Several years ago I was speaking at a conference. After one of my presentations a young man approached me and struck up a conversation. The presentation I had just given touched on issues of finding a life purpose and direction, so I asked this guy what he was doing and where he was headed in life. He responded, "Oh man, that purpose thing is big, and it's soooo important to get it right. I have been really praying and seeking to get that right and figure out what I should be doing!" That made some sense, so I asked what he was doing currently. He looked a little surprised, and told me that he was being careful to not get too involved or commit to anything so that he wasn't distracted and get off track from finding his true calling and purpose. He was living with his parents and, "Working really hard on the purpose thing, man!" I asked him how old he was. He replied that he was 28. Twenty eight years old, still living with his parents, and still hoping this “purpose thing” would find him and make his life make sense.
The Conference of Destiny
I can relate. I distinctly remember being in high school and pinning all my hopes on a big church youth conference I was going to attend the summer of my junior year. This conference only happened every four years and my youth group and I spent three years fund raising and preparing to attend. I somehow got the idea into my head that I would receive a grand revelation at this conference and that by attending it all things would become clear. I expected to leave that week-long conference with a clear idea of my lifelong calling, rock solid certainty of where I should go to college and what I should major in, and a girlfriend. I had a great time, but I came home with no answers to my big questions and no girlfriend, and I can remember being pretty depressed about it and wondering how I would figure out what to do with my life?
I talk to a lot of people who, while they may not be as extreme as the guy I met or my own experience, often have the same lofty expectations for finding, at an early age, extreme certainty when it comes to their life purpose or life calling. On the other end of things I talk to a lot of people who have never thought much past what is going to happen tomorrow or the next weekend.
Seeking your purpose in life, and having a vision of what you want to do or achieve in the world, is one of the most important things you can do or consider, BUT you don’t have to start out with certainty or a detailed plan. What you do need is a willingness to consider the Big Questions and devote some thought to the answers.
No Detailed Plan Needed
Looking for your purpose in life is not about scripting your life years into the future and having everything planned out. It's not about finding a final answer at age 18 that will be your guiding star for the next six or seven decades. It's not even about finding a clear and certain path that will make all of your decisions easy. Life is never that simple, that predictable, or that tidy. Life is messy, unpredictable, and complicated. Clear, detailed life purpose plans don't survive contact with the real world.
Don't worry about crafting detailed plans or knowing exactly what you need to do in life. If you are less than 25 years old (or older if you haven’t already done this) the best place to start is with a deliberate consideration of the Big Questions.
Start with the Big Questions
The Big Questions are all about what you believe and why. What is really true? What is Truth? What matters? Why are you alive? What are you called to accomplish? What happens when you die? You don’t need to know the answers to all of these questions to find your life purpose. You will find your life purpose as you seek the answers to these questions. One of the immediate benefits of considering the Big Questions is that you will start to gain an awareness of what is important right now.
Form Your Principles
That awareness of what is important right now can be used to start to form some basic principles that you can use to guide your short term actions and decisions. These principles are some basic truths, goals, and rules that you commit to follow on a daily basis. Basic principles should include some moral and behavior guidelines. Here are some examples:
- Never stop learning.
- Always pursue the Truth.
- Leave things better than I found them.
Your basic principles might also include more practical things, such as:
- Always seek to get better at some aspect of my job than everyone else.
- Constantly review my current employment situation and never stay in a job that doesn’t challenge me to learn new things.
- Never live farther than a ten minute drive from a great fishing spot.
Strive to narrow down your day to day principles to ten or less, with less being better. Make them easy to review, remember, and live by. These are your principles, based on your work on answering the Big Questions, and since they are yours you can adjust and change them as you gain better and better answers.
The decisions you make about the Big Questions in life, and the principles you derive from those decisions, will always filter down and guide your small decisions in life, even if you make those decisions unconsciously.
Apply Your Big Question Answers and Principles to Your Small Decisions
Most of life is made of up small, seemingly inconsequential, decisions, but these small decisions cumulatively lead to your larger purpose. Deliberately thinking about the Big Questions, and having a set of principles that you have consciously decided to adhere to that are related to your answers to those Big Questions is the difference between living a purposeful, deliberate life with meaning, and living a random, purposeless life that leaves your best potential and contribution to the world unrealized.
When you determine your basic principle then instead of a super detailed life plan, work on developing short term plans that will allow you to gain experience and build skill in different areas while adhering to your principles.
Your life is a story. It has a beginning and will ultimately have an end. In between there will be a lot of conflict. Resolving those conflicts will lead to both joy and tragedy, and it is easy to get bogged down and lost in the day to day struggle. Understanding the answers, or working on the answers, to the Big Questions, and having a larger purpose and principles that rises above the day to day means that you will always have something bigger to strive for. Focusing on that bigger picture and larger purpose will give you the perspective needed to understand, resolve, and navigate the big and small day to day conflicts, challenges, and opportunities that make up a life well lived.
When you are faced with that large, life altering decision having taken the time to think about the Big Questions, and using your principles as guidelines, will often provide the perspective you need to make the wisest decision possible.
Don't sit around and wait for your purpose to hit you like a bolt of lightning, or pin your hopes on some mountain top conference. Don't get overwhelmed and paralyzed by thinking that you need to have an exact plan that dictates your life. Instead, take the time to consider what you believe and why. Use that thinking to craft a set of principles that you will use to help decide the day to day decisions of life. Focus on finding opportunities that allow you to follow your principles and gain skill and experience.
When you are faced with big decisions in life your consideration of the Big Questions, and your guiding principles, will provide the perspective you need to make the best decision possible. As you gain skill and experience your clarity on your purpose and what you are called to do will become more and more clear, and you will find that you are deliberately living a life that makes a difference and has an impact on the world.