By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
It’s something most of us have asked ourselves at one point or another: what is my life’s purpose? Why am I here, and what is it that I’m meant to be doing? What kind of legacy will I leave one day? Don’t worry, asking yourself the “big questions” doesn’t make you strange. In fact, it would be unusual for you not to wonder what your life is really all about.
To be honest, no one can tell you what it is you’re meant to do with your time on Earth. It’s something you have to discover (and, perhaps, actively decide) for yourself. Thankfully, with some simple tips, the picture should become clearer to you. Below are 10 ideas for uncovering your unique and amazing reasons for living. I can’t promise that the answers will come easily, but I can guarantee that you’ll gain a deeper understanding of yourself.
The first part of this journey is to stop and take some time to think about what you truly want out of life. Even if you have a good job and a great social life, you may feel like something is missing, like a higher purpose. How can you figure out what it is?
Spend some time getting to know the wellness wheel—a chart that demonstrates the seven aspects of ideal wellness—and ask yourself if there are dimensions of your personal wheel that are lacking. Do you wish you had more financial stability? Or do you have a really solid bank account … and a job that makes you dread going to work? Do you wish you were able to spend more time with your friends—or that you had more friends to begin with? What is it that’s missing from your life?
Set aside 15 minutes of each day for a thoughtful journaling session. You can record your thoughts on your laptop or smartphone or in a cool guided journal. Just be sure that you’re committing yourself to write down what you’ve been thinking and feeling each day. What was stressful or frustrating? What made you happy? At the end of each week, read your last seven entries and look for patterns. Was there something that bugged you on an almost-daily basis? Did you express the desire to spend more of your time or energy on something?
Make a commitment to being more mindful of the casual chats you have with friends, family, and colleagues. Really make a point of listening to yourself: what do you like to talk about? Do you find yourself complaining about a particular part of your life—one you wish you could change? Is there something that brings you great joy that you’d like to make a bigger part of who you are?
So what have you learned thus far? What is your deepest desire: a career change, a long-term relationship, better physical health, fewer student loans? If you could snap your fingers and alter your life, what would it look like?
Now that you’re more in touch with what you want most, let’s see how that meshes with who you are. Your most deeply held beliefs and values are an enormous part of that. So what are they?
Let’s get back to journaling for a minute (This won’t be the last time!). Make a list of the moments that made you proudest of yourself—and please don’t be afraid to be proud! What did you accomplish that made you feel great about who you are and what you’re capable of? Listen to those instincts, as they probably hold the key to uncovering your deepest truths and desires.
Enlist some trusted friends or loved ones to help you. Ask each one, “If you were to name three things you think I really believe in, what would they be?” Take note of any idea mentioned more than once, whether it’s giving your all at work, improving your community, or achieving your health and fitness goals.
Here’s a quick exercise to determine what is most important in your life: try writing your own obituary. Yes, it sounds a little creepy, but take a lighthearted, humorous approach. After all, you’re not going to send this to the newspapers! What is it you’d like people to read and remember about you when you’re gone?
Give yourself a limit of 250 or 500 words so that you can only include what really matters to you (If you find this exercise too morbid, try writing it as an ad for a dating site or app instead. What does someone need to know about you before swiping right?).
Now, circle back and think about what you’ve come up with. What are the common trends here? How do you—and those closest to you—summarize yourself as a person? What key qualities and unshakable beliefs make you who you are?
Next, we’ll get to the really good stuff: setting some concrete goals for yourself. Let’s return to journaling again.
It’s time to record a few of your biggest and most important goals. Hopefully, all this self-reflection has helped you to determine more about your own desires. Maybe you’d like to bust through your student loan debt in the next five years. Maybe you’d like to ditch your current gig, return to school, and start over professionally. Or maybe you’d like to meet the right person, settle down, and have a family.
For each of your goals, list two or three ways to take immediate (as well as long-term) action. If your heart is set on a career change, those steps might include researching graduate schools and contacting recruiters. If better physical health is among your greatest goals, you can read more about how to get fit for inspiration and ideas.
Give yourself manageable deadlines for each of your goals. Don’t make them lofty and unrealistic, as you’ll just set yourself up to fail.
Start small: maybe you’ll make an appointment with a financial advisor this week to learn more about consolidating your loans. Maybe you’ll reach out to a friend who has your dream job to bounce around some ideas. Or maybe you’ll email a local university to request more information on a master’s degree program that intrigues you.
If you’ve done this work on yourself, you’ve undoubtedly learned quite a bit about who you are and what you want most. So now it’s time to determine for yourself: what is my life’s purpose?
Keeping in mind that it’s likely to be a multifaceted answer, write down a “mission statement” of sorts for yourself. It could look like this: “I’d like to be a great spouse to my future partner, a loving parent, and an inspiring teacher. I’d like to take great care of my health and live a long and productive life.”
Or it could be entirely different: “A strong commitment to fitness and wellness is one of my core beliefs. Making smart career and money decisions are also important to me.” No two statements will look alike, just as no two lives do!
Now that you understand as much as you do about your values and goals, there’s only one thing left to do: get moving! Take this new year as the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Henry David Thoreau said it best: “Go forward confidently in the direction of your dreams.”