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November 26, 2008 > Counseling Corner: What's the Purpose of Your Life?

Counseling Corner: What's the Purpose of Your Life?

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

Election week is over and I guess I'm one of the few who misses the buzz and anticipation surrounding that one day. I just love election season - I love going to the polling station to lock in my vote. I love getting my "I Voted" sticker, which I proudly wear for the rest of the day. I even love standing in line with the people in my neighborhood. I appreciate that each of us gets to exercise the right to vote, and acts to shape the direction of our country's future. I feel heartened when I see the members of my community coming out to express their civic commitment. On that one day in November, we gather at the polling station to fulfill our purpose as individuals and citizens.

Having a purpose in life is powerful. It not only gives you the roadmap to your life, it also provides the fuel for your engine as you make your way to where you yearn to go. A purpose drives you, provides an unshakeable reason for being. As Robert Byrne states concisely, "The purpose of life is a life of purpose."

Having a purpose is different from having a goal or a job. A purpose in life is an inner calling from the deepest recesses of your being. Some might call it a vocation. Others with religious beliefs may see purpose as a calling from God. However, you don't have to be religious to feel a purpose in your life.

Your purpose in life can be big or little; local or global. You might be drawn to save the environment, provide food for the hungry in your community, eliminate social injustice, create beauty in the world through word, art, music or dance, or be a nurturing parent/grandparent. Whatever it is, your purpose gives you an inner drive, joy, and meaning.

Having a purpose does not mean that life suddenly becomes easier, or that you don't have to work hard to achieve. Rather purpose gives you a deep reason for being such that you understand and respect the need to work hard.

You have ultimate say in what your purpose in life is. Others may give you insight, advice, or counsel, but you are the only person in the world who knows the deepest longing in your heart. You know you've identified your purpose when you hit upon something that engages your entire being, moves you, stirs you to take action and work to make it happen.

As a career counselor, I love helping people find their purpose(s) in life. In my office, I have a variety of career and personality assessments that help people narrow down their vision for life.

For those of you at home, here are some ideas for figuring out your purpose in life.

But first: some don'ts:
* Don't start off by asking people around you what your purpose is. It's YOUR purpose in life - only YOU know. Other people's voices can easily drown out your inner voice, but it's that quiet inner voice that will lead you to your purpose.
* Don't give up on yourself. It's easy to get frustrated and discouraged when trying to figure out your purpose. For many, the process may be long and may take years. It's not a quick-fix.

Things to do to help figure out your purpose in life:
* Ask yourself what you absolutely love to do that brings joy to you? What do you do and love doing, even if it's unpaid?
* What are the things you are naturally good at? Perhaps people have commented on how good you are at these things.
* What cause do you feel so strongly about that you would spend significant amounts of time and energy helping to advance it?
* Reflect on the life experiences you've had that have been completely fulfilling for you.
* Think about the people you deeply admire. Reflect on why their lives and work mean so much to you.
Figuring out your purpose in life is like having your own personal mission statement. It gives you a guide to what actions to take in your personal and professional life. It also gives you the motivation to keep going when things get rough.

Your purpose may be to raise your children at home. Or to rescue animals. Or save the environment.

For young people in particular, identifying and having a purpose can be critical in keeping them focused, inspired, and motivated.
* Share what you find meaningful in your life or work
* Tell inspiring stories of people with a purpose
* Expose them to different opportunities to witness meaningful activities or people at work, e.g. taking a child to a wildlife rescue center could be an opportunity for discussing purpose. Or seize the opportunity to vote as a chance to talk about politics and purpose.
* Encourage them when they express a passion or purpose, e.g. if they show an interest for cars, read them books about cars and take them to car shows. You might not know exactly where they will land in terms of their passions, but at least you will show that you support them.

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find maximum satisfaction in their careers and relationships. She can be reached at or 510-744-1781.

(c) Anne Chan, 2008.

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