Is it possible to find your life’s purpose? Should you even try? Here’s one method for finding your life’s purpose and an appeal to those who haven’t found it yet…
A lot is written about finding your life’s purpose, and so for that reason writing yet another article about doing so seems like a giant waste of time.
After all, Aristotle was talking about this 2,300 years ago and we don’t seem a whole lot closer to finding a definitive method for identifying your life’s purpose.
A Method for finding your life’s purpose
There are methods of discovering you life’s purpose that I like. For example, Marcia Bench proposes asking 4 questions:
- What do I love to do?
- What was my biggest pain or wound in childhood (i.e. is there an obstacle you overcame)?
- What are my talents and natural gifts?
- Whom do I long to help?
Her idea is that you can use this to state:
My life’s purpose is to use [what you listed in 1+3] to help [the group listed in 4] overcome [the pain or challenge listed in 2].
I think this formula/equation is pretty good. The challenge is that whatever answer you come up with often doesn’t match with a career that pays much (if anything).
Now there is a way to turn just about any interest into a lucrative profession, but that often requires taking an entrepreneurial leap that most people are unwilling to take.
Here is the challenge: when we hear of people like Warren Buffet doing something they absolutely love and making huge fortunes, it can seem like the solution to career woes is simply finding the profession that matches our life’s purpose.
Anyone who hasn’t found that profession for themselves often feels like they are wasting time or perhaps missing out on spending their one precious life in the best way possible.
As I have written about before, careers are seldom linear, and those that are tend to be careers that follow a very formulaic path. The path to becoming a doctor, as an example, is a very well beaten path with only a few small choices in it (e.g. what to specialize in).
Said differently, while becoming a doctor is a lot of work (college, medical school, residency, etc), the path is very easy to follow.
For those following more business oriented careers, the choices are close to infinite, and this causes lots of doubt and second-guessing about what the right path is.
Maximizing your career
Then there is the issue of “maximizers” vs. “satisficers” that Barry Schwartz writes about in The Paradox of Choice. Essentially, satisficers make a decision once their criteria are met and don’t look back on that decision. Maximizers try to make the optimal decision every time and second guess the decisions they have made.
Maximizers often look at every single option before making a decision and always consider upgrading to better opportunities. Unfortunately, they also tend to experience less satisfaction with life.
Life as a maximizer can be inconvenient; for example, having to visit 3 malls before buying a Christmas gift for your wife. However, I believe that many people struggle with maximization in their careers, which is far more challenging.
A satisficer might have a few criteria for their career:
- It pays me fairly
- I’m treated decently
- I have an adequate amount of time off
- I find what I do interesting
A maximizer might look at these options and think of them differently:
It pays me fairly becomes – Am I in the highest paying position for what I do?
I’m treated decently becomes – Is this the best work environment possible (i.e. gyms, foosball tables, nice offices, etc)
I have an adequate amount of time off becomes – Could I get more time off elsewhere?
I find what I do interesting becomes – Am I passionate about what I am doing?
It isn’t that the satisficer doesn’t set high standards, it is just that they are satisfied when they are met. –While the maximizer keeps wondering… and looking.
It is easy to see how the maximizer might even suffer in a very good role, simply wondering if it is the best role, or if they made the right decision by accepting it.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple solution for turning yourself into a satisficer from a maximizer. As with most types of change, developing awareness is the first step.
Doing more of what you “want to do”
However, there is something that you can do in your life that can have a positive impact in the absence of making a career of your one true life’s purpose, and that is focus on achieving self-concordant goals. In other words, focusing on the goals you “want” to achieve vs. the goals you feel you “have to” or “should” achieve.
Let me give you an example: I have a client who is a highly successful executive. She cares deeply about fitness and helping women grow in their careers. Now perhaps following her life’s purpose may be to work in a fitness related business or to offer career coaching to women.
In this case, the former option wasn’t readily feasible in her geographic area, and the second option would have ignored her tremendous managerial skills. Her solution: she joined the board of a local non-profit that encourages women’s fitness while staying active as a corporate executive.
I share this example because so often we think that what we do every day need be a direct match with our life’s purpose. In fact, if we take the view of a satisficer in our primary career, we can then layer in the ingredients that are missing that would make things a little more perfect.
This could involve volunteering, joining a health club, a side business, or any other activity that allows you to spend a bit more time doing what you want to do as opposed to what you feel you have to do.
In other words, it isn’t necessary to find your life’s purpose and have your career be the whole reflection of that purpose. Instead you can look to ensure that your life overall reflects your life’s purpose.