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Ways to Find Your Purpose

A person sitting on a cliff overlooking a forest.

We’ve all had that nagging feeling, wondering what it might be like to pursue our true calling. And when our purpose is hidden (or ignored), life both in and out of the office can feel uninspired. However, it can be incredibly difficult to change tracks, as we often find comfort in the safety and security of the familiar.

But it is possible to find your way out and get closer to who you are meant to be in the world, even if you are stuck in the wrong job. Here are three approaches that I suggest you use in order to cultivate purpose:

The self-guided approach

Inspirational books, videos, and independent activities are a great habit-forming first step. One of my favorite books is Design the Life You Love, by Ayse Birsel. It’s a creative and visual step-by-step process to deconstruct and rebuild the vision you have for your life.

In one exercise, Birsel challenges her readers to write the names, or draw the faces, of five people they admire. Next, draft a list of each person's admirable qualities below the name or drawing. The curveball is the final step: erase each name and write yours in its place. These are the values that are most important to you.

Some videos that I always like to recommend include Shawn Achor's TED talk on happiness where he flips our assumption about the relationship between happiness and work. In another video, Alain de Botton speaks to our different view of success, asking us to become our own authors of success and recognize that neither success nor failure are always up to us.

Here are two simple activities to get you started on your own exploration of purpose:

  • Morning Pages. This activity challenges you to draft three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning. Jot down everything that comes to mind. It’s not even about writing, it’s about clearing your head and clarifying your thoughts.
  • Get in the "flow." This exercise asks you to consider a time in your life when you were in a state of flow—the feeling of being wholly engaged in an experience, task, or activity that brings you joy—and challenges you to design three activities to repeat this experience. Whatever it is, ideate and execute on three new ways to have a similar experience.

The “engage with the world” approach

In order to tap into your purpose, you must start engaging with others. Here are several ways to connect with your community:

  • Find a community that sparks your curiosity and attend a workshop. Some examples include Net Impact, a community interested in using business skills in support of social and environmental causes, the Ivy Social Network, a community that provides cultural and experiential events, and even summer camps for adults like Camp Bonfire or Camp Grounded. Check out this Idealist Careers article on building out your community.
  • Reach out to a person that inspires you. It could be someone from your immediate network or even a famous person. I have a friend who emailed Arianna Huffington and actually got a response! The goal here is to put yourself outside of your comfort zone and create a connection that could lead to new, interesting places. Check out this article on sending cold emails that get results.

The more structured approach

We grow when we have others around us who are working on similar existential questions. A programmatic approach brings inspiration, structure, and peers. Here's an idea that offers a bit more structure to your purpose exploration:

  • Purpose Accelerator is a four-week career change and purpose discovery program run by Project X. This program is designed to snatch you out of the same stale routine and into the transformational, deep work of getting aligned with your purpose and experimenting your way into a career change you’ll love. Their team teaches you the skills needed to make epic career changes and (re)discover your purpose. The next program kicks off in NYC on September 8. Select "Idealist" on the application form to get $100 off.

There’s no one right answer

Regardless of your approach, you’ll need commitment and courage to take on the fears that inevitably bubble up as you explore your purpose.

Did you enjoy this post? There's plenty more where this came from! Subscribe here for updates.

About the Author | Jeff Hittner is the founder of Your Project X, an organization dedicated to helping people (re)discover their purpose to build careers they’ll love. Previously, he founded IBM’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consulting practice globally.

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