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  • Writer's pictureEmily Robinson

4 Ways to Define and Refine Your Purpose

Updated: Feb 26

By Emily Robinson

Purpose. It is a single word with a million different meanings. To some, it means traveling around the world and exploring every unique culture. To others, it may mean supporting your community, having a successful career, or being undeniably happy. No matter the definition, everyone has a purpose, but how do you find which is yours? Everyone always talks about finding your purpose in this life, but why? And once this purpose is spelled out, is it the only one we are allowed? Does it ever change? I hope to answer these uncertainties and guide you through this sometimes overwhelming process of defining your purpose.

It is important to understand that one’s purpose is highly individualized and based on what fills you with fulfillment and worth. This sense of worth is directly tied to our principles and passions, which help identify what we deem important. Our principles involve our description of right and wrong and guide our behavior as a person. At the same time, our passions are manifested in sports, hobbies, personal relationships, etc, and fuel genuine interest, happiness, and fulfillment. According to Alayan and Martinez (2021), having meaning in life is a necessary component of living a happy life, which is also associated with greater achievement, stronger personal relationships, and even higher income. Additionally, Dr. Siman-Thomas's research (2022) uncovered that having purpose limits stress and aids in channeling challenges toward learning and growth. Research aside, identifying your purpose means that you know the trajectory of your life, you have a reason for being on this planet, and you have the passion to fuel you forward through hardships and times of uncertainty. All in all, a sense of purpose has a very strong association with both mental and physical well-being, which is why most scientific definitions put it at the core of what it means to be happy in life. 

Defining Your Purpose

So, how does someone establish their grand purpose, their central mission, their inner compass? It often sounds intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Below, you'll find four strategies to help you narrow your train of thought, identify what you find truly important, and discover your greater purpose in life. I recommend taking the time to reflect deeply and honestly when presented with these questions. There's no running clock rushing you to finalize the first thought that comes to mind, so give yourself the opportunity for deliberate reflection.

1. Reflect on what you care about most.

Determining your purpose begins with understanding what truly matters to you. However, it's important to recognize that how you spend your time may not always align with your core values. To clarify your thoughts, start by making a list of your most significant values. Once you have this list, ponder how these values manifest in your daily life and how they relate to your long-term aspirations. Prioritizing these values will significantly aid you in discovering your purpose.

Consider what aspects of your community and your personal interests resonate with you. Think about:

  • What activities or aspects of your community do you genuinely care about?

  • What activities do you genuinely enjoy?

  • What are your strengths and talents?

  • Have you acquired new skills from past experiences that could be applied to a cause or purpose?

Reflecting on these questions will spark deeper insights into what you care about most.

2. Reflect on Your Strengths and Weaknesses:

Reflection is the key to understanding both your areas of excellence and areas where you may need improvement. It's a powerful tool that fosters deep self-awareness and allows you to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Focus on Your Strengths: Concentrating on your strengths not only brings a sense of fulfillment but also illuminates opportunities that align with your abilities. During your brainstorming process, consider:

  • Activities you genuinely enjoy and excel at.

  • Your past experiences and the skills you've acquired.

  • What energizes you and keeps you engaged?

  • Notable accomplishments in your life.

Recall Engaging Moments: Reflect on times when you felt fully engaged in what you were doing, as opposed to simply going through the motions.

Seek Input from Trusted Individuals: If you're having trouble identifying your strengths, don't hesitate to turn to those who know you well. Trusted friends, family members, or mentors may offer insights and perspectives that you might overlook.

  • While external input can be valuable, remember that you know yourself best. 

  • If someone's feedback doesn't resonate with you or align with your self-perception, it may not be a reliable depiction of your strengths and interests. 

  • Trust your own judgment.

3. Envision Your Best Possible Self:

Take a moment to imagine your future, crafting a realistic vision of the best possible life. Whether it's a month, a year, or a decade from now, choose a timeline that resonates with you. As you visualize your future self, consider these aspects in detail:

  • What kind of person are you, and how do others perceive you?

  • What values and principles are important to you?

  • Who are the people surrounding you in this envisioned future?

  • What type of work or career path are you pursuing?

  • How do you spend your leisure time and what hobbies do you enjoy?

  • Explore all relevant areas of your life, including career, relationships, hobbies, education, and health.

Immerse yourself in this mental image and make it as vivid and detailed as possible. Then, take a moment to reflect on the purpose behind your vision. Why do you see these specific elements in your future, and why do they matter to you? It's the purpose behind your aspirations that will ultimately define your purpose.

4. Look at the people that you admire.

Make a list of people you admire and what traits they have that you identify as important. Individuals on this list should not be selected because of the materialistic things they possess or where they may be in life, but because of their character and personality. For example, do not pick someone merely because they have a million dollars, but instead choose them because of the tenacity and dedication it took to earn what is in their bank account. Those put on your list may give you insight as to how you may want to live your life. You do not necessarily have to liken yourself to that of Nobel Peace Prize winners or larger than life figures, because that comparison can be an intimidating one. Instead try looking at everyday individuals that do good on smaller scales. Whoever you may find motivational, reflect as to what about that person makes them so admirable and how you could apply that quality to your purpose. 

By using the four strategies above and allowing yourself the time for deep reflection, you now have tools to help find your purpose that you can countlessly use and reuse. You will find that utilizing these tools will not only make it easier to focus on where you want your life to go, but also how to make decisions that are aligned with your goals. Having this sense of clarity gives you direction as to where to focus your energy, as well as increasing your level of passion and commitment concerning your purpose.

Refining Your Purpose

We as people are in a constant state of growth, and although the rate is unique for everyone, growth indicates change, and change indicates a shift. People’s lives shift according to their circumstances, which can alter what someone values. When values change, passions burn out, or a new element is added to life, it is common to feel like your purpose no longer aligns with your future. This disconnection with your purpose indicates that it is time to adjust and realign your new purpose with your current passions, values, and goals. Reflecting on what you care about most, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what your best possible self looks like, and who you admire is a great place to start. Familiarizing yourself with the tools of deep self-reflection and visualization discussed above, will help to discover your new purpose. 

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