Finding Your Life Purpose: 3 Steps to Help Your Career Transition


exploreThroughout our lives, our identities change so when it comes to careers, it should come as no surprise that we have multiple career possibilities and not just one given path. The situation becomes even more interesting when you are committed to finding a career that align with your life purpose so that your work reflects something meaningful to you.

This very question is at the heart of what I do at the Pace Encore Transitions Program, where several times a year, I work with a group successful business executives who are eager to apply their experience and skills in order to transition to a new role working for “the greater good”. Indeed, for the folks at Pace, money is not the object of their search but rather a way to give back and do something meaningful. And many of them are stuck because they do not know what to do next and are frustrated because they cannot find their sweet spot.

The same issue confronts musicians and arts leaders who find that their career dreams change as they experience themselves in different roles—and then they are unsure of what to do next.

So that brings up the question: How can you find a career that aligns with your life purpose?

The short answer is to take action by following these 3 steps:

1. Create a Life Purpose Statement
2. Actively Explore and Experiment with Different Roles
3. Evaluate Your Experiences

Here’s how!

Finding one’s purpose is an active process!

1. Write A Life Purpose Statement

A good starting point is to formulate a life purpose statement.

This 4-step exercise involves the following:

  1. Write 3-5 stories where you experienced joy and flow;
  2. Extract your top 2 talents and passions;
  3. Articulate what your Ideal World would be, the people who you want to impact and what role you would like to have in creating that Ideal World,
  4. Assembling these elements 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).”

For more suggestions on how to create your life purpose statement, click here.

A life purpose statement is a good starting point to help point you in the direction of your career explorations. It is also useful to help filter out things that do not align with that purpose. And if you have a good feeling about an area to explore, the life purpose statement can confirm that hunch.

You can also refine your statement as you get more experience and explore different career possibilities. That takes us to the second step in finding your life purpose: exploring.

2. Career Explorations: Take Action!

Having a life purpose statement is only the first step in the process. Navel-gazing will not lead you to your life purpose! You need to go out in the world and explore your options. Your life purpose statement can help point you in the right direction. But don’t spend all your time at home thinking. This is an easy way to avoid your exploration.

Successful transitions occur one step at a time, by trial and error, conducting experiments and incremental experiments until you find what it is that you are looking for. Take time so be patient. You cannot know in advance what will come out of your transition.

  • Explore multiple possibilities

Insead Business School Professor Herminia Ibarra in her seminal book, Working Identity, fundamentally believes that our identity changes over the course of our lives and that we therefore have multiple possibilities for our career. Therefore, she urges us to get out of our heads and take action to explore those different selves. If you are curious, read about her 9 Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.

In the Encore program, participants have come up with some interesting possibilities to explore:

A college administrator had an epiphany that what she really cared about was creating a culturally-rich, healthy and stimulating living environment for people 50 and over. Her first area of exploration as to investigate adult living communities and what opportunities might exist for her in that realm.

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. Her initial plan was to research organizations that assist Hispanic students ages 8-15 in order to assess the landscape and meet the people who are operating in this space.

What are you curious about?  Go out and find out more about how you operate in that space!

  • Feel free to change your mind

When you are considering your options to explore, it may be that something seems right at first blush but when you gain more experience in that area,  you discover that it does not work for you.  What should you do????

Keep on looking!

And yes, while you may be confused and eager to settle in on an area, avoid the temptation to commit to a path too quickly. Many of my Pace students are impatient to make their transition to a new purpose-driven life since they feel that time is ticking. However, if you short-circuit the process, it may result in prolonging your transition.

One of my clients exemplified the wisdom of this approach.

An art history major in college who loved to make art, she also studied Japanese and applied to law school. After graduating, she decided to try living in Japan where she worked for 15 years in a large Japanese trading company as their “chief problem solver”. Returning to the US for family reasons, she continued to work part-time for the company and went to law school, but could not find her place in the legal arena. That’s when she arrived on my doorstep and we structured a series of experiments for her. She became very involved in a local community organizing project, investigated the possibility of doing legal work for small businesses, took a writing class and then attended a weekend workshop on meditation. This last piece resonated with her desire to help small businesses, do good and engage in creative problem solving. Today, she is a mediator, continues to represents her Japanese company and enjoys her artistic pursuits.

  • Suggested Actions for your Career Exploration

Here are some suggestions of what to do in your exploration as you discover how you do in different roles:

    • Expand your networks

To explore yourself in a new role, expand your network and find new people in fields that intrigue you. Examine your current network to see who can make some introductions to these folks. Conduct informational interviews with people whose career paths interest you. Not only will you pick up valuable information but you may very well make a strong connection with a new person, thus further expanding your new network.

For those in the Encore program, there is also an extensive national Encore network of people who have been through the program and have successfully made the transition from the business world to an arena of purpose and passion.

    • Volunteer

Join an organization whose mission aligns with a cause that you feel passionate about. You can do a discreet project or join the board. This is a great way to meet people who share your vision and it also can help you learn some new skills.

    • Blog

Start writing a blog about an area that interests you. In this way, you can share your ideas and attract new followers who can become part of your new network.

    • Take a class

Another way to explore a new area is to take a class. For example, my home city of New York abounds in possibilities for continuing education offered by our universities including ColumbiaNYU School of Professional Studies, and the New School’s Continuing Education Program

Moreover, you can take advantage of the free on-line classes or MOOC’s (massive online open courses) offered by platforms like Coursera and EdX, as well as iTunes University or free university courses like

    • Teach

As an experienced business professional, you have developed an expertise over the years. So look for opportunities to teach. Start with a workshop at your local church, community center or community college.  This will build up your teaching resume and could very well lead you to a new path. 

    • Do a project

Perhaps you know someone who is doing work that interests you. Offer to help out your fiend on a project to see how you like working in that space.

    • Shadow a friend

Another way to explore yourself in a new role is to go to work with a friend and shadowing him or her for a day.

3. Pay Attention to What Works and What Does Not

As your explore these new possibilities, take notes! Notice what you like and what you love. Pay attention to what you are good at. And notice what you do not like and what does not feel natural to you. It’s all good information and can help you to home in on the areas that you want to explore.

Be sure to capture this information in a journal, on your computer or any other way that helps you to keep tabs on your process.

And check in with your Life Purpose Statement to see how these various possibilities align with that statement.

Bottom Line:

If you are in transition, it is important to give yourself time to explore new possibilities. So allow yourself a period of exploration and stop trying to figure it out ASAP! The more data you have on your experiences, the more likely it is that you will find an area that feel right to you.  

Enjoy your search!