As someone who has experienced many career transitions, I know what it is like to feel at sea and unsettled by not knowing what direction to take your career. This feeling to “stuck” can happen at any stage of your career:
- in the early stages of your career when you are not sure which of the many options to follow.
I encounter this situation with talented young musicians who cannot decide what direction to take their careers and want to take charge of their entrepreneurial careers.
- at mid-career when you long to change direction
This situation comes up both with musicians who want to transition out of freelancing to something more stable, as well as with many of the lawyers and business professionals whom I coach who are looking for a better fit between their interests and their careers; or
- after a productive career when you decide that it is time to do something fulfilling and you cannot quite figure out what that looks like
I most recently encountered this situation while working with a remarkable group of professionals at the Pace University’s Encore Transition Program, a program that helps business professionals transition to “encore” careers: “second acts for the greater good” in the nonprofit and public service sectors.
No matter where you are in your career, if you are looking for some direction, one of my favorite tools to help navigate the unknown is a life purpose statement. A life purpose statement is a great way to provide clarity around what you want to achieve, a sense of direction in where to start and the motivation to make it happen.
You can find your Life Purpose using this four-step process:
1. Stories of Joy and Flow
2. Talents and Passions
3. The Ideal World
4. Your Life Purpose Statement
Let’s get started!
1. Stories of Joy and Flow
The first step in finding your life purpose is to track down the times in your life when you were experiencing life at its best:
when you were living “in the zone” and feeling incredible joy and flow.
When you are in that state, chances are that you are using your best talents and strengths.
You are probably living your passions.
You feel strong and confident.
And undoubtedly, these stories reflect your top values because when you are at joy and in the flow, you are likely to be engaged in an activity that feels meaningful to you.
In short, these stories can provide a clue as to what you consider to be fulfilling and therefore, they are a great way to start off your search for a life purpose.
So look back in your life and come up with 3-5 stories where you achieved something that you were very proud of and you felt a surge of joy in the process. It is best to choose stories from different aspects of your life, ranging from your creative pursuits to your professional life, your education, your relationships, your personal development work, your community service and your leadership activities.
Be sure to look beyond the workplace, especially if you are feeling unfulfilled in your career. Go back to your childhood and remember what you loved to play at. Look at your hobbies and the things that you wish you could spend all your time doing. Choose 3-5 experiences that represent you at your best.
- An instrumentalist who has discovered conducting.
- A pianist who is thrilled to play in a video game orchestra.
- A brass player who created a concert of mixed-genre music with a collective of musician and composers friends.
- A financial executive who was able to turn around a failing subsidiary.
- A TV producer who masterminded an ingenious week-end long coverage of a major news event.
- A lawyer who remembered his childhood love of movies and went on to write and produce 2 of his own movies.
What are your top 3-5 stories of joy, flow and fulfillment?
2. Talents and Passions
Once you have written your stories, look for patterns to identify the talents and strengths that you were using in those moments of joy. Also consider how your stories reflect your passions and what these passions say about what is important to you. When you are searching for your purpose, you want to be operating in a space that you are passionate about!
The instrumentalist who loves to conduct has a talent and passion for leadership.
The brass player who created the multi-genre concert with his friends has vision and creativity, along with a passion for relationships.
The TV producer has a talent for making order out of chaos and communicating effectively under pressure.
The lawyer who made movies has a passion for process and a talent for pulling together lots of different moving parts to make a coherent whole.
What are your top 2 talents?
What are your passions?
These are important elements of your life purpose!
3. The World as an Ideal Place
Once you know your talents, your next step is to imagine that the world is ideal and figure out whom you want to impact in this ideal world. This is a wonderful way to get out of your box and think BIG.
This exercise gets you to focus on what you consider to be important. It also helps you to focus on what slice of the world you would like to tackle and what role you would like to have in making the world a better place.
Consider these questions:
- What does the perfect world look like for me?
- In this perfect world, how am I impacting other people?
- In this perfect world, what is my role in making the world a better place?
Here is how some of my musician and executives have answered these questions to come up with their life purpose
- A musician who is frustrated by the declining attendance at symphony concerts envisions a world where the orchestra is model of collective leadership and a driving force of the community. In this perfect world, not only does everyone attend symphony concerts but the leadership model embodied in this orchestra can lead to more peaceful dealings in society. With this vision, our musician is inspired to create a community orchestra based on the principles of collaborative leadership.
- A musician who is frustrated by the lack of arts education envisions a world where everyone is educated about music and the arts and arts education assumes a central role in one’s upbringing starting in kindergarten. This individual believes that arts education provides a model for creative and collaborative thinking that can improve the way society should operate and he is devoting his career to arts education.
- A health-care professional who ran hospitals worries about the emotional well-being in our society today and envisions a world where everyone finds emotional well-being. She is committed to using her project-management and operational skills to create organizations that promote emotional well-being in order to create a more balanced, sane society.
- An executive who studied in Asia after college envisions a world where young people study abroad because she feels that if everyone had the opportunity to study in a foreign country, it would create a greater understanding of cultures and reduce the tension in the world.
Pie in the sky?
For those committed to a fulfilling life, this exercise helps to zero in on the slice of the world that you want to impact. And that insight can help to drive your search for a life purpose.
What does your ideal world look like?
Whom are you impacting in this ideal world?
And what is your role in making the world a better place?
4. Your Life Purpose Statement
Once you have done the prior exercise, combine your answers into the following template:
“My purpose in life is to use my (top 2 talents) to (how I impact others) in order to (how I want to make the world an ideal place) because (why that is important to me).”
This takes a bit of work and a lot of time so I encourage you to get started and continue to refine your statement until it sounds right.
Here is mine:
“My purpose is to use my creative intellect and positivity to inspire and empower others to find and live their authentic selves, especially in service of the arts, because by helping people to live their creativity and talents and insure a flourishing artistic and creative environment, that’s my way of making the world a better place.”
How to Use Your Life Purpose Statement
Congratulations! You now have your life purpose statement that reflects how you want to use your talents in service of a mission that impacts people in the way that feels most important to you.
A life purpose statement is not activity-specific. Rather, it is your compass that can help you navigate your professional landscape and provide you with options.
Knowing your life purpose might inspire you to seek out new career opportunities so that you could use your creative talents, as well as your expertise and leadership abilities in the service of your mission. Armed with this clear mission, you are much more likely to be motivated to seek out new opportunities and thereby achieve the fulfillment that is currently lacking in your life.
For example, in one of my recent workshops, an MBA with a career in training and development had an epiphany that what she really cared about was creating a culturally-rich, healthy and stimulating living environment for people 50 and over. She is excited about learning more about living communities and is in the process of conducting research into this new area.
Another executive, a financial expert of Hispanic ancestry, is concerned about the values of Hispanic youth and is eager to create an organization that will teach Hispanic youngsters how to live a values-driven life, as opposed to getting locked into materialism. She plans to research organizations that are currently assisting Hispanic students ages 8-15 to assess the landscape and meet the people who are operating in this space.
Here are some additional ways in which you can use your life purpose statement:
- Conduct informational interviews with people who work in the space that incites your passion;
- Take a class to explore your new-found interest; or
- Volunteer with or join the board of an organization that espouses your mission,
You may also decide to teach, lead workshops, consult, coach or work for an organization whose mission resonates with your version of the ideal world. You might even start a blog to write about your passion.
And if you know what you want to do, having a life purpose statement can reinforce your commitment to your area. For me, when I read my life purpose statement, I feel great knowing that everything I do on behalf of musicians and leaders is right on mission.
Enjoy the clarity that comes with knowing your purpose and be fearless as you seek out the opportunities that will enable you to live your best self!