Life Purpose: How to Define Yours

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Published on: January 4th, 2020
Updated on: August 15th, 2021
This article is in category: Articles

In the first article of this series, Life Purpose: Defining Yours Is Important, I provided an argument to define your life’s purpose and a definition with characteristics of a meaningful purpose statement. In this article, we will go a little further with the idea and explore a process to help with identifying your own. 

Let’s begin.

First, let me say, this is not a simple task. It will take time for introspection, brainstorming, and potentially several edits. For this reason, set aside an hour or so for the next few days. As an example, I started working on mine about five years ago, and I am still revising it slightly today. Hopefully, by outlining the steps I have taken over the last several years to define my life’s purpose, the process will be quicker for you. 

Let’s jump into the first steps of the process, which will help you gain a better understanding of your inherent personality and strength-traits. 

Life-Purpose Development Process


1st – Get to Know Yourself

The very first step in developing your life-purpose statement is to gain an understanding of who you are. You may think you already have this figured out, but it is worth taking a closer look into your self and see if you are who you think you are. You may be surprised to find that you are not quite who you believe you are. 

In this phase, the first thing we will do is take a personality test. 

Personality Test

There are several personality tests available, but I like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire administered by 16Personalities. It has provided me with the most accurate description of myself and my behaviors of any of the personality tests I have taken. Also, I like that it is cheap and quick. 

16Personalities offers a free questionnaire that takes about ten minutes to complete. You can have the information emailed to you as well as view it directly online. They provide a lot of detail that I have found very insightful. For your reference, you can find a description of their test on their website.

Regardless if you use 16 Personalities or a different assessment, gaining insight into yourself is critical in this step. Focus on how you interact with others and what motivates you. Studying the career paths for your personality type may provide you with ideas for your life’s purpose. 

Now that you have an understanding of your personality type, let’s take a look at your strength-traits. 

Strength Finder

Dr. Don Clifton, a psychologist, believed we spend too much time focusing on our weaknesses. Instead of trying to improve our deficiencies, he felt we should spend most of our time nurturing our strengths. To help others in this regard, he developed the CliftonStrengths assessment test.

Similar to a personality test, the CliftonStrengths assessment defines how you interact with the world by identifying and ordering your top five talents, or themes, out of the thirty-four available. As an example, the online 177-question test may define your themes as Achiever, Command, Developer, Restorative, and Strategic. After you complete the test, you will receive information regarding the talents and strategies on how to utilize your strengths for success. 

How I found CliftonStrengths

I stumbled across CliftonStrengths through Dr. Clifton’s book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” and I followed it with Tom Rath’s “StrengthFinder 2.0” after I took the assessment. I learned the majority of my strengths are strategic, and I am more idea than action orientated. The evaluation reinforced the results of my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Combining the information from the two has provided me with valuable insights that I have used to develop and take actions towards fulfilling my life’s purpose.

At this point, you probably have spent a couple of hours examining your personality traits. If you have done this in one sitting, I would advise taking a break and return to this process in a day or so. 

If you took some time away, welcome back. 

Now that we have a deeper understanding of our natural personality and strengths, let’s dive into your beliefs and motivations.

2nd – Define your passions and values

Having an understanding of our nature will guide us when taking action, but gaining insight into our values will give us direction. For this reason, this step is the most crucial and perhaps the most difficult in the process. So, let’s jump right in. 

First, grab your journal, a notebook, or a few pieces of paper and find a quiet and comfortable place where you can contemplate and write. Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite sipping drink. If you like to snack, grab it. We are going to be here for a while, so make sure you block off an hour or more to be free from distractions. 

Once you sit down, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, relax, and clear your mind. After you forget about all the other things you need to do today, open your eyes and begin by writing “passions” across the top of one of the pages. Now answer the following questions and make sure you take the time to think deeply about each. 

Passions

  1. What are your passions? List them down the side of the page and leave several lines between each. You will expand upon them in the next step. Consider the things that excite you and that you enjoy doing. They can be things such as writing, painting, taking care of people, traveling, woodworking, building houses, fixing cars, programming, photography, family, exercise, cooking, etc. Despite the limitless possibilities, make sure you only consider the things that genuinely excite you, and that you would do before anything else.  
  2. Next, write down the details of your passions. What exactly excites you about doing _______? As an example, if you are passionate about cooking, perhaps the smell and the texture of the ingredients, and knowing someone else is going to enjoy your meal gives you a sense of satisfaction like nothing else in the world. 
  3. After you finish, rank each with a number. Give the passion that excites you the most a one, and go from there. 
  4. Now on a separate page, answer the following questions.
    1. If you had no responsibilities, what would you do with your time? 
    2. What activities would you like to spend more time doing now? 
    3. Who inspires you, and why? 
    4. When were you the happiest in your life, what were you doing? 
    5. What were you doing when you felt the most pride in your life? 
    6. What were you doing when you felt the most satisfied? 

Values and Roles For your Life’s Purpose

After you complete this, take out a new sheet and write “Values” on the left side and “Roles” on the right side.

Under the values column, write down the values you feel identify you. Also, write down the values that you wish to have. You can use the following list to help you get started.

Abundance
Acceptance
Accountability
Accuracy
Achievement
Adventure
Advocacy
Altruism
Ambition
Appreciation
Assertiveness
Attractiveness
Autonomy
Balance
Being the Best
Belonging
Benevolence
Boldness
Brilliance
Calmness
Carefulness
Caring
Challenge
Charity
Cheerfulness
Clear-mindedness
Cleverness
Collaboration
Commitment
Community
Compassion
Competitiveness
Consistency
Contentment
Continuous Improvement
Contribution
Control
Cooperation
Correctness
Courtesy
Creativity
Credibility
Curiosity
Daring
Decisiveness
Dedication
Democraticness
Dependability
Determination
Devoutness
Diligence
Discipline
Discretion
Diversity
Dynamism
Economy
Effectiveness
Efficiency
Elegance
Empathy
Encouragement
Enjoyment
Enthusiasm
Equality
Ethics
Excellence
Excitement
Expertise
Exploration
Expressiveness
Fairness
Faith
Family
Fidelity
Fitness
Flexibility
Fluency
Focus
Freedom
Friendships
Fun
Generosity
Goodness
Grace
Growth
Happiness
Hard Work
Health
Helping Society
Holiness
Honesty
Honor
Humility
Humor
Inclusiveness
Independence
Individuality
Ingenuity
Innovation
Inquisitiveness
Insightfulness
Inspiration
Intelligence
Intuition
Joy
Justice
Kindness
Knowledge
Leadership
Learning
Legacy
Love
Loyalty
Mastery
Merit
Mindfulness
Obedience
Open-Mindedness
Optimism
Order
Originality
Passion
Patriotism
Peace
Perfection
Performance
Personal Development
Piety
Playfulness
Popularity
Positivity
Power
Practicality
Preparedness
Proactivity
Professionalism
Prudence
Punctuality
Quality
Recognition
Relationships
Reliability
Resilience
Resourcefulness
Responsiveness
Restraint
Results-oriented
Rigor
Risk-Taking
Safety
Security
Self-Control
Self-reliance
Selflessness
Sensitivity
Serenity
Service
Shrewdness
Simplicity
Soundness
Speed
Spirituality
Spontaneity
Stability
Strategic
Strength
Structure
Success
Support
Teamwork
Temperance
Thankfulness
Thoroughness
Thoughtfulness
Timeliness
Tolerance
Traditionalism
Trustworthiness
Truth-seeking
Understanding
Uniqueness
Unity
Usefulness
Versatility
Vision
Vitality
Warmth
Wealth
Well-Being
Wisdom
Zeal

And under the roles column, write down the roles you now perform and also would like to fulfill in the future. If there are roles you are currently fulfilling and do not wish to have, draw a line through them. A list of examples follows to help you get started.

Husband
Wife
Volunteer
Aunt
Uncle
Brother
Sister
Boyfriend
Girlfriend
Grandpa
Grandma
Firefighter
Volunteer
Deacon
Minister
Director of a Board
Leader
Manager
Athlete
Trainer
Parent
Son
Daughter
Computer Programmer
Actor
Athlete
Coach

Now for each column, prioritize your top five values and roles that you want to become or focus upon in the future.

After completing this step, you now have a comprehensive list of your passions and values. Let’s take a few moments to reflect upon what we just accomplished, but before doing so, let’s step away for a while and take a break. If you are like me, deep self-reflection can be exhausting, so take as much time as you need to clear your thoughts and refocus. Feel free to take an hour, a day, or a week to recharge before coming back to it. 

When you come back, we will reflect on what you have accomplished so far and star reflecting on developing our life’s purpose. 

3rd – Reflection and Life-Purpose Statement Development

Welcome back. Hopefully, you are restored and eager to get back into it. Our next step is not as challenging as the last one, so it will not be as exhaustive. While you are getting ready, grab your personality and strength assessments, your passion and values worksheets, and find a comfortable place to concentrate. Preferably, the same site as last time. 

Once you are ready, please take out your information and read it thoroughly, reflecting upon each piece. After studying the documents, write down any themes that start to form. You will begin to see topics like, “I am at my best in front of a crowd,” “I like to work with my hands,” or “I am passionate about helping others.” Write down everything that comes to mind while you are reflecting. 

As soon as you are complete, read through each statement. Notice how each declaration is building the base of your life’s purpose. 

Examples of My Statements

As an example, here are a few of my statements.

  • I get a sense of satisfaction when I build or fix something. 
  • Solving problems is when I am at my best.
  • I enjoy reading, learning, and contemplating possibilities.
  • I have genuinely come to appreciate the value of discipline and the joy it provides.
  • Being a contributor to a community is vital to me. 
  •  I like working on computers, designing processes, studying data, and messing around with programming.
  • I enjoy working out and playing sports
  • Creating something of value is very high on my list.

 From these statements, I crafted my initial life-purpose statement. It was “to build a successful business that provides employment, so my family can enjoy financial freedom, and we can contribute more to charity.” 

How My Life-Purpose Statement was Flawed

I would like to give you the impression that after developing this statement, I set off to accomplish it. The reality was, I was already in the middle of starting a business when I formed my statement. In other words, my actions drove my purpose instead of my purpose driving my actions. I created my statement to justify my actions, and it was flawed.

In part 1 of this series, “Life-Purpose: Defining Yours Is Important,” I stated, a life-purpose should not be internal to oneself. My initial purpose centered around a result that benefited me in the disguise of being for the community. I wanted to treat building a business the same as creating a piece of art. For Warren Buffet or Jeff Bezos, this may be true, but not for me. My intention was good, but my application was not. I did not want to build a business to serve a customer. I wanted an outcome, and that was my error. 

Once I identified this issue, I crafted a new purpose that is focused away from myself and results. 

A Warning For Your Life-Purpose Statement

I tell you this story so you can avoid making the same mistake. Make your life’s mission centered on behaviors that benefit more than yourself, and avoid making it about self-desired outcomes.

Now it is your turn. Take a few minutes to write out your life-purpose statement. Don’t worry if it does not immediately turn out perfect. You can edit and massage it when you feel you need to, but at least you will now have a compass to guide you into the future and provide your life with direction.

Wrapping Up

I hope you found this exercise useful. It mimics the significant steps that I took over several years to develop my life’s purpose. Many of these steps I took without realizing they were leading me towards a life’s direction. Likewise, I hope they do the same for you in a significantly less amount of time. 

Feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments, or if you like, share your statement, and we can discuss it. 

In the final part of the series, we will identify a process to help you find ways to put your life’s purpose into action.

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I'm a has-been high school athlete who now enjoys CrossFit, baseball, and other athletic activities. As a profession, I design software, and I create the majority of I.M.s content. I do it for the fun of it, but I hope it helps others pursue fitness.

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