If your experiences are anything like mine, then you’re surrounded by people who constantly speak of wanting to discover their purpose and sense of “calling.” It’s the difference between dragging oneself out of bed in the morning to collect a check versus eagerly waking up to make a contribution to the world. There are very few things in life that can offer the same fulfillment that a purpose-driven life affords, as your job should never be confused with your destiny.
Doing what you believe you were designed to do is nothing short of priceless, as we all want an answer to the question Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” famously asked: “What on Earth am I here for?”
The rat race is an all-consuming beast that will make living in the moment seemingly incongruent with happiness and success. But we must find the time to look into the future and picture a self that has yet to be born. A life that has yet to be lived. A dream that has yet to be actualized. I share with you some questions — originally shared with me by a mentor — that may help guide you through your own journey toward a purpose-driven life.
What would you want to be doing in 15 to 20 years?
Take some time and think about the future. What would you be doing in 15 to 20 years that gets you excited as you think about it? It may be a continuation of the work you’re already engaged in or nothing like it at all. You may envision doing some things that your educational background doesn’t yet qualify you for, but that doesn’t stop you from picturing the life that you want to have in the decades to come. Picture it concretely and write the vision down to hold yourself accountable.
Where do you see yourself and who are the people you are interfacing with?
If you are striving to set the stage for your future, it would be good to know the setting in which you hope to operate. Nonprofit world, corporate sector or in artistic circles? Is living overseas appealing to you? As you picture the setting, give some thought to the kinds of people you would like to be surrounded by. Are you working with schoolchildren, organizing with activists, debating with intellectuals, making deals with business owners, volunteering with church members, etc.?
Knowing where you want to be and who you want to be working with will allow you to live a more intentional life. Day-to-day decisions about what events and relationships are worthy of your time can be guided by that information. You obviously should not be so calculated in your assessments that you ascribe a value to everything and close yourself off from the unknown, but operating with intentionality is guaranteed to minimize distractions.
What matters about what you are doing?
One of my biggest fears is to leave this world without having made a difference in it. I want my life to have mattered, because I left people, things and places better than I found them. Clarity often comes in knowing what you want your legacy/contribution to the world to be. What do you want individuals to say about the way in which you lived your life? This is why it’s so essential for your worldview to go beyond your individual needs and desires. We live in community and must therefore dream with community in mind.
Lastly, what traits and skill sets do you need to have?
We often are so focused on what it is we want to do that we don’t give any thought to who we have to be in order to make those things manifest. While some personal traits are innate, others have to be cultivated. We have to do the real work of self-assessment and preparation. That may require another degree, therapy, social media workshops, or whatever else is needed to launch us into the future we’ve always dreamed of. Who do you have to be to live the life that you always wanted for yourself?
As the one-year anniversary of my online magazine Urban Cusp approaches, I find myself thinking back to the lack of clarity I had at the start of 2011. A doctoral program, consulting firm and think tank were all on the table. I was desperately looking for a career path that would synthesize all of my passions and professional experience, but there was one thing standing in the way of every opportunity that has been carved out for me since then — fear. Mounting fears of failure, uncertainty, making a mistake, not being able to pay the bills and not living the life others expected me to live.
Today, I’m doing many of the things that I had always dreamed of as a young girl and while my degrees may have prepared me well, they didn’t equip me with the courage needed to take a huge of leap of faith. It’s important to stress that I made one of the most courageous decisions of my life (resigning from my job and taking my life savings to launch my own media outlet) not in isolation, but with a community of friends, mentors and comrades who were committed to walking alongside me on this journey toward purpose.
Success is relative, but rarely is it experienced without a village of people who believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself. Find those people. Love them. And don’t ever let them go. You will need them to not only be there for you in times of purpose-filled sorrow and celebration, but to also remind you of what life used to be like before you took the leap of a lifetime.
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