Do you ever think that maybe there's more to life than what you have now — but you have no idea of what that might be or how to figure it out?
At this stage of our lives, many of us are asking that very question. Though successful in our relationships or careers, we may feel vaguely unfulfilled and unmoored. Instead of being energized and inspired by the years ahead, we're drained and lethargic — as if someone else is at the controls of our life and we're simply along for the ride. What we're missing, says executive and life coach Richard J. Leider, is purpose.
Join the discussion: What's your life's purpose?
"Every one of us craves meaning in our life," says Leider, author of The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live long, Better. "We search for what will make us happy at each stage of our journey. But we often spend more time planning our vacations than planning our lives. That's where purpose comes in: Your purpose, or calling, is a combination of your skills, passions and values. It's your mission in life and identifying it can provide clues to a more satisfying one.
"When you live a life you love, with people you love, doing the work that you love, you add years to your life and life to your years," says Leider, who offers these six tips for doing so:
Don't let yourself "rust out." That's Leider's term for what happens when we're gridlocked by life's circumstances and don't know how to break free. "If you're spending precious hours feeling half-alive, dragging yourself through tasks you abhor, you're rusting out," warns Leider. "Whenever you're not challenged by your life, whenever you feel like you're just going through the motions, it's time to rethink your purpose."
Push the pause button. Leider often asks his clients what would be the one thing they would change in their lives if they could. Frequently, people say they wished they'd been more reflective. "Too often, we allow the busy-ness of our lives to hijack our sense of purpose," says Leider. "We're so caught up in doing what we have to do, we lose track of what we really want to do."
Ironically, technology designed to connect us pulls us farther apart. In our wired world, there is little time for deep conversation and thought. But living purposefully demands that you focus on what's important.
How do you make that happen? Reboot your operating system by taking a 12-hour media fast. Turn off your cellphone, TV, computer and gadgets. Sit quietly, breathe deeply. Your heart and mind will stop racing and you'll have more time to look inward and consider what is most important to you.
Define your passion. What's missing in your life? What are you curious about? What issues or problems do you feel strongly about? "Think about what gets you up in the morning — and keeps you up at night," says Leider. "I'm not talking about worries and anxieties, but rather the interests and activities that excite and motivate you, or the causes you'd like to know more about and participate in."
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Next, make a list of the things that you enjoy doing and believe you do well. Perhaps you excel at writing or performing, at repairing things, in seeing possibilities where others see a blank slate. Maybe you're a good listener or problem solver. (If you can't think of anything, it may be because you've been using your gifts for so long that they appear effortless. So ask family members or friends what they consider your strengths.)
Draw your life map. This is a powerful tool that can help you visualize what you really want and why you want it. To create your map, cut out pictures from magazines or download online images that calm you, inspire you, spur you into action, make you happy and represent your life goals and dreams. Paste them onto a piece of cardboard and add quotes or words that strike a strong chord for you. Then post your life map where you can see it every day, or scan it into your computer and use it as a screen saver or wallpaper for your phone.
Identify your brain trust. Successful people typically have a group of trusted individuals with whom they bounce around ideas, debate issues and experiment with new strategies. The rest of us of need one, too. Going it alone, without input from others, can actually keep you stuck. Ideally, you should have one person in your life you can count on just to listen when you need to work through options in your mind — someone with whom you can share your deepest feelings and fears.
You need another person who can act as a catalyst, spurring you to take action, whether it's signing up for a refresher course in Spanish or volunteering to work abroad. Finally, you need a wise elder, someone at least 10 years your senior, who can serve as your mentor and provide perspective on your options and decisions.
Take it in stages. Putting purpose into action demands motivation, courage and patience. What if you still have a family to support or a mortgage to pay and can't quit and simply drop everything to follow your passion? What if taking a big step is just too far out of your comfort zone?
The answer: Start small. "Purpose evolves as interests and experiences change, and as you pass through different ages and stages," notes Leider. Ask yourself: What am I curious about? Leider suggests identifying one thing you can do every day to make your corner of the world a better place — telling your spouse or partner why you love him or her; listening well to a friend's problem; taking time our of your day to help a stranger find his way. Or identify one thing you could change in your daily routine that will bring you more in line with your purpose.
"Once you've clarified your purpose, you discover new passions," says Leider. Whether it's a midcourse correction or a change of direction, you're in a strong position to make decisions small and large that add meaning to your life.
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