3 Big Mistakes People Make When Looking for their Purpose

There’s nothing more fulfilling than creating or doing something which comes from the very innermost level of your being.

I’m not speaking in a spiritual sense, although this could certainly be seen in that way, what I’m talking about is simply being in touch with who you are deeply and expressing that through your life’s work.

man-sitting-skateboard-thinking-purpose
Photo Credit: AJ Colores on Unsplash

This could be working on your craft, pursuing a mission, or accomplishing one very lofty goal which helps you make your mark on the world. Whatever the case, this is what it means to have realized your purpose and know what you’re devoting your life to.

The problem is, even after graduating high-school, college and beyond, many of us still feel lost. Sometimes, we think we know what our purpose is only to realize we were way off. Sometimes, we change as people and no longer feel fulfilled by our previous career. And often, we just have no idea where to start.

The problem is, there are several mistakes people make when looking for their purpose. And they can cause the journey to to take much longer than it needs to (if they find their purpose at all before giving up).

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.

– John F. Kennedy

If you’re still unsure what your purpose is, here are a few lessons I’ve learned from my own decade’s long (successful) search.

1. We compromise with social expectations

When it comes to our search for purpose, this is the biggest mistake of all. It’s really big, so we need to get this out of the way now.

Quick, ask yourself this question:

If money weren’t an issue, what would I do with my life?

Answering this classic question offers a ton of value. However, there’s only one issue: We have a problem answering the question honestly.

Typically, we answer the question half-assed, not allowing our wholly honest answer to peek its head out but instead offer a half honest one that still allows us to conform to certain social constructs.

Which social constructs, you might ask? Well, most notably, financial security and the commonly accepted definition of career success. However, social acceptance (especially our parents and friends) is also a big one.

Because of these psychological “blocks”, when you ask yourself the question, “If money weren’t an issue, what would I do with my life?”, you get a colored response.

By that, I mean instead of getting a clear vision for an answer you get a little red, a little blue, and a little yellow mixed in, resulting in a murky brown substance that makes it difficult to make out your pure and honest answer. What you end up with is your honest answer either completely dismembered, murdered, or heavily embellished to the point of social acceptance.


But, unless you’ve already asked yourself this question, what does this have to do with looking for your purpose? Everything and then some.

If this is how you answer the question, it’s how you’re looking at your life at all times. Every moment you think about your purpose, what it might be, and what to do with the rest of your life, you’re thinking through this murky brown lense.

So, do yourself a favor and step completely away from these social constructs, even if just for a short while of heavy concentration in a faraway location, to get a purer and more honest answer. I promise it will be worth it.

2. They think in terms of previously established career archetypes

Second, another big mistake people often make when looking for their purpose is by thinking in terms of previously established career archetypes such as

  • Doctor
  • Lawyer
  • Engineer
  • Business owner
  • Scientist
  • Etc.

The problem with this is it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Your purpose is never a career or even a craft, even if one of the above or another well-defined careers fits your purpose perfectly.

Your purpose is living, it’s not a static designation or idea in someone’s mind. Even if Larry’s decided his purpose is to become a doctor, his real purpose is to heal others and being a doctor is simply the vehicle for that.

Why is this important? Because, by thinking in terms of archetypes or careers, we miss the point and often take much longer to find our purpose.

Instead of thinking about specific careers, think about what you want to accomplish, what you want to do, and what kind of person you want to be. Think about what activities fill you with a sense of purpose and meaning. Allowing these signals to guide you is much more effective than falling for the archetype trap.

3. They only look at the now (tunnel vision)Why Your Brand's Vision, Mission and Values Matter

Lastly, people often adopt a sort of tunnel vision when looking for their purpose.

This comes in two flavors.

First, we only look at ourselves and what we love to do now. However, we lose touch with things we loved as a child as we grow up, things we might still very much enjoy doing, and revisiting these things can be a very worthwhile exercise.

There’s a lot we didn’t know as kids. But one thing we had figured out long before adulthood was how to follow our joy without letting what others might think of us get in the way. Look back to your childhood and think about what filled you with joy, these same things often fill us with a sense of purpose and meaning.

Second, we often ground our pursuit for purpose in the present, when our purpose might exist far in the future. What if your purpose is something truly grand which you must work for years to build towards, not until which you kind of won’t be fulfilling your purpose.

Think about what you want your life to be as a whole and what you want people to say about you when you pass, this will help give you the proper perspective.


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