Finding Your Purpose

“Every one of us needs a purpose that’s big enough to call forth the gifts and abilities within us.”
           — Richard J. Leider, Life Skills

Do you live your life “on purpose”? Do you know what that purpose is?

That unsettling question was posed to an audience of about 200 people at a workshop I recently attended.

Many of us don’t think too much about the real purpose of our lives, said the workshop’s leader, a vivacious woman named Kathleen Terry We know what we like to do, what we’re good at, and what we have to do. But if we can discover a purpose behind all those activities, according to Terry, we can develop a richness of spirit and add meaning to our lives.

Terry gave us an actual formula for finding one’s purpose:

G + P + V = Purpose

This is how she explained the equation:

“You heed your purpose when you offer your Gifts in service to something you are Passionate about in an environment that is consistent with your core Values.”

Next, we set about drafting a Purpose Statement. To identify our Gifts, we were each given a stack of activity cards. We had to sort the activity cards into three piles, with each pile representing our preferences: 
1) Activities we Love to Do 
2) Activities We’re Not Sure About
3) Activities we Definitely Don’t Like to do.

From the “Love to Do” pile, we had to select our top five favorite activities, then designate one activity as the most important of all.

My Number One activity card turned out to be “Writing Things.” My four runner-up cards were “Researching Things,” “Discovering Resources,” “Analyzing Information,” and “Putting the Pieces Together.” 

All my activity cards–a.k.a., my “gifts”–identified me as a writer. No big surprise there. At least it was obvious what I like to do.

But I still lacked a purpose. How am I meant to use the  writing in the service of a greater purpose in life? Is that purpose merely to entertain and sell books? (That doesn’t sound very noble.) Is my purpose to inspire others to develop their own creativity? Perhaps I could volunteer as a blogger or writer on behalf of a cause I’m passionate about, such as Monarch habitat preservation.

We weren’t expected to finalize our purpose statement in the two hours of the workshop, I was relieved to learn. It turns out, sometimes it takes people years to discover their life’s purpose.

But I’m glad to be thinking in this general direction. And if you ever have a chance to take a “Finding Your Purpose” workshop, I highly recommend it. 

What about you? Have you given your life’s purpose much thought? Is your writing an element of a higher purpose?

20 thoughts on “Finding Your Purpose

  1. Kathryn – I confess I hadn’t really thought about purpose in this way – now you’ve given me food for thought this morning!

    • I never thought about purpose much either, Clare. But I think we all know people who live their lives with a clear sense of purpose. They spend less time wandering in the wilderness of life’s uncertainties, I believe.

  2. Is it necessary to define a purpose? What is accomplished by putting words to it? Can I simply react to a need to write, and just go with it?

    Interesting. I don’t always love to write but I always love to read. Should I stick with being a reader? I absolutely hate vacuuming. Where does acknowledging this fact get me?

    I guess my real questions is this; is it really necessary to tap into my inner self in order to be a good writer?

    Provocative post, Kathryn. The feedback should be interesting.

    • I was stymied about this same point, Amanda. I think what I learned is that writing is merely a gift, what I like to do. By harnessing that gift (the G in the purpose equation) to something we strongly value, we can develop an awareness of purpose. In my case, completely separate from writing, I had been seeking ways to volunteer to the cause of preserving habitat for threatened species in my area. The workshop made me realize that I could use my writing ability for that cause, rather than volunteering some other way. Once I made that connection, I checked out our local Botanical Garden, and discovered that their blog and newsletter are out of date. That is something I will now volunteer to do for them–rejuvenate their writing tools. And I’ll be much better suited for doing that than if I volunteered in some other way. In addition to writing, you may have other gifts you could use in developing a sense of purpose.

  3. I like the concept of living one’s life “on purpose.” It’s so easy to go through life being reactive instead of proactive. But I also find it hard to pin that concept to my own life. I have been working on my personal mission statement for a while but have yet to finish it. People have so many important aspects of their lives: spouse, parent, brother, sister, son, daughter, professional, volunteer, neighbor, community member, etc. I find it hard to boil that all down into a single mission statement, but I think it’s important to try. I’d rather try to live “on purpose” than “by accident.”

    • The activity cards were very helpful in identifying pieces of the equation, Eric. People had all different kinds of purpose statements. One 85-year old woman who came to one of the workshops with her daughter, Kathleen told us, said her purpose was simply to be a great mom. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

    • Thanks Kathryn. I keep telling myself it doesn’t have to be complicated, but I am unsatisfied with versions that only deal with one or two aspects of my life. Guess that says something about me. I’ll keep working at it and will get it eventually.

    • I think it just means you’re a “thinker”, Eric, like me! Of the people who shared their draft statements, mine was by far the most detailed and specific. But it bothered me that I could only apply my skills to a very specific cause–I keep looking for something far more grand and sweeping in vision. We’ll just have to keep working on it! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you so much for your comments!

  4. Love your post. My purpose was a little easier than most, because God spoke to me while I was driving home from work one day. It was just two words, but very clear. “Start writing.” How’s that for a testimonial?

    Did I mention that I was in my 50’s when I received that calling? I had always had a need to be creative, but my ideas were scattered. I have done needlepoint, knitting, crocheting, quilting, embroidering, anything that didn’t require great skill or talent, which I knew I didn’t have, From high school on I dabbled in writing, but never got serious to the point of applying myself on a daily basis.

    Now writing is my passion. I attended a workshop, and years later, a large writer’s conference. (nod to James Scott Bell. See you in Feb.) I joined local writers groups. I am focused. I am determined. I am….purposeful. Without purpose, I would not be able to persevere through adversity. Writing would be nothing more than an outlet and a hobby. Now I know there is something about it that rises above the mundane.

    Why did it take me so long to reach this point? God knows. I can only keep my eyes on the goal. I recently read about writers who published in their 90s. If nothing else, it gives me incentive to take care of myself so I make it that far.

    • What an inspiring story, Linda! The workshop leader mentioned that she was also 50 when she began understanding her purpose, so you’re in good company. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Right off I would have to say recreation. I’m not talking about tennis or golf here. I’m talking about re-creating myself and everything else I come in contact with. Taking the old and making it new again. Re-purposing. And writing fits right in there, eh?

    Now for something completely different:

    Here’s something from the Guardian, brought to my attention by Richard Godwin in the UK:

    “Polish author jailed over killing he used as plot” —

    Also from the Guardian, the return of one of our favorite topics. Yup, that’s right. It’s “Gone Girl” again:

    “Will Gone Girl gain from a new ending?” —


  6. I feel that purpose is crucial in what we do, otherwise we’re just going about feeding cravings with no actual long-term goal. My writing is a tool, as is my acting, the way serve my customers in my day-job, or how I work with youth in my church. Each of these functions, led by related gifts in speaking, writing, and storytelling, is part of the path toward what I believe to be my purpose in life. That being to serve my God, and to raise up a generation of leaders with a strong sense of duty, courage, and morality. In both my stories and my acting these are facets I try to convey.

    The realization of my purpose will be one day when I am old and look out over my great-grandchildren and see in them the spark of the story I told when they were little. That’s my purpose.

  7. I really enjoyed your post. This is an important topic for me as I recently started really focusing on my life’s purpose. After quite a bit of soul searching, I concluded that my life’s purpose is to inspire others to achieve positive things in their lives that they didn’t even know they could. I’m passionate about writing and I feel that this is the way for me to live out my purpose and help other people.

    I was so starved for purpose and meaning in my work-life, that I finally broke free and set out to start living a life of meaning. The first step I took was to write a book (my first), which I self-published recently on (BREAK FREE! Don’t Waste Another Minute Living Somebody Else’s Dream). I want to continue writing books that lift people up and bring inspiration into their lives. I’ve met so many people in life that really get stuck and need good, uplifting material from which to draw strength.

    Although I’ve been writing all my life, I only just began to publicly share my writing. I am trying to learn all I can to continually refine my work and learn everything I can about the craft. I loved your post and it reminded me of the importance of living a life of purpose, instead of just trading one’s time for money. This is very much what I wrote about in my book as well. Thank you for sharing your post. Your writing inspired me.

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