You Don't Find Purpose; It Finds You

Reading time:  3 minutes

By Gail Wagnild

I googled “find my purpose” the other day and got about 1 ½ billion results.  It looks like many of us are in search of a purposeful life. Purpose is essential to resilience (the ability to adapt positively, learn and grow from experiences, and keep going toward our goals). Research studies indicate that if we live with purpose we’re also apt to live longer, have better health, and make better lifestyle choices. It makes sense doesn’t it? If I have a compelling reason to get up every morning because I have something I enjoy doing and feel that my work is important to others, I’m probably going to take better care of myself so that I can do that work to the best of my abilities.

And yet, many of us struggle to answer the question, “What should I be doing with my life? What’s my purpose? “

Some people seem to know their life’s direction out of the gate, but I think most of us explore a few things, hit some dead ends, and take a few detours as we go through life. One thing that can lead to discouragement on this journey is the belief that each of us has one purpose in life and that if we could just figure out that one thing we would then be happy for the rest of our life. This is probably why googling “find my purpose” generates so many results because we want to discover that perfect purpose for ourselves.

But there is no one perfect purpose for most of us. I disagree with those who say that if you could just discover that one thing you are passionate about, your troubles will be over. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t uniquely gifted because we are and each of us has life missions that only we can fulfill but that’s not the same as saying we have only one purpose. Each of us is called to contribute in many significant ways in this life.

For instance, we’re likely to discover many things we are passionate about and are rewarding.  Sometimes we will be paid and other times we will do what we love for free. And things we are passionate about or at least very interested in will change over time, too. What we love doing now may make way for something different tomorrow.

There’s so much talk about finding purpose and yet purpose has a way of finding us rather than the other way around. So while we’re impatiently going from one thing to another in search of meaning, it’s usually in front of us. We may only see it dimly, or just catch glimpses from time to time, but it’s there. This is where we need to do some work to uncover those things that will bring the most satisfaction to our lives. The questions I like to ask are these:

  1. What do I do that is deeply satisfying? Do I ever lose track of time?
  2. What comes easily to me (my God given abilities)?
  3. Who needs me? Where can I contribute?

When I am able to answer these questions and visualize the intersection of interests, abilities, and how and where I am needed, then I will see more clearly the many ways that purpose is calling me.