How to Find Your Life Purpose (or Live It, Anyway)

Vintage photo of young woman at the lakeFirst, a disclaimer is in order. I am not going to tell you how to find your life purpose—not exactly, anyway. I will share some thoughts about living, and those thoughts may be helpful. I don’t think we each have a separate life purpose, nor do I think, if we did, it would be out there waiting to be discovered. I asked for guidance in writing this article, and this is what emerged. May it be of benefit to all.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” —Mary Oliver

The purpose of anyone’s life is the purpose of everyone’s life: to discover who you are and to live that being into wholeness as best you can. You will have injuries to overcome, self-inflicted and from other sources. The work is in the healing. Pay less attention to the grievousness (once identified) and more to what works for you to relieve the pain and move you forward. For many, it is a religious or spiritual path; for others, it is insight, walking, or health. For some, it is the expression of the process of discovery and the view that follows; for others, it is to seek out those in pain, for camaraderie or for support that goes both ways.

When you begin to question the purpose of your life, try to heed the answers as they come—in strands and whispers, not in entire, grammatically error-free sentences. There is no perfect plan. There is nothing without context, nothing without history attached, and nothing without bias. There is no solid, irrefutable answer to your question; there is only the moment of now and the truest truth you can see in this moment. Everything else fades and shifts, as always.

“Feel it, release it, things change.” —Marianne Faithfull

When you begin to question, you begin to open up to the world within and beyond you. You begin to make connections to the present, future, and past, to other people, and inward to your deepest self. Look within first; inward is where the answers lie—a tapestry in the process of becoming. You are both the weaver and the warp. The woof is what you choose to bring in to incorporate and integrate into your life.

The choices you make are what give color, texture, and visible thread to your life, and guess what? They are all part of the deal. Every choice is useful, and everything has meaning, if only that which you ascribe and eventually understand. Few choices are understood and appreciated in the moment they are made. Most choices are a crapshoot based on belief and experience. If you pay attention to your methodology, your choices, and their apparent outcome, you will make better and better choices over time.

You won’t always know the outcome. A person may approach you years into the future to say how you changed his or her life on that day you don’t remember, saying words you don’t recall. But you don’t have to remember or know what he or she is talking about. You can develop a kind of trust in yourself (not having to keep track of everything) because you are in alignment with your inner wisdom and the purpose of your life.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” —Annie Dillard

Life purpose is a thing that naturally arises, that evolves over the course of this mortal life of yours, the one that began on a whim and ends who knows how or when—impossible, really, to comprehend. But there are basics to this life that if denied will lead to frustration and if engaged will lead to fulfillment, and that is all you really need to know. You don’t have to be able to say what your values are; you know if you are living them or not. Does your choice in this moment bring resonance? Is it like a humming in your gut or the ring of a bell? Or is it a dull thud or muffled cry that you experience in response? Some choices are going to make you nervous, but that’s OK. Try to learn to distinguish between the fear of doing something new and true versus the fear of self-betrayal and you will always—well, most of the time—steer clear of the rocks.

The other thing to remember is that you will survive all of your choices, until, of course, someday you don’t (well, the body goes, anyway; who knows what else happens?). You will die, and your death will be the sum of your life experience and habits and practices. But the number of people who die as a direct result of decisions they made about their life purpose is very small, and who is to say that wasn’t the way they were meant to go anyway?

What I am really saying is: don’t be afraid, live the best you can, make courageous leaps when necessary and possible, and trust that you can handle the outcome. Things will change and shift throughout your life, but you can and will work it out for the best. Make use of your time, and appreciate your efforts and the efforts of those around you. Know when and how to rest and when and how to move, try to keep yourself nourished, and do as little harm to yourself and others as you possibly can. When you look back, assuming you take the chance and do so, you will have few regrets and you will know you did what you came here for. You will have been yourself.

For help in discovering your life purpose, consider contacting a therapist.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ker Cleary, MA, LPC, Contemplative Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Marlo

    November 3rd, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    For me this little leap of faith finally happened when I recognized that I am a big girl and that I have to be able to take the good with the bad. I am strong enough to make wise choices and even when they don’t quite turn out the way that I would like, I know that I can handle whatever life does have in store for me instead.

  • Ker

    November 3rd, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    Well said, Marlo! So very liberating to come to this realization, isn’t it?

  • Barry

    November 4th, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    I think that for many of us it comes a little late, but there is finally this epiphany that if we don’t take this moment in our lives to do the things that we were meant to do, then we may never again have that chance.

  • Ker Cleary

    November 5th, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    Barry, I agree, at some point we can’t help but wake up and take a few chances on living our lives.

  • kimber

    November 5th, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    Well now I have to be honest by admitting that for a long time in my own life I did not realize that my life purpose was to be what I wanted to be, but then instead it should be what someone else wanted for me. I never could understand why I was so unhappy with life when I seemingly had everything that I could ever ask for EXCEPT that I didn’t have anything that would actually make me happy with who I was. I have had to step out of that people pleasing mold and this has been completely hard for me because this is what has always felt so right to me. But stepping back from that has let me see that I can be happy making other people happy, or I can be even happier making my own self happy. It is a slippery slope because my instinct to do for myself is not quite there yet, but I am making progress every day and that alone makes me happy.

  • Samuel A.

    November 10th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    sure does help a whole lot when you can forget about the mind chatter other than that which you know to be the right thing

  • Jan

    November 12th, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    @kimber I am a people please too and a therapist told me once I’m codependent but I only just started to get it. It’s really hard for me to live my own life and make choices without other people. How do you do it?

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