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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Stop Looking for Your Life's Purpose and Do This Instead

For most of my life, I’ve anxiously wondered about my “life’s purpose.”

Why am I here? What’s the greater meaning of my life? What’s the message I’m here to impart? What’s the point of my existence? And so on.

I’ve consulted with astrologers, Tarot card readers, career coaches, hypnotherapists, partners, and lovers. I’ve taken long walks through the woods. I’ve stared into the night sky. I’ve drunk too many cups of coffee. I’ve read biographies of my heroes looking for clues. I’ve tried to tease, prod, stimulate, and extrapolate “the answer” in a million and one ways.

Then the other day, while talking with a friend, I realized something: What if I’ve had it all backwards?

Let me pause for a moment. I should explain what my friend and I were talking about:

Her: I’m 64 years old. I’ve run multiple businesses. I’ve achieved a lot. At this stage in my life, I just want to make a difference. I want to feel like I’m using my life to leave behind a real “legacy.”

Me: You love teaching women how to believe in themselves. You specialize in teaching people how to shift their mindset from “I could never do that…” to “I’m capable. I have what it takes. Why not me?”

Her: Yes. That’s what I do. Most women feel inadequate in some way or another. Most women just don’t believe in themselves.

Me: What if you started a new project? What if you declared, “Over the next 10 years of my life, I will teach 1,000 women how to believe in themselves. I will record each of their stories on my website.” What if you made that your personal mission? Imagine the ripple effect of that project, now and long after you’re gone.

At this point, her eyes welled up with tears. I saw those tears and then—zing!—I had an epiphany.

Rather than trying to figure out my friend’s “life’s purpose” (which can often feel nebulous, confusing, changeable, or hard to put into words), we came up with an exciting “project”—a project with a specific timeframe (10 years), a specific goal (sharing tools to build self-trust and combat feelings of inadequacy), and a specific way to track progress (1,000 women).

For most of my life I’ve been trying to nail down my “purpose” so that I can choose the right types of “projects” to align with it. But what if that’s a backwards approach? What if it’s better, for some people, to choose a project first and let “completing the project” become your purpose?

(I’ve just blown my own mind.)

What about you? Are you exhausted from roaming the earth searching for your purpose? What if, right now, you chose a big, exciting, slightly intimidating project—and you vowed to complete it before you die?

Perhaps that’s all your “purpose” is: a project that feels interesting and significant to you, and that you promise to complete before your time on earth is up. Maybe we’ve been overcomplicating it. Maybe you’re not “born” with a purpose. Maybe you don’t “discover” it.

Maybe you just outline a project and then you do it.

This article was originally published on It has been republished here with permission.

Photo of person thinking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.