A five-step exercise to discover your personal purpose

For anyone who is looking to practice meaningful personal development, having a specific life purpose is a fundamental exercise. Think of it as the foundation of your life; the North Star that helps you find your way, especially during stormy weather.

Your life purpose not only guides you, but also simplifies decision-making. When you know what you want to achieve, it’s easier to say “no” to the things that will derail you from your path. A life purpose provides both clarity and focus.

Purpose has become a buzzword in the business. However, don’t let the fad prevent you from having one in your life. Purpose-driven companies outperform competitors, while people with a sense of meaning have a lower risk of death.

This exercise will help you tap into meaningful life moments to start developing your purpose statement.

How the Life Purpose Exercise Works

The web is full of exercises to help you uncover your purpose in 5 minutes. This one is simple, too. However, finding and crafting your personal purpose is hard and takes time.

Run this exercise a couple of times. Don’t fall in love with your first ‘purpose prototype.’ Be ready to create different versions, choose one, and then refine.  Also, our lives are fluid and our interests change over time, forcing us to revisit our purpose from time to time.

Follow the five-step process to find your purpose.

The first two steps require that you ask for feedback. To develop your purpose, you must consider both what you see about yourself and your blind spots (what others see but you don’t).

Consider involving at least 5-7 people (a mix of friends, family members, and colleagues).

 1. What are you passionate about?

Answer the following question, “When did you feel the most excited?”

Write everything that comes to mind and then rank the top 5. Right next to each, reflect on why. Capture everything that comes to mind.

Ask other people to answer, “When did you see me the most excited?” Each person should provide 5 moments.

Compare your answer with the feedback received. Was anything missing? Did something catch your attention? Review and make any necessary changes to your top-5 list.

2. What brings you down?

This step is exactly the same as the one before, only you will focus on the things that deflate rather than inflate your passion.

Answer the following question, “When did you feel the most frustrated?”

Write everything that comes to mind and then rank the top 5. Right next to each, reflect on why. Capture everything that comes to mind.

Ask other people to answer, “When did you see me the most frustrated?” Each person should provide 5 moments.

Compare notes and make any necessary changes to your top-5 list.

3. Who do you care about?

List all the people that are important in your life. Go beyond the usual friends and family. Think about the impact of your work, hobbies, activities, etc. Who gets impacted by you? Are there any groups, communities, or sectors of society that really matter to you? List the top 10, from most to least important.

4. What impact do you want to create?

For each of the people/ groups that you selected, what impact did you create?

How do you touch other people’s lives? What impact do you have? How will you help others live a better life?

Not everyone’s life purpose should be about saving humanity (although there’s nothing wrong with that.

Mentoring people, buying groceries for your neighbors during the lockdown, helping someone find a job, recommending a book, or making people laugh when they are having a bad day. There are many ways to positively impact others.

5. Write your life purpose

Review all the previous steps –– especially the impact portion.

What do you see? Is there any theme that emerges? What makes you feel proud of yourself? What made you feel excited when you were reviewing your notes?

Try to put all the key ingredients together by using the following Mad Lib to capture your life purpose in one sentence:

I want to [intended impact] for [specific audience] through [how/ what you will do].

For example, “I want to inspire personal growth in soulful executives by challenging business as usual through insightful articles.”

Another example, “I want to help others live the lives they want by helping them confront their fear and self-limiting mindsets.”

Work on different alternatives. Once you have one or two versions that really resonate with you, it’s time for wordsmithing. Keep your purpose simple and human, but also inspirational. Most importantly, it needs to feel authentic and real.

Using The Purpose Exercise with Your Team

Although this exercise is meant to develop your personal purpose, it can also be applied to work.

Facilitating this exercise within a team is a great way for members to get to know each other better, understand what drives everyone, and uncover opportunities for collaboration outside work.

Also, when helping organizations find their company purpose, I always like to include a life purpose exercise first. It helps people better understand how the idea of a purpose works and gets everyone excited. Most importantly, in many cases, we use personal purposes as inspiration to design the team version.

There’s nothing better than when a company’s purpose connects with its employees’ life purposes.