How to Find Your Life Purpose after 40 (Or Any Age!)
Recently, I went to Malaysia to learn horseriding. I’ve loved horses since I was a boy, and to learn to ride and eventually flow with one, has been a dream item on my bucket list. So I’m elated to have started.
I also scored two firsts: tasting mantis shrimp and… undergoing a root canal! A marvelous combo that was! Finally, I made great strides in my meditating, so it was a really great holiday for me.
On the way home, I started reflecting. It’s been a long hard road: from divorce, near-bankruptcy, moving from rent to rent, to where I’m now doing things I want to do, have great relationships, and amazing experiences. And what’s kept everything together for me is what I want to share with you about:
Life Purpose, and how to find it.
What is Life Purpose
Thus far I’ve shared individual ideas and stories that I believe will add to your Life. But there hasn’t been a unified approach to how you live Life itself. That big picture view is something I want to head towards, and Life Purpose is where we’ll start.
So, what is Life Purpose?
The philosophers and theologists would all have different answers. I like to keep things simple, so here’s a concise starting point:
A Life Purpose is what you are here to do with your Life.
It’s a Life mission that fills your Life with purpose and meaning.
It’s probably your most important contribution to the world.
Think of a Life Purpose as a guiding light that pulls you forwards. It grounds you by giving you an overarching theme to your Life. Living this theme fills your Life with PURPOSE and MEANING, making it a really full one.
At all times you have a grand, big picture idea of why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you want what you want, and you won’t lose yourself in a limbo of purposeless activity for long.
In striving towards it, you’ll start to see where my ideas fit, and be more motivated to implement them. I won’t have to convince you to invest in personal development, take your health seriously, eliminate bad habits and cultivate good relationships, because YOU will see how that supports your Life Purpose.
Where Most People Are
Here’s the reality for most people. We’re distracted by a hundred things that take up our time and attention. We’re sedated to what’s of true value because we’re seduced by superficial things we think will make us happier, like:
Getting that pay raise.
Buying a car.
Getting that latest Hermes bag.
Getting hot guys or girls into bed.
But as we get better at acquiring these things, we’re actually diminishing ourselves with time. We’re like hamsters in a wheel, jogging furiously, going nowhere. We’re no longer human beings, we’re human doings. Doing, doing, doing. Checking e-mails, checking our share prices, working, holding meetings.
This happens even if we tell ourselves we won’t get sucked into it. But too many external forces conspire to make that an inexorable end.
Unless we stop to question.
This happens a lot when people cross age 35 (my clients are usually in their 40s). We suddenly feel (sometimes in a panic) that there’s an empty space, as if everything we’ve accomplished so far was just a smokescreen, hiding the fact there’s something glaringly missing in our Lives.
I’ve observed that this actually happens the more outwardly successful someone is, because to get there required more sacrifices and disconnect from the soft things that truly matter. Things like relationships, family, acts of kindness, contribution to more than oneself.
If you reach a point in your Life when you’re asking, “Is this all?” or “So what?” or “There’s got to be something bigger than this!” it’s time to think about Life Purpose.
Finding Your Life Purpose
So how do you find your Life Purpose? Here are five ideas I’ve used with clients to get you started.
1. Ask The Right Questions
Surprisingly, not everybody wants to just bum around the beach sipping piña coladas. They do want to do something, but something IMPORTANT. MEANINGFUL.
How to find it, though? Start by pondering these questions.
“What can I do with my Life that is meaningful, important, and fulfilling to me?”
Don’t model your answer on anyone else’s expectations. Answer honestly, and your Life Purpose will be an authentic one you can fully get behind.
“If I didn’t have to work, what would I do with my Life?”
“What’s worth suffering for?”
It’s easy to talk a lot of BS, but when it comes to the crunch, what’s important enough to you to sacrifice and suffer for because you feel the end result is worth it?
“What are my values?”
Clarify these, and then consider things that align with them.
“What do I speak about with passion and abandon to my most intimate friends/ significant other?”
These are people you speak or rant to without masks and facades. So subjects that come up the most are passions that could be explored for clarity on where your Life Purpose lies.
“What can I get lost in? What makes me forget to eat and sleep?”
“What gets me excited enough to wake up early?”
If you can’t wait to get started on your art, to volunteer at a pet clinic, or to debate climate change with your internet following, even before you get dinner, that’s a strong clue.
“What did I want to be when I was a kid?”
“What dreams did I give up to get to where I am today?”
The things we wanted to do, be, learn when we were at a more innocent time, were things that reflected deeper dreams, before the weight of ‘reality’ started to alter or bury them altogether. Rediscovering them can get you back on track to your authentic purpose.
“What does my obituary say?”
Imagine you’ve till the end of the year to live to make what you want a reality. When I ask clients this question, it’s interesting how quickly things that are important become clearer and rise to the top, while the rest prove to be distractions and settle to the bottom.
2. Start Writing
Now you’ve worked on those questions, hopefully something has pervaded your subconscious, and begun to unlock possibilities. Time to generate some ideas.
Find some place quiet, write on a piece of paper “My Life Purpose is…” and then start writing anything that comes to you.
Write without fear of judgement. Don’t write something just because it reads nobly. No one but you will see this. Even if it’s something that seems completely selfish, like lots of money, acquiring things, getting lots of girls… it all gets written down.
See, at the root of all these things, there’s a reason why you want them. You have values and aspirations that express themselves this very superficial way. The key is to keep digging deeper, keep drilling down, until you find out why you want them.
Pay attention to two things:
1. Common themes that emerge
2. Things that give you a big jolt of emotion, such as excitement, or a feeling of connection.
3. Take Action, DO Something
At this point, maybe you’ve written down a vague or tentative Life Purpose. Great!
If not? No worries, let’s get some action going.
See, Life Purpose isn’t something that you can always figure out in your head. Sometimes, you have to take action on an instinctive level. Just pick one thing you’re passionate about, and explore it. Keep an open mind, and as you experience and learn, things will come into focus.
Consider some of the questions in Step 1. For example, what would I really love doing? What dreams did I give up to get to where I am now? Where have I made a DIFFERENCE to people’s Lives? Start there! Live in the flow, and new insight will crystallize.
I didn’t know at 21 what I wanted to do, so I just chose what seemed like the best option that answered these questions, and became a physiotherapist. Although I’ve morphed from that, it still fulfilled my deeper needs when I was figuring out my Life Purpose. And I’ve never regretted it.
Nothing happens until you take action. Not health, not losing weight, not getting a date, and certainly, not discovering your Life Purpose.
4. Understand There’s No ONE Correct Answer
When you’re trying to figure out Life Purpose, doubt and its ugly head will make a guest appearance periodically. Topmost among these: What if this isn’t my real Life Purpose?
Well guess what?
You may not have just ONE Life Purpose.
Many people think they’re here for one great purpose only. So they worry if they’re on the ‘correct’ one.
Here’s the thing… I don’t believe there’s necessarily just one thing we’re here to do! I think we can get behind SEVERAL that all mean a big deal to us.
We need to look back to the renaissance men of old, people like Leonardo da Vinci, who was an amazing painter, inventor, scientist to understand how much they accomplished. Then consider how much more advantaged we are to do and contribute because of technology, which is a great enabler for multi-tasking, efficiency, time management, and communication.
Another doubt: What if I’m not the best at what I choose?
Guess what? That’s the kind of thinking that leads people astray from what speaks to their inner purpose.
Maybe you excelled in science and a teacher advised you to study medicine. Or you were great on the debating team and your parents said “Hey, go be a lawyer.” So that’s where you ended up. Sure, you’re probably good at what you do; you could do that for the rest of your Life and be outwardly successful. But if it’s not your passion, you’re not living an authentic Life, and you won’t be happy.
A Life Purpose is something that has MEANING to you. You don’t embrace it only if you’re the BEST at it.
Even if you DO find your one ‘true’ Life Purpose, how you achieve it may have different iterations! For example, when I discovered my Life Purpose to help people in their 30s or 40s reclaim their lives on a foundation of health and fitness, I started with consultations. Then I started this blog for friends and clients. And now that I’m realizing the potential for greater reach with video, I’m trying that.
So don’t worry about finding the one true path, or if you’re not the best before pursuing something. Chances are, you do something you’re passionate about and you will become at least damn good.
As long as you live each day with PASSION, you’ll have an AUTHENTIC FULFILLING life, without feeling empty or discombobulated.
5. Consider Your Relationship with Work
Here’s an inescapable fact. Most of us will have to work to sustain ourselves and our families.
Now consider this. Most of us work 8 hour days. That’s 40hrs/wk = about 2000hr/yr, or 125 days worth of awake time! A huge one third of our lives!
Is it surprising that your experiences and feelings about work will impact your overall happiness?
Does it mean that you can’t be happy if you have a job? Of course not!
But if you’re spending a third of your Life on work, ensure it fulfils your deepest needs and aspirations and gives you meaning and fulfilment. Then you won’t even feel like you’re working.
The way to do this, is to be very clear what your Life Purpose is, and then try to marry your occupation with that.
If you’re looking for a new job, knowing your Life Purpose can help you decide where to look or whether to even accept an offer.
If you have a job, knowing your Life Purpose will help you evaluate your position, and then either change certain aspects of it, or even your occupation altogether.
Having a job that answers your Life Purpose, will give you fulfilment, motivation, and drive to excel independent of external factors, like prestige and promotion. Rather, it comes from within. Even if you’re working towards financial freedom, it’s so important that while you still work, you’re doing something that answers this call.
So, those are five ideas to discover your Life Purpose.
Take time to do this. Even if you’re already happy or successful, it will make a difference to how you view and live Life. Everything becomes more focused. Personal improvement – from relationships to health – takes on bigger significance. At the same time, you’ll have less time and tolerance for negativity, like pointless arguments and toxic relationships.
And that’s one of the most empowering things you can have for a positive, fulfilling, authentic Life.