Frustrated trying to figure out your “life purpose”? Try this one.

How many of you have felt pressure to define your passion, your life purpose, or a business or blog niche more clearly? There’s so much career and business advice that says, “Whatever you come up with, get even more specific!” More than anything, this has caused me more anxiety than peace.

I have always felt my life purpose, or calling, was to help others, but when I tried to “niche it down” I got stuck. And more than that, bored.

I love Cal Newport’s message from his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, to drop the pursuit of passion and adopt a “craftsman mindset” instead. Newport says, “Stop obsessing about what the world can offeryou, and instead focus on what you can offer the world.”

In a recent blog post, he cites a recent Barak Obama quote on losing his first bid for congress:

“The thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself — if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ — then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”
— President Obama (via Cal Newport’s Study Hacks blog)

My Own Wandering Purpose Path

When I first launched Life After College in 2005, it was under the stated purpose of “helping young professionals feel more fulfilled in their lives and work.” I had a hard time choosing a specific subject area within that, given that the book and blog cover everything from relationships to money to happiness to the latest tech tools.

And yet, I am glad I didn’t put pressure on myself to choose just one of those topics, or even a more specific age group.

While that purpose statement helped a little bit, it quickly stared to shift and expand in the years that followed. When I launched my next site, JennyBlake.me, in 2013 it was about “how to move beyond burnout and thrive at the intersection of mind, body and business.” Then it shifted to “systems at the intersection of mind, body and business.”

And soon after, systems seemed too limiting! This led me to write a book on how to figure out what’s next called Pivot: The Only Move that Matters Is Your Next One, which is only tangentially related to those subjects. But even as I wrote the book, I realized there’s a step after that!

I am deeply curious about how to generate a feeling of momentum in life and work. Beyond the accomplishments themselves: a feeling of exhilaration, fun, ease, and wind in our hair, no matter what each of us is working on.

When I try to get more specific about my purpose, I now remember that it need only serve me for a project or two, then it’s perfectly okay to zoom back out to a broader calling, one that is universally useful to us all.

The one thing that has brought me peace in my lowest moments is (re)dedicating myself to serving others. That’s it! It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Simply ask: how I be most helpful to the most people?

It is no coincidence that my two book deals came on the heels of great confusion and turmoil in the years prior. I would never wish suffering upon myself or you, but if it does come your way (which it inevitably will) know that once you are through it, you can transform it by helping others.

Start right where you are

Your mission to be helpful doesn’t have to be on a huge public stage as a public speaker, blogger, or even teacher. Follow the yellow brick road that starts right under your feet.

When I speak with up-and-coming bloggers, I often tell them to drop the idea that they have to have a niche first. Let it come to you. Start with being helpful in any of the ways you know how. Start with your friends and family and expand from there.

And helpful doesn’t have to be academic, audacious or overly complex. Helpful can be humor! Art! Inspiration! Joy! Compassion! The list goes on . . .

A few questions to consider:

  • What do the most people come to you for advice about?
  • What types of information and resources are you most excited to share with others?
  • Take a look at your bookshelf (or Kindle, Feedly or Podcast subscriptions): what themes stand out?
  • What forms of giving, sharing or teaching bring you the most joy?
  • What would you do even if you weren’t being paid for it?
  • Do you happen to have a group of people that you most love working with? This can be a demographic (age, gender) or a psychographic (smart, motivated)

On the subject of mission statements, I have also dropped the language of “change people’s lives” (which I’ve heard a bit in the personal development sphere). I can’t change your life, and you do not necessarily need help.

I just want to be a light that shines on your own brilliance, capability, resourcefulness, and love. I resonate deeply with Michelangelo’s notion that the angel is already inside the marble stone, you just need to keep chipping away the marble to see it. And as you chisel bit by bit, help someone else with their own . . . or many someones.

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” — Michaelangelo