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Perspectives on Finding Your Purpose
Here’s something you mightn’t be used to hearing: stop seeking your purpose.
I know; pretty counter-cultural. I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear this from one of the most prominent visionaries of our time, Kute Blackson. Kute recently came onto the podcast and unpacked a whole bunch of perspectives that have helped me see life from a very different angle.
And yes, Kute told me that I should stop seeking my purpose if I truly want to find my place in life. But it isn’t as black and white as it sounds — so today, I thought I’d explore this topic with you a little further.
Kute’s bold statement prompted me to explore a whole bunch of different perspectives on finding your purpose. I think it’s an incredibly important topic for entrepreneurs, since we’re often driven by a desire to make a difference and create something meaningful.
Let’s take a look at different perspectives on a very popular question: how do you find your purpose?
Why Humans Want to Find Their Purpose
“Indeed, a sense of purpose appears to have evolved in humans so that we can accomplish big things together — which may be why it’s associated with better physical and mental health.”
That’s a quote pulled from this article by the Greater Good Science Center. I wanted to start at ground level and figure out why we’re so intensely driven to find our purpose — and according to the author, it stems from our evolutionary need to progress.
I’d add to this and say that finding a purpose gives you a sense of meaning, which is something we humans uniquely enjoy (I’d recommend reading ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari for more info on that).
Here are a few interesting facts I found while digging around online:
According to this in-depth study of 4 million Americans, those who felt medium or high levels of purpose in their life exhibited better “social support, resilience, reliance on faith, health literacy, and better health.” They were also physically and mentally healthier.
This study found that people living ‘purposeful’ lives had higher incomes and net worths, and this applies to both young and older adults.
And finally, this study connected a sense of purpose with better stress management (and let’s face it — we could all use a bit of that)
So I’d say there’s more than enough incentive for us to find our purpose. And while it might seem like the whole topic of ‘finding yourself’ and ‘living your authentic purpose’ is linked with contemporary, new-age thinking… we’ve actually been on this train for a long time.
Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is a quote from Viktor Frankl, a prominent psychiatrist and neurologist who developed something called ‘logotherapy’ during his time in Nazi concentration camps.
In case you’re not familiar, logotherapy was born out of Frankl’s observation that those who survived the concentration camps were the ones with a sense of purpose — a reason to keep going despite their unimaginable circumstances.
Logotherapy essentially argues that humans need meaning and purpose to avoid despair. It’s such a powerful theory because Viktor combines his own intensely personal experiences with a huge body of research on the topic.
And it’s worth noting that Viktor didn’t just survive the camps — he thrived, going on to write best-selling books and help thousands of patients. He was an incredibly inspiring man, and his work has had a profound impact on how we think about meaning and purpose.
So there are a couple of prominent thoughts on what purpose is and why we might need it. But how do we chase it? (And later, should we chase it?)
Ikigai Takes the Western World By Storm
Anyone who’s vaguely familiar with Japanese culture and history will know that it overflows with wisdom. From Japan’s philosophies, we’ve been introduced to core acceptance (Uketamo), continuous and sustainable self-improvement (Kaizen), and of course — Ikigai.
I’m sure we’ve talked about this before. Ikigai is essentially your reason for living — your passion, your mission, and what you’re meant to do in this lifetime. But it goes a little deeper than that.
Ikigai is a method of finding what you’re meant to do in this lifetime. It lays out a simple Venn diagram with four quadrants:
What you love
What the world needs
What you can be paid for
What you’re good at
The sweet spot — your Ikigai — is where all four of these things intersect. It’s what brings you fulfillment, makes you happy, and feels like it’s not even work because you enjoy it so much.
Ikigai hasn’t been applied very well in the West; we’ve reduced it to a black and white concept, as we love to do (for some reason). You don’t need all four tenets to intercept in everything you do. Your job might make money and fill a need in the world, while your family might be the thing you love, and caring for them is what you’re good at.
Ikigai is about balance and living a full life. It’s not about having one all-consuming passion that you do to the exclusion of everything else (although that can be part of it).
Purpose Through Spirituality
It would be silly not to mention spirituality here. We humans have been embracing the idea of spirituality in all its forms since the dawn of time. And yes — for some people, it is their method of finding their purpose.
The word ‘spirituality’ gets thrown around a lot these days, and it can mean different things to different people. For some, spirituality is about connecting with the divine — whatever that looks like for them. This could manifest as going to church every Sunday, or it might look like spending time in nature and communing with the Earth.
Others might define spirituality as:
A sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves
An awareness of the interconnectedness of all things
A felt sense of wonder, mystery, and awe
Studies have connected spirituality with a higher subjective sense of well-being, which includes purpose. Within those studies there are lots of caveats, obviously; certain lines of spiritual thinking are going to be more harmful than others. But in general, people who identify as spiritual tend to be happier and more fulfilled.
There are lots of different ways to find your spirituality — and it might not look like what you expect. There’s no one right way to do it. I found Kute Blackson’s approach to be super down-to-earth, so if you’re not overly religious but want to explore your spiritual side, I recommend checking our podcast out.
Broader Advice from Mainstream Sources
Alongside these more specific approaches to finding your purpose, there’s a common set of steps recommended for finding your purpose. John Coleman, author of the HBR Guide To Crafting Your Purpose, suggests asking yourself a series of questions during big life transitions:
“What is the core purpose of my work and the ways in which it makes the world better, and how can I lean into that purpose or craft my day-to-day work to emphasize it?
Who are the key relationships in my life, both inside and outside of work, and how can I deepen and enrich them?
Who am I serving in my work and outside of it, and what more can I do at work, at home, and in my community to serve others?
How am I becoming better each day? How can I pursue meaningful craft in my personal or professional life?”
Then there’s the highly acclaimed ‘finding your WHY’ strategy from Simon Sinek, who’s written extensively on the topic. Sinek’s idea is that most people know WHAT they do, and some people know HOW they do it — but very few people can articulate WHY they do what they do.
Sinek suggests looking back into your past to find themes that stand out to you. What were the moments when you felt most fulfilled? When were you at your best? He says you can use this self-discovery and reflection to find your reason for doing things — and by extension, your purpose.
So… Should We Chase That Feeling?
In all of these theories, philosophies, and pieces of advice, there’s a common theme. Finding your purpose is a mission. It’s a chase. It’s a journey. You have to go out and actively seek it.
And this is where a lot of people get stuck. They wait for clarity, or they look for some big life-changing event that will magically reveal their purpose to them. But the truth is, finding your purpose is an ongoing process — and it might not ever feel like you’ve ‘arrived.’
I feel like we build up this idea of ‘seeking’ and ‘finding’ our purpose as this massive, all-encompassing task. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to go on some huge journey and come back with a big realization.
This is where Kute Blackson’s theory I mentioned at the beginning comes into play.
Stop Chasing, Stop Seeking, Stop Searching
Kute Blackson believes that the reason we don’t find our purpose is because we’re too busy chasing it. Our ego takes over and uses the ‘chase’ as a means of feeling fulfilled; it gets stuck in the effort rather than congruently living our purpose.
Instead, Kute says move toward the things that make you feel right. Not euphoric or happy — those are temporary emotions. But the things that make you feel right on a deeper level, in your gut. The things that give you an overwhelming sense of ‘yes’.
Now, I know; it’s sounding an awful lot like everything else I’ve talked about so far. But there’s a key difference.
In Kute’s way of thinking, he suggests moving toward your purpose as the opportunity arises. For instance — maybe you’re given a new position at work in which you need to interact with people more. Suddenly you think, “this feels incredible. I could really make a difference here.”
So you lean into the role. You hint to your boss that this is something you’re passionate about. You start seeking out more opportunities to connect with people and make a difference in their lives.
It’s not about some huge ‘aha’ moment or some grandiose realization that you need to change your life. It’s about being open and receptive to the opportunities that come your way, and then choosing whether or not to lean into them.
In other words — there’s no chase, only acute awareness of the opportunities crossing your path.
We’ve covered a lot here. I want to clarify — while I personally love Kute’s more ‘as it happens’ approach to living your purpose, there’s definitely merit to all of the other theories and ideas we’ve discussed. Some people actually find their purpose in the continual chase.
The key is to find what works for you.
I hope this has given you some clarity and a new perspective on finding your purpose. And if you’re still feeling stuck, remember — you don’t need to make it a big scary mission. Just keep your eye out for the things that make you feel right, and trust your gut when it comes to taking action.
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Thank you for reading,