In his commencement speech to the graduating class at Harvard University this past May, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg spoke about the need for purpose. He told graduating seniors, “Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness…But it’s not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others.” Then he went on to describe how his purpose, creating the site that would become Facebook, wasn’t just a way for him to connect to other students—it was a way to connect the entire world.
To find your purpose and find meaning in your career, it’s not enough to do stuff that you like or that is important to you. The deeper meaning of purpose, the thing that makes it all worthwhile, is more than just helping yourself thrive and succeed. The most successful and fulfilled people make life easier or better—for everyone. Bottom line: personal success doesn’t matter that much.
If you’re having trouble identifying your purpose, try some of these useful tips.
1. Don't overthink it—just take action.
The less you dither and weigh your options and the more you just take big leaps out into the world, the better off you’ll be. Start actually taking steps toward your goals, rather than just daydreaming about doing so. You’ll get out of your own way and come to find out faster what is and isn’t working, and what does and doesn’t matter to you in your life’s pursuit. Action and experience = results.
2. Listen to your heart.
You know that pesky voice deep within that keeps shouting “This is what I want to do when I grow up!”? Listen to it. Your heart is both your conscience and your best barometer for what you really want. Let it motivate you to push yourself and explore your opportunities and options.
3. Let go of "The One."
Just like you might fall in love with more than one person over the course of your life, realize that you might fall in love with more than one job, or industry, or career. Be open to things changing and evolving. Focus on doing meaningful things that get you closer to your goals, but be flexible enough to realize when old goals no longer serve who you are and who you want to be.
4. Make a vision board.
Create something visible that you can refer to when your inspiration needs a boost. Put up aspirational images—ideals of where you want to land in the next few years. What does your life look like when you surround yourself with images that are most attractive to you? Let yourself be free to chose what you are drawn to, then look at it periodically for patterns. You’ll be amazed when themes begin to make themselves clear.
5. Study yourself like a subject.
What are your hobbies? What can’t you wait to get through your daily tasks to do in your free time? What do you post most about on social media? Observe yourself from an outside perspective and see what you can discern.
6. Research what you love.
Finding your purpose is more than just figuring out what you are drawn to. You have to learn everything you can about those things. Become an expert. Make sure you know the ins and outs well enough to know whether you could be truly happy spending so many hours of your life and precious energy devoted to that path.
The sooner you understand what drives you, the sooner you can orchestrate your life to work toward it. Then, when you pour your energy into that one thing you were made to do, you can use it to help and inspire everyone around you.
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