Suddenly, I knew what I wanted. It was the eve of my fourth birthday, and for weeks I had been trying to decide what big present I’d like on my special day. Nothing had sprung to mind, until now. I immediately went to find my mum.
“Mummy, I know what I want for my birthday,” I yelled.
“What do you want?” she asked, excitedly.
“I want a briefcase,” I said, jumping up and down.
“Really?” she asked.
“Yes, it’s what I really, really want!”
“Why do you want a briefcase?”
“I want to do something important with my life,” I said.
“What do you want to do?” my mum asked.
“I don’t know yet,” I said, “but having a briefcase will be a big help.”
It starts from an early age—the curiosity about life and what life is really for. Initially, the curiosity expresses itself as questions: Why is there a sun? What is the purpose of ants? Why did God make cucumbers? Why do we have skin? Why do I have a life? If the curiosity is encouraged, you explore the questions looking for insights, inspiration, epiphanies and eureka moments. The rest of your life is about living the questions and discovering the answers that help you to be truly happy.
In my work, I help individuals, groups and organizations to clarify and strengthen their sense of purpose. My clients recognize the essential value of knowing your purpose, and so they often fly me across the world to help them explore this vital subject. Discovering your purpose is what helps you to be true to yourself, to remember what is real, to be creative, to be resilient and to live your best life. A purpose-led life is a blessed life.
If I asked you, “What is the purpose of your life?” what would you say? Have you figured it out yet? Are you still searching? Are you clearer than you used to be? In this article, I am going to share with you six coaching exercises that have helped me to get clear about my life purpose. I have shared these exercises with thousands of people over the years. They really work, and they can work for you too. I must emphasize, however, these exercises are not just for your spiritual entertainment; they require some work from you! So let’s begin.
A Shared Purpose
“I feel like I have a really big purpose, but I feel stuck. I don’t know how to begin,” said Susan, a 38-year-old drama teacher.
“When did you first feel like you had a big purpose?” I asked.
“About four years old, or even earlier,” she replied.
“Who or what has helped you the most to get clear about what your big purpose is?” I asked.
Susan paused for a moment. “Nothing and no one,” she replied. “I guess I’ve been trying to work it out by myself.”
“That’s why you feel stuck,” I told her.
Be clear about this: Your purpose is bigger than your ego. All too often, the ego—the voice in your head that believes you are separate from everyone else—wants you to find your purpose so you will feel special, unique, superior and less neurotic than others. However, to discover your purpose, you have to be willing to connect to something bigger than your ego (your “mini me”, to quote Austin Powers). Connection is the key to inspiration.
It is the spiritual imperative of every human to overcome his or her perceived sense of aloneness. This is the key to big, real, meaningful, juicy success. Your purpose is to heal the illusion of separation and realize your oneness with creation. Why is this important? Because your purpose is not just about you; it involves your family, your friends and ultimately all of humanity. Knowing this helps you to open yourself up to inspiration and help from other people, from the divine, from nature and from life itself.
Exercise 1: At the deepest level, the human race has a shared purpose. Ask yourself then, “What do I think is the purpose of humanity?” I know this is a BIG question, but don’t let your ego put you off. You are a fully paid member of the human race and are equally qualified, along with everyone else, to answer this question. Be still and listen. Visualize how humanity needs to grow and how you want to grow. Think about what the human race still needs to learn and what you need to learn. Reflect on what is your shared purpose with all of humanity.
“I’m tired,” said Melissa, a 42-year-old marketing manager.
“What are you tired of?” I asked.
“I’m tired of searching for my purpose,” she replied.
“Searching is tiring,” I said.
“I just want to give up,” she said.
“I recommend you give up immediately,” I said.
“What do you mean?” asked Melissa, looking startled.
“I want you to give up searching outside of yourself for your purpose.”
The purpose of your life is to discover who you are. It is to meet yourself and to identify what you are made of and what you are made for. To do this, you have to be willing to give yourself some special attention. You have to stop “going” “doing” and “chasing” and start spending more time “being” with yourself. You have to connect consciously with what I call your unconditioned self, the original essence of who you are. Your unconditioned self wants you to know yourself. It wants you to know who you really are.
Exercise 2: Book a meeting with yourself, and explore this question, “From 0 to 10, how alive do I feel?” Zero represents “the living dead,” and 10 represents “100 percent alive.” Notice how alive you feel in your life right now, and identify what would help you to feel even more alive. In particular, name specifically what inspires you and what motivates you to show up in your life each day. To live your purpose, you have to dare to be even more of who you really are.
A Call to JoySince 1992, I have been the director of The Happiness Project—a project that explores the psychology, sociology and spirituality of happiness. I am an advocate for happiness because I believe the purpose of happiness is to help you to find your purpose. When you know what makes you happy, it helps you to remember who you really are and to give yourself more wholeheartedly in your life.
Here is the vision statement of The Happiness Project:
It is because the world is so full of suffering,
that your happiness is a gift.
It is because the world is so full of poverty,
that your wealth is a gift.
It is because the world is so unfriendly,
that your smile is a gift.
It is because the world is so full of war,
that your peace of mind is a gift.
It is because the world is in such despair,
that your hope and optimism is a gift.
It is because the world is so afraid,
that your love is a gift.
Exercise 3: Placed inside every human being is a call to joy, and the purpose of your life is to answer that call. People who follow their joy experience the fullness of their being. They are the renaissance workers who evolve the consciousness of humanity. In this exercise, called “At My Happiest,” identify all the occasions when you feel truly happy. Afterward, reflect on what this exercise has taught you about your true purpose in life.
Your Heart’s Prayer
Since 1996, I have been the director of Success Intelligence, a project that explores the heart and soul of authentic success. Central to this work, is the exploration of life purpose. Several years ago, I was asked by a journalist to sum up the heart of my work with Success Intelligence in 100 words.
My answer to her question reveals what I believe to be an essential key to discovering your purpose. Here is what I wrote:
Before you dedicate your life
to a person, a marriage, a family;
to a corporation, a political party,
a peace campaign;
to a religion, a revolution, a
make one other dedication first.
First dedicate yourself to LOVE.
Decide to let Love be your
intention, your purpose and
And then let Love inspire you,
support you, and guide you
in every other dedication
you make thereafter.
Exercise 4: To discover the purpose of your life, you have to “let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love,” Rumi said. If you love enough, you will surely fulfill your purpose on earth. You can begin right now by listening to your heart, which is the doorway to your unconditioned self. Your heart knows your true purpose. It keeps no secrets from you. All you have to do is listen. A few years ago, I found the following words by Matthew Anderson, which I share with all my clients. His words make a great exercise: “There is a prayer that lives in the center of your heart. If you pray it, it will change your life. How does it begin?”
Your Real WorkI once coached a man named Neil who said, “For 23 years, I went to work without a purpose. I had a reason, which was money. But a reason is not the same thing as a purpose.” Neil had worked for a bank his entire adult life and, although he had gotten many promotions and pay raises, he still felt unfulfilled. He came to see me to find his purpose. We talked about the difference between busyness and purpose. We began by acknowledging there is a world of difference between having a job and having a purpose.
The purpose of your life is not to be as busy as possible. Indeed, one of the biggest blocks to discovering your purpose is chronic busyness. Being busy can be purposeful and productive, but when you are permanently busy, it is a sure sign that your busyness conceals a lack of clarity, a fear of inadequacy, feelings of unworthiness and a lack of faith in your soul’s ability to help you live your purpose.
Exercise 5: In my coaching sessions, I help my clients to create their own unique business cards. Instead of writing your job title on this card, you get to write your purpose. I recommend you use a maximum of three words to name your purpose. For example, a hairdresser I once coached wrote, “Self-Esteem Consultant.” “The purpose of my work is to help people feel good about themselves,” he said. You can also add a motto, an affirmation, a symbol, a mission statement or anything else. The idea is to identify your real work.
Choosing Your Purpose
“I’ve been searching for my purpose my whole life,” said Sheila, a 44-year-old-housewife. “And no matter how much I search, I still can’t find my purpose.”
“What would you like your purpose to be?” I asked.
“I don’t think I understand the question,” said Sheila.
“Well, if searching for a purpose isn’t working, I recommend you choose a purpose.”
“How do I do that?” asked Sheila.
The way to discover your purpose is to live a purpose-centered life. In practical terms, this means focusing on and being receptive to the highest purpose of every situation you find yourself in. For example, before you attend a meeting, you might say a prayer like, “Dear God, show me the purpose of me being here.” Or, before an important conversation with a friend, you might want to connect with your heart and think about what the real purpose of your friendship is. Or, before you even get out of bed in the morning, you might want to choose how you want to feel today.
Exercise 6: Wherever you find yourself—in a meeting, driving your kids to school, on a date, waiting for a bus—make it a habit to be as open as possible to what is really happening. This will help you to be truly present and receptive in your life. Also, be mindful of how you are being and what you are giving, and make sure your choices are aligned to what you most want to experience. Your purpose is something you live each day, and it’s something you give from you heart to the world.
Robert Holden, PhD, and his innovative work on happiness and well-being have been featured on The Oprah Show and Good Morning America and also in two major BBC TV documentaries, The Happiness Formula and How to Be Happy, shown to more than 30 million TV viewers worldwide. He is the author of the best-selling books Happiness NOW!, Shift Happens! and Success Intelligence. His latest book, Be Happy, is published by Hay House. Robert lives in London with his wife and daughter.