you might say, “If I could only find my passion, then I’d pursue it.”
Both of these individuals need clarity. They’re stuck, either in motion, flitting from thing to thing, or in a rut and are unable to craft a life they love.
The real problem is a misunderstanding of passion. People often expect to have a clear vision of their purpose. There aren’t many of us who get their passion and purpose delivered as a revelation. Purpose and passion become clear with deliberate action in the right direction. But what is the right direction?
Find Your Why
We all have a fear that our lives won’t matter. And if our lives don’t matter, than maybe we don’t matter. Knowing your “why” fills that need.
Your why is your passion, over-arching theme, big picture, and higher level view of your life.
Four years ago a dear friend and neighbor created a video to show at my Dad’s celebration of life. Recently she added footage of people sharing their favorite memories of my Dad and photos from the day. She asked us for feedback. I hadn’t watched the video since the celebration because even though I love the tribute we made for my Dad, it hurts to watch. This viewing wasn’t any easier. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I had a hard time making eye contact with my Mom, but through the tears, I noticed a common theme people used when describing my Dad: adventurous.
Your Why is Your Passion
My Dad loved going on adventures and sharing stories of them when he got home. I’d say he’d loved planning adventures, but honestly, that part was stressful for him. Once the adventure started though, he was fully present enjoying every moment to the fullest. My Dad’s “why” in life was living life with a sense of adventure. He wasn’t the hard-core National Geographic type adventurer (thank goodness because he’d probably wouldn’t have been home much), but a sense of adventure permeated everything he did.
My why is to inspire others. Yes, I love adventure too, that part is obvious, but I find the most fulfillment when I see people do things they might not have otherwise done. Witnessing someone’s courage as they take on and succeed at difficult things has me beam and want to pick them up and swing them around cheering with joy, “You did it! You did it! I knew you could!”
How to Discover Your Why
Simon Sinek is the go-to guy for finding your why. If you haven’t watched his TED talk, start here.
Next, think of a problem you care about. It doesn’t have to be world-changing. Sometimes naming your passion is about reframing what you do in the context of a bigger vision. Imagine you enjoy great interior design. What if you were able to provide a work environment that wasn’t a sterile of box of cubicles with flourescent lighting? Imagine how much happier this could make people. Happier people who are then more able to make their own difference in the world.
Or maybe you enjoy cutting hair. My hair dresser is clear he’s an artist (and a bit of a diva). What if your gift is to give people confidence that they look great? Your why might be to allow others to look great and live confidently.
Questions to Clarify Your Why
Your why will be short. Simple. It could be a word or a phrase. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get you started in the right direction:
- What can I do with my time that is important?
- How do I want people to feel around me?
- What do I want to be remembered for?
I’m skeptical when someone tells me know they know exactly what they want to do. We all crave clarity but I don’t think our life’s path is ever perfectly clear. Your why is something that emerges. It doesn’t come fully formed. You won’t discover your passion by wondering or worrying about it. You’ll discover it by taking action. Pay attention to your gut. Align your internal compass and your external heading.
Find Your Purpose or Finding Your What
Once you determine your why, then you can find your what or your purpose. Your what is the day-to-day expression of your why.
Your purpose is your passion in action.
The feeling of making a difference is what gives us purpose. Your purpose might be to inspire children to read, have others enjoy the beauty of their homes, or help people have more tomorrows.
Dreams are non-linear. It is only by looking backwards that we are able to see the connections and patterns in our life. Your experiences might seem as haphazard as bugs splattered on the nose of the helicopter. But looking at them all together shows progress in a particular direction.
Sometimes You Have the Why but Not the What
Prior to flying professionally, I was an elementary school teacher. I enjoyed teaching because it was in alignment with my passion to inspire others. The problem was teaching elementary school also included a lot of things I didn’t love. I hated knowing how to help a student but not feeling like I had the time or resources to be able to do it. I didn’t like waiting for kids to line up. I didn’t like standardized testing. The passion was there but the day-to-day expression of it wasn’t correct. The what I was doing was wrong even though they why was right.
Now with flying and coaching, my passion and purpose are in alignment.
My purpose as a coach is to help clients craft a life they love. The first stage in my CRAFT coaching method is clarity. The CRAFT method moves clients from stuck and unhappy to taking action and fulfilled. It is inspiring work and I get as much from it as my clients.
My Dad’s why of adventure was expressed as many different things: exploring new places as a family, taking his grandson’s flying, riding his motorcycle around Alaska. What people didn’t talk about during the celebration of life was my Dad’s skills as an engineer or project manager. But you can see that each new building he worked on whether it was a bridge in Nenana, a terminal in Barrow, or a clinic in Kotlik appealed to his sense of adventure. How can I the materials there? How can I make this work efficiently as possible? It was a game he loved to play.
Questions to Clarify Your What
Sometimes we resist sharing or even thinking about our what because we’re afraid of being disappointed if we don’t get it. You might think, I have a clear vision but I’m not sure I’m worthy of having all that. This is your inner critic. Don’t worry about how it will be put it into practice. We’ll look at the other steps for CRAFTing a life you love in upcoming posts. For now, allow yourself to dream big. Here are some questions to help determine your what or purpose in life:
- What do I care about?
- When am I/was I the happiest? What was working?
- How do I enjoy helping people?
- When did I make a difference in someone’s life?
- When am I/was I most unhappy? What wasn’t working?
- What feels like play?
- What do you love about your life? What are you not loving?
Your purpose in life is to do the things that make you smile, laugh and forget time. Even if you aren’t sure, move into the exploration and experimentation. By looking at what is working and what isn’t, you can align yourself with your why and what or the passion and purpose for your life. Clarity is the first step to crafting a life you love. You are worthy. You can create it.
What is your purpose and passion in life? What helped you discover it? Share in the comments.