I’ve spent a lot of time in my life desperately struggling to discover my purpose.
I couldn’t understand why others around me felt perfectly fulfilled, but no matter how much I had achieved, I couldn’t find it myself. I had built an impressively successful career, read plenty of self-help books, gone to therapy, and even met the love of my life—but something still felt like it was missing.
I moved. I left my job and started a new business. I secured a book deal. I bought my dream house. And I still didn’t feel 100 percent on purpose. It still felt like there was something just outside of my reach that I had to accomplish to finally be on purpose.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was looking at life purpose all wrong.
Maybe I had always been living it—even in my darkest moments—and everything about my life already made sense. When I finally realized that, everything changed. Everything took on new meaning and things started flowing with ease. I knew, without a doubt, exactly what my purpose was.
If you’re still struggling to find your purpose despite your best efforts, here are three reasons why you haven’t discovered it quite yet.
1. You think life purpose is something to achieve.
Almost daily, a client or reader will come up to me and say, “Mike, Mike—I’ve finally figured my purpose out! I’m meant to write a book.” And that’s awesome. Who am I to tell them that’s not their purpose? But here’s the thing—what if they decide they don’t like writing a book? What if no one buys it? Does that make it any less of their purpose? And did they just not have a purpose as a child?
The truth is that life purpose isn’t quite as linear as we want to believe. It’s not something that we can work toward and achieve. Because, if that were true, then that means at some point we don’t have a purpose anymore. This line of thinking is another symptom of the “not good enough” culture that keeps us trying to prove and achieve everything.
Instead, think of your purpose as a mode of expression rather than an accomplishment. (In my work, I help clients boil everything in their life down into just five to six adjectives that describe that expression.) There are many ways to express it, and we’ll be figuring out new ways until the day we die. But that doesn’t mean we’ve been off our purpose.
2. You’ve been looking for the “how” instead of the “what.”
Most of my clients immediately equate life purpose with their work. When they tell me they want to find their purpose, what they’re really saying is they want to know what job to take or what business to create.
But way before we figure out how we’re going to share something, we need to know what we’re sharing in the first place. If we know life purpose isn’t something we can achieve, it becomes something we’re constantly trying to express in different ways (with varying degrees of effectiveness).
Years ago, I had a client who told me that she spent so much time in her life beating herself up for struggling with alcoholism and not understanding her purpose. It was only through our work together that she realized one of her “expressions” (similar to archetypes) is “Enchanted,” and that alcohol was the only way she knew how to feel “Enchanted.” Once she understood the “what,” it was easy for her to find new “hows” that empowered her. She went on to create a hugely successful business helping people all over the world feel “Enchanted.” Since then, she had no desire to touch alcohol.
So instead of worrying about “how” you’re sharing your purpose, start thinking about “what” it is in the first place.
3. You’ve missed the clues along the way.
If life purpose isn’t something that we can achieve, and it doesn’t matter how we share it, that means that we’ve been living it every single moment of our lives. Maybe we’re living the shadow side of it if things aren’t feeling aligned. But that doesn’t mean we’ve been off our purpose.
We can use that very logic to look for the clues peppered through our life. I once worked with a client who told me she was “all over the place” and “a total mess.” She was, at once, a special education teacher, an ESL teacher, a sign language interpreter, a tech entrepreneur, and an energy healer. It made absolutely no sense.
Until we started to look for the clues within each of those things. They were all about translating language, empowering people to express themselves, and helping people to feel whole and connected. Very quickly, those same themes (or their antonyms) were showing up in her deepest traumas and biggest dreams.
Life purpose is much bigger than something we need to accomplish or a job that we have. It’s the entire purpose of our being. It’s the reason we eat, sleep, and breathe. It’s why we’re here and how we uniquely see the world.
The biggest barrier to discovering your purpose isn’t that you’re screwed up or broken; it’s that you’ve been looking at it in a disempowering way.
Are you ready to start seeing your purpose in everything you do?
Author: Mike Iamele
Image: Atlas Green/Unsplash
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Taia Butler
Social Editor: Yoli Rammazina