Life Purpose – The Eternal Question

How is it that people are now openly talking more about one topic in particular?  Is it just me?  I suspect not.  I’ve certainly observed increasing numbers of my clients asking what might be called “eternal questions”.  “What am I here for?”,  “What legacy can I leave behind?”,  “What contribution can I make to the world?”, “How can I be of service?” and “What is my life purpose?”

The triggers in the conversation that life purpose may be a core issue could well sound like the following where the client says something about:

  • Being at a cross-roads in life;
  • Never really sure what their real career was in life;
  • Lacking direction;
  • Never having reached their full potential;
  • Unsure where life is heading;
  • Feeling tired and burnt-out;
  • Feeling un-fulfilled;
  • Feeling that they have more to offer, and
  • Actually stating that they are unsure of their purpose in life!

Interestingly, Psychology 101 lectures on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from the primary need of Physiological Needs up the pyramid to the Need for Safety and Security, Love and Belonging, Self-Esteem, and finally to Self-fulfilment at the pinnacle serves as the key to the process of understanding my clients.  In other words, the sense of purpose is at the very top of the pyramid of self-actualisation.  In this society, our other needs have been satisfied, and as we search for happiness, it seems that we are now turning to fulfilment and purpose as holding some real answers for us.

So, where do we find ‘Life Purpose’?  How do we locate Life Purpose?  Where is it hiding?  Life Purpose is more a journey, not a step on a ladder, not a destination, and it is an inner journey, an “inside job”.

To assist clients in their personal journey, I often give them some homework to do:

  • Think about a time in your life when you felt most alive, creative, successful, or enthusiastic. This is perhaps when you were at your best.  You were really “on top of it”, perhaps “outstanding”.
  • Describe how you felt.
  • Who else was involved?
  • Describe what you did as a result of the experience.
  • Describe the event in more detail.
    • Take time to think about this and decide how you will personally answer the question about your peak experience.
    • Then think of another 2 to 6 best peak experiences, a time when you really felt successful and felt “on top of your game”.
    • Try to connect them all; search for a pattern and the threads that might connect the events.
    • Take your time over this exercise; allow your mind to free up and allow for creative patterns to emerge and perhaps look for unusual links.

It is amazing to see how clients come up with all sorts of wonderful insights and awareness.

Here are more powerful questions:

  • “If you knew that you could not fail, there was no way that you could fail at all, what career or job would you choose?”
  • “As you were growing up or as you grew and matured, what was it that you thought that you’d like to be or do?”
  • “What did you dream of doing as you were growing up?”
  • “If time and money was not an issue, and you had the freedom to do what you wanted, what would it look like?”

Once clients have located patterns and themes in their life and have discussed them with me, I work on refining the patterns and clarifying them.  I also ask questions as a way of allowing my clients to be more accountable to their purpose.

  • What hints do you get about your possible purpose in life?
  • What would it take for you to honour your purpose?
  • In what ways would your life be different? Would it change at all?  Would it be largely the same?  If it did change, would the changes be slight or significant?
  • How would your future be different?
  • What stops you from exploring or honouring your life purpose?

Case Study

James (not his real name) was referred to me by another coach because he had become extremely depressed and his doctor had recommended him taking anti-depressants.  For males in particular, it is my experience that depression is often due to a lack of purpose, lack of goals, and a lack of direction.

I asked him what his future looked like.  “It’s pretty boring actually” he said.  He explained that he had enjoyed getting his business up and running over the last five years having purchased it when it was in a run down state.  He had always enjoyed work with its challenges and meeting deadlines.  Now it was successful and he had introduced his wife in as the general manager.  She was enjoying her role was operating the business well on a day to day basis.  Now James sat mainly in his office, opened some mail and played “Patience” on his computer.  The day dragged.

“So, what’s your purpose in life now?”, I asked.  He paused and hesitated and then sat back, looked at the ceiling and said, “That’s a good question”.  We both knew that we were on target then.  After a short discussion, I asked him the “magic” question about what his real desire for his life was without any limitations or restrictions.  He immediately talked about business consulting and helping others to start up businesses.  He described that as “huge fun”.  He described recently helping a friend make a decision about whether to buy a business and how much he got engrossed in it all.  He talked with energy.  He became animated.  He smiled as he talked.

His homework was to formulate that notion into some clear actions and then for us to talk some more.  He never did take that prescription for anti-depressants.