No one wants to be on their deathbed, thinking, “Man, I did this whole life thing wrong.” No one wants to waste time in the wrong careers doing work meant for someone else. As someone who has worked with college students for years, it’s no surprise that one of the top questions I get asked is some version of, “What is my purpose? What should I do with my life?”
It makes sense. Up to age 18 and sometimes beyond, students have been told exactly what the next step in life will be. If you are a freshman in high school, well, guess what, next—you are a sophomore. There aren’t many choices. Suddenly in college, the options open up.
You can choose your major, who to live with, what internships to purposely go after. Then upon graduation, the choices seem endless. How to navigate it all to find a meaningful life seems daunting, to say the least. When contemplating their purpose, I have seen more than a few go into a full panic attack, hyperventilating, medicine required quarter-life crisis at the ripe old age of 20.
The fear and panic are very real
We all want purpose. We all innately want to feel like our lives have value, and the work we do is needed. We want to leave a legacy for years to come. To make a dent in this world. Purpose gives us direction. It motivates us and gives a reason for our existence. It frames our decision-making ability in both big and small things. It’s more than a major or career. It’s about mission and intentionality.
I believe I live a life of purpose, and I’m lucky to be in a job that puts me around a lot of people that are living their life with intention and purpose. But that hasn’t always been the case. I very much remember counting the clock in my cubicle to get out of the office. I remember being confused and unaware that there was even something better out there for me. I wanted something more. I wanted my life to matter, but I didn’t know there was something better.
In my experience, the biggest thing holding people back from a life of purpose was having the awareness that they could make a change. We have to believe there is something more that is worth fighting for. We have to wake up and realize we have been lied to. There’s so much more.
CS Lewis says it best, “Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
You are being lied to
I believe we are all hearing the wrong message from the world about the purpose of life. We hear from the media, news, and more that life is about the pursuit of happiness. That it’s about our influence over people. It’s about leadership skills. About how much money you can make. It’s about if you can retire early. These are all a fool’s errand because here’s the truth:
Your happiness is not the point of life. It may be an emotion that emerges from a life well-lived, but it’s not the goal.
Believing those other lies and not knowing your real purpose has fatal consequences for you and those you love. Believing what the world says about purpose will lead to a lack of clarity, bad decision making, depression, boredom, and addiction.
In my experience, when you look into your past, your most painful wound is where you’re likely meant to find purpose. You have an enemy who knows you better than you know yourself (John 10:10). He tries to take you out early in the areas you were the most gifted by God. Mine was my voice.
Those of you that know me might be surprised to know that I grew up with a very serious lisp. I mean, most couldn’t understand a word I said. I was the butt of many jokes and went through speech therapy for years. It led me to have a serious fear of speaking in front of people. But you know what, that’s exactly what God had for me to do and still does. Since college, I have been talking in front of large crowds about faith and later even pastored a church.
You were made on purpose by God for a purpose. In Psalm 139:13 it says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. In another place, it says God knows the numbers of hairs on your head. He knows and loves you the most in the world, and he created you for a purpose. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” He has a plan and good works for us to do.
At the macro level, we are designed to give him glory. To be signposts for others to find their Father. To tell others of Him in all that we do. But what do we DO? To find out that answer, we need to answer three key questions.
Three Steps To Purpose
The best way I’ve ever heard to find out your purpose is to discover the answer to these three questions. Where the answers to those three questions intersect lies your purpose. I’ve seen it work in my life, and in the lives of everyone I know that have fulfilling purpose-filled lives.
Question 1: What do you love?
What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you find your mind thinks about a lot? What are some things that you do that make the time fly? That when you start them, you suddenly look at the clock and find that 5 hours have passed that seems like 2 minutes? There are many answers to this question. Only you can answer them. No one can tell you what you love. No one can discover this for you. This takes a lot of reflection, experimentation, and honesty.
Question 2: What are you good at?
Unlike the question of what do you love, this question needs other people that know you to tell you the answer. I may believe that I am the best singer in the world, but if no one else agrees, then am I really? So, how do you find out what you are good at? Think back about the compliments people have given you. Is there a theme? Where do you stand above the pack? What comes naturally to you? What gifts has God given you? Where are your grades excelling with minimal effort? When reviewed by your boss, what impresses them? What have you been uniquely prepared for? God doesn’t waste that training.
Steve Martin said that he is often asked by young comedians some version of the question, “what is the secret of your success?” He says people are rarely satisfied with his answer because it is not what they want to hear. They want to hear, “hire this agent” or “work this gig” or “find your big break.” Instead, he tells them, “be so good they can’t ignore you.”
People don’t want to hear this advice because it takes great effort to master and perfect the craft so that people just can’t ignore you. We would all benefit from shifting away from a “passion-mindset” where one evaluates the passion intersection of the first two circles, “what you are good at” and “what you love.” That is just not the way the world works.
This “passion-mindset” focuses much too heavily on what the world can do for me. Instead, we need to shift to a more “craftsman-mindset”, where we consider more strongly what we can do for the world. Master our craft. Become the best at something that the world needs.
This leads me to the last question.
Question 3: What does the world need?
The world has many needs. Watch the news. Look around where you live. What’s hurting? What doesn’t look like it should? What angers you, and you dream of something better? Luckily if the world needs it, there’s demand, and you can likely get paid to do it. For me, my purpose is to reach the lost college student. When I was in college, I saw a demographic that was ignored and unreached. That was making decisions that affected their marriages and future families. That was over-medicated, overstressed, and hurting. The world needed someone to tell them the truth that they are loved and have a purpose.
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (Philosopher, Cultural Critic, Composer, Poet, Mustache Aficionado)
Understanding the answer to what the world needs is your “why”? That can fuel any ”how.” It can weather any storm.
What should I do with my life?
Where all three circles intersect, that is where you will find purpose. Your purpose is something you love to do, are gifted at, and something the world desperately needs you to do. You do not have just one purpose you have to find like a needle in a haystack. There could be hundreds of options in that intersected space. There is so much to do! The world is broken, and people are hurting. Try something.
God only created one you, and you have unique gifts that if you don’t purposely use, we are all the worse off. You are desperately needed. Get started.