Since the world doesn’t hand you the answer to finding your purpose (thanks a lot world), I’m here to help. This is a guide from a pro career counselor along with my own experiences on figuring out what you want. Plus with the downloadable worksheet at the bottom, it’ll be easier to know what steps to take!
I was sitting in a coffee shop a few years back, researching environmental careers with the rain pattering against the window. Surfing through the possibilities but not knowing where to start, I guess you could say I never caught a wave. I kept thinking this job would be perfect but I should’ve started sooner – it’s too late now. I felt like a caged bird.
So I typed in “finding purpose after college” and a youtube video popped up called How to Figure Out What You Really Want, a Ted Talk from career counselor Ashley Stahl. Maybe you’ve seen it, but it was life-changing for me and the 2 billion other viewers. I’m going to share her 3 steps to finding purpose in hopes that you take something valuable with you in your journey.
But first, something crucial has to take place. Your mindset.
“Let me guess, be open-minded?” YES! When you think of what you want to do with your life, do you ever get frustrated? Stressed? Feel like a caged bird? I get it, but keeping an open mind means avoiding limitations that bring you down.
I recommend trying these three steps alone because we are creatures of comparison. Jay Shetty made a valuable point: if you get three A’s in school and one D, the focus is on the D. But what if you think of your weakness, your D, as someone else’s purpose. You are leaving room for other subjects to be other people’s calling. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Every single person has a different yellow-brick road than you. Looking at them from the outside, you may want what they have but as part of the 4 agreements, you can’t assume they have it all. Communicate with yourself first. You are on your own beautiful, unique path and YOU get to decide what you do, where you go, and how you feel. This is a path to freedom.
No people can be truly happy if they do not feel that they are choosing the course of their own life.World Happiness Report 2012
Now that we have an open-mind and single-focused path, let’s hear what Stahl has to say about finding meaning in our lives.
Stahl opens her discussion with a powerful story involving kidnapping (don’t worry, she wasn’t). From there, she transitions into the question: where are you holding yourself captive? What is fear doing to the things you would rather do?
Admitting your fears does not make you weak, it makes you honest with yourself. Write down what is working for you and what isn’t. When I did this, I wrote down six fears that were holding me back from going after what I really wanted. To share a couple:
- I wish I didn’t let fear hold me hostage.
- I’m afraid to rent this place because I don’t want to risk dipping into my savings.
Fear itself was holding me back as was losing money. If these hit home for you, know that they didn’t last long! I learned how to accept fear and overcome savings stress. I got here by moving onto step two.
2. Follow Your Freedom
You’ll enjoy this step 🙂 Pay attention to what feels good to you and follow it! We hear time and time again to follow our gut and for good reason, it’s our second brain!
This is the list I created at the time of what felt good to me. I encourage you to do the same whether you type it or say it out loud, recognition is powerful.
Perfectionism is the enemy of action. As a writer, there is no end product, no 2+2=4, because you can always add or change more to the current draft. So I continuously organized my life but what I was missing was the ACTION towards the list of freedoms above. I wasn’t doing anything about them!
So what did I do? I started teaching dance at my old studio on the side (more into my savings), joined a creative writing club (where we wrote about overcoming fear), and took steps toward moving to a sunny area with the right goal setting technique. All the while I was keeping myself productive and busy.
I’m glad we pick our own lemons and roll up our sleeves to make lemonade because it proves we can engage. Perfectionism doesn’t exist, only screw-ups, lessons, and progress. One of the quotes I took from Stahl was “clarity comes from the engagement, not the planning“.
So what does it mean to discover your purpose? How do you find your identity? Follow these 3 steps to find ways that make you feel satisfied and successful. To inspire, here are examples of others finding purpose.
- Malala – A Pakistani activist for female education, her societal pressure was holding her back from chasing her freedom. She eventually engaged by speaking out against the Pakistani ban on the education of girls and won the Nobel peace prize.
- Sarah Knight – In her book, Get Your Sh*t Together, Sarah talks about her journey of quitting her corporate job and the steps to realizing what she really wanted out of life. A great resource for anyone feeling trapped in their job.
- Dr. Patrick Washington – Only 2% of U.S. teachers are male of color. Patrick started the Man Up Teacher movement to encourage highly effective men of color to be placed in teaching and leadership roles. He was recently featured on The Kelly Clarkson Show.
- Chanell Hale – A social worker in Chicago who wanted to make an impact on mental health for kids, Chanell started a non-profit Feed the Kiddos, to provide healthy meals for kids whose schools had been shut down due to COVID. She had a vision of freedom for these kids and engaged!
The world isn’t going to hand you the answer, but hopefully these steps help to guide you. Feel free to use the worksheet below, which you can type in on your computer! My purpose is to enjoy who I am and make a difference in our environment. What’s yours?