No life hacks here. Just a satisfying heavy lift.
What if this is true: you are here on Earth to serve a purpose. You are a singular being, with particular gifts, and a wellspring of energy when it comes to the work you find meaningful and honorable.
And what if this is also true: if you don’t feel connected with a deeper sense of meaning in your daily life, you can figure it out.
You are, and you can!
All you need is some quiet time, pen and paper, and a willingness to do some mental heavy lifting.
Simple, but not easy.
If you are looking for a life hack, this is not the place for you. You have to be willing to spend some time and effort with these questions, but the work is so worth it.
When you have clarity around your purpose, you can relax into the hard work of doing it. You can feel excited on Sunday night instead of anxious. You will sense that you are participating well in your own life, and although things don’t become easy, they do become more satisfying.
On the other hand, if you have no idea what your purpose is, you second guess every decision you make, waste your time and energy on the wrong things, and feel like life is slipping by.
The stakes are worth it, right? So let’s begin. Five writing exercises, fifteen minutes each. You can do one a day, one a week, or all in a row.
Grab a pen, paper, and a hot beverage, and settle in for some good old-fashioned journaling.
Side note: Your purpose can mean, but certainly doesn’t have to, your career. Purpose can be where you volunteer, how you treat people, a cause you advocate, or values you uphold. If someone pays you for it, that’s great! But if not, that doesn’t make it any less valuable.
Writing Exercise #1: The Book Deal
Out of the blue, a book agent calls offering you a book deal. She wants it to be an advice book, but it can be on any topic. She needs your pitch in an hour. What do you choose?
This prompt asks you to think about your unique gifts and skills.
What are you good at? What would people ask your advice about? What is your life story and what can people learn from it?
The imaginary book can be about anything, big or small: how to survive after a divorce, how to have a productive morning, how to change careers, how to get sober, how to have a conversation with anybody, how to lose weight, how to live on a budget.
If the topic you arrive at seems small at first, I promise that it’s not. Think about what is underneath it, what it’s really about, and give yourself some credit for the things that you are good at!
Writing Exercise #2: Editing Your Job
Think about a typical week at your current job (or if you aren’t working, a typical week). What energizes you and what drains you? And what is it about those tasks that bring you joy or dread?
Whether you love your work, or it’s killing you slowly, this prompt asks you to break down the specifics of your job into broader elements so that you can steer yourself toward things that bring you satisfaction, and minimize the things that suck the life force out of you.
It can also help to think back on previous jobs you have had.
Once you have your list, think about what the things you love have in common, and what makes you hate the other things so much. Is it working with people, working independently, being creative, following a formula, helping others, organizing a project, using your technical skills, or learning something new?
Look for the patterns and learn things about yourself and how you like to operate.
Writing Exercise #3: The Time Machine
Put your mind into a time machine and go back to your teenage years. What fascinated you? What blew your mind? What made you angry and what made you so excited you could scream? What did you do with your free time?
As an adult, if you feel stuck or uninspired, think about what you loved when life was simpler and you had fewer obligations. During your teenage years, you start to develop a sense of identity, and to claim yourself as your own person. Some of your first unique passions and interests bloom.
Unearthing and re-examining your adolescent obsessions can remind you of the root of your lust for life.
Writing Exercise #4: Your Core Values
Write down three to five specific memories of times when you hated how you felt. Then write down three to five specific instances when you felt great about yourself. Look at what you wrote and make a list of 10 words that describe how you want to feel in life. Narrow that list down to five words, representing your core values.
Life cannot feel good all the time. That’s not the deal. But if you are thoughtful about what makes you feel like a puppy in a sailboat race, and what makes you feel like crap, you can steer yourself the right way.
Use the five words you land on as your core values, your guide posts.
Your life’s purpose doesn’t have to be a career or a job. Many aren’t. Your life’s purpose can be the way that you show up in the world, how you make people feel, and the legacy you leave behind.
This exercise is inspired by The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte.
Writing Exercise #5: Your Eulogy
Imagine yourself at your own funeral and write your own eulogy from the perspective of a family member, a friend, a colleague, and someone from a community group you support.
Imagine yourself Tom Sawyer-ing your own funeral. Pick up the program (What?! They used that picture of me?!), and look at the names of the people who are speaking.
Now write out what each person would say about you. Don’t just think about it, just write! It’s embarrassing, I know! Hide it when you are done if you must! Puke a little bit in your own mouth, if need be. No one else has to see it. Don’t censor yourself, just write.
Then use what you wrote as a guide for how you structure your days, weeks, and months, your daily priorities, and the projects you choose.
This exercise is adapted from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.