Finding Your Life Purpose
What’s up everyone and welcome – to this – the 40th episode of the Men’s Self-Help Podcast. I’m your host Dr. John Moore and I’m a licensed psychotherapist out of Chicago, Illinois. For Ha Ha’s, I also teach college courses in psychology and in business.
Now before we get too far in, I ask that you please hit that subscribe button, so you never miss another episode. Also, keep in mind the material that follows is educational in nature and is not a replacement for mental health counseling and I’m not your personal therapist.
Alrighty – let’s hop right to our topic today:
How To Find Your Life’s Purpose
You know, in the nearly 20-years I’ve been doing counseling and coaching, this particular issue is one that ranks right up there for the top reasons men seek out guidance. In fact, I touched on this a bit in episode episode 37 – if you want to check it out.
And usually, this is how the topic comes up when a man reaches out:
Hey Dr. John, can you help me figure out where I should be heading in life?
Hey Dr. John, how do I figure out my life’s purpose?
Haha, I’ll tell ya, as I dive into all of this with you, I am reminded of a client of mine from a few years back named Travis. He a young guy, maybe in his late twenties, who had just finished a six-year enlistment in the U.S. Navy.
As I share this with you, I can still see Travis in my mind’s eye sitting on my couch during that first session. He said something to me like: “I’m not sure what I should be doing next in my life. I’ve earned this degree in General Studies because I wasn’t sure what else to do.
And then he said:
“You see that’s the story of my life. I’m super indecisive.”
As part of our work together, I would come to learn that Travis came from a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side – out by Midway Airport and not far from where the White Sox play. Raised Catholic, his dad was a policeman and his mom worked as a food server at one of the city’s high schools.
Now I’m telling you all of this because I could relate to Travis and knew full well what it was like to come from this kind of stock. To make a long story short, there is an expectation for men from these parts to get a good paying job to raise a family.
And to keep it real – for many of these men – the idea is to find steady, stable work and not necessarily meaningful or fulfilling work.
Does that make sense?
Now let me be clear and state this isn’t true for all men and certainly not true for all guys coming up on Chicago’s South Side. That said, even in our modern age, there is still an unspoken expectation that flows as a kind of masculine undercurrent.
And because I understood this about Travis’s background, I also knew he felt a bit lost and under pressure to figure things out. And you know what – that’s exactly what we did. We, or I should say he, figured it out.
What follows are 5 fives strategies to find your life purpose you might want to consider. To a lesser or greater degree, this is the approach I took with Travis.
As this pod continues, I’ll be returning back to him as a point of reference.
Are you ready? OK, let’s get right to it.
Step One: Know Your Story
So, right off the bat, any attempt at trying to find your life purpose must include knowing your story. And when I say know your story, I don’t mean things like how you came to be, where you were born or your family’s DNA.
Nope – instead, when I say know your story, I’m talking about examining your past and identifying your struggles. One way to go about this is to grab a pen and paper and simply look at the times in your life that were most challenging.
But your goal here is to go beyond looking at your struggles, looking at your difficulties. Instead, the idea is to focus the unique traits and skills you employed that helped to pull you through.
And what you’re really doing here is focusing in on any patterns. You see it is in those patterns that the contours of your life’s purpose will begin to emerge.
To keep it real with you – this is exactly what I asked Travis do as part of his own quest. I had him grab a piece of paper and draw three columns.
He labeled column one Struggle, column two Skill and column three Patterns.
Over the course of time, Travis discovered that he was able to pull upon his own resilience to work through hard times, just like his grandparents had when they emigrated
And he got that sense of resilience from his grandparents, pulling upon their own personal narrative of optimism and hard work after immigrating from Ireland. You see it was in their personal stories, and Travis’s interest in them, that gave him a chip for overcoming obstacles.
Does that make sense?
Now I need to say now that this particular strategy isn’t one that you should rush. Think of this exercise as a kind of journaling activity that will take several days and maybe even weeks to complete. And that’s because some of your experiences, particularly the difficult ones, may be buried deep within your psyche.
OK, so that’s step one.
Step Two: Identify your obsessions
Ok, this one may seem easy, but it might be harder than you think. Knowing your passions means spending time looking at the things you naturally gravitate to.
Here’s an example. Every time Travis came to my office for therapy, he had some kind of book with him. And nine times out of ten, it had something to do with history, like a biography of Teddy Roosevelt or something about the Daley Family.
Haha – you know, as I share this with you now, I am reminded of one session we had where Travis saw a copy of the Chicago Sun Times sitting on my desk. He looked at me and said something like, “Hey Dr. John – did you know that newspaper you’ve been reading was founded by Marshall Fields the Third, son of Marshall Fields – you know, as in the Department Store?
And to keep it real with you, I honestly didn’t know this. But what I quickly became aware of was that Travis was obsessed with history. Like big time. The problem was, he didn’t know it. Instead, Travis thought his interests were more like a random hobby. Something that was just kind of there to pass the time.
And so as our sessions continued, I observed that every time something historical came up, whatever it might be, the guy’s eyes would like up like a Christmas tree and he would become super animated.
One day I pointed this out to Travis and asked him, Did you ever notice that when the topic of history comes up, you get really excited? Have you ever thought of using some of that in the service of others?
While I don’t recall exactly what he said, it was something along the lines of, “Yeah right dude. You can’t make a living off of knowing random facts.”
But I already knew the question itself had piqued his imagination.
And this let us to our next strategy. Which is:
Step Three: Use a tool
Part of understanding our purpose in life is to know something about our personality and gifts. And can I be real with you? Self-insight and meditation will only get you so far. Don’t get me wrong – they are necessary – but sometimes a tool is needed for an objective assessment.
This is why I encourage people to take a personality assessment. Here, I am talking about something patterned after the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory. Not to get into the weeds, but this tool was developed by Isabel Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs and is based on their work with the famous Swiss Psychiatrist, Carl Jung and his theory or personality types.
And guys, you can take this assessment for free online. It won’t cost you a dime. Just head on over to 16 personalities dot com and go through the questions. I’ll put a link to this resource in show notes just so you have it.
But be forewarned, many who take the assessment find their results to be freakishly accurate.
Now before moving forward, I’ve got to say that personality assessments are conclusive in nature. In other words, they aren’t designed to paint you into a corner or label you. Instead, think of them as a kind of flashlight – a way of shedding more light on the deeper you.
In Travis’s case, his personality assessment turned out to be a typology called: ESTJ. The E is for Extroverted. The S is for Sensing. The T is for Thinking and the J is for Judging.
Now I’m not going to get into the weeds with you on what this typology means because when you take your assessment, you’ll get a detailed breakdown that explains what everything.
For our purposes, what’s important to know is that Travis’s personality type happened to be a really strong fit for folks interested in education, like teachers and school administrators.
By leaning into this kind of tool, it helped Travis to get to know himself better, including his strengths and challenge areas. What’s more, the assessment sparked his imagination about possibilities for the future.
And in just a moment, we’re going to talk about the final two strategies that were helpful to Travis – and may help you too.
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OK, so let’s get back to finding your purpose and move to the next strategy – and that would be:
Step Four: Start moving
OK, once we’ve reached this stage, it’s time to turn the abstract into action. So, what does this mean? Well, in the case of Travis, it meant taking a super small step. And he did this by applying for a part-time job as a walking tour guide that showed gave visitors background on the city’s downtown architecture.
Now here’s the thing. This wasn’t Travis’s main job. I may have this wrong, but I think his primary source of income back then was working at a tech firm in the Chicago’s Loop.
But the reason he took the weekend job giving tours was to see what it would be like to lean into his passions and use them in the service of others – which in this case was to help folks learn something new about Chicago’s history.
Does that make sense?
And as time went on, Travis really LOVED doing this kind of work. It didn’t matter to him that the pay was crap, you know? In fact, for him, that weekend gig was something he looked forward to way more than his regular job – and that’s because what he was doing didn’t even feel like work.
As I share this with you, ask yourself how you might take a small step towards your passion – towards your purpose. For example, do you like animals? Are you into cars? What might be one small, tiny thing you can do that moves you closer to that thing that lights your fire – that holds your interests?
Alright, let’s get to that final step.
Step Five: Give Yourself Time
This final strategy is one that I can’t stress enough. If you force yourself to find your purpose, you’re only going to frustrate yourself.
Give yourself permission to engage in new experiences and try new things. This may help you to uncover people, topics and issues that emotionally resonate with you. But if you try to force yourself to be passionate about something – to find a purpose, you’re placing pressure on yourself that’s only going to bring you down.
I’m going to share something with you that some people in helping professions might find blasphemous. Are you ready?
It’s OK not to know your life purpose right now. It’s OK not to be on a daily quest to figure out what the hell you are supposed to be doing in life.
And I’m sharing this with you because in the Karmic sense, the universe is going to unfold in the way it was meant to be.
Now that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put that intention out there. One thing I encouraged Travis to do as part of our time together was to meditate each morning over a 90-day period and say the following affirmation:
I invite the universe to show me my purpose. I invite the universe to show me my purpose. I invite the universe to show me my purpose.
And yes, I had him do this three times. The reason I had him do this was because I wanted to help Travis train a part of his brain called the Reticular Activating System – which is located in the brainstem – and it’s a part of the brain that is responsible for focus.
By meditating with this affirmation over a multi-week period, Travis conditioned his conscious and subconscious mind to see things related to his purpose that he might now have seen otherwise.
On a related note, I’d like to recommend a resource to you to consider as part of this step. It’s called The Daily Gratitude Journal for Men: 90 Days of Mindfulness and Reflection by Dean Bokhari. Visit Amazon to learn more. Think of it as a tool to help wake up your reticular activating system and focus your awareness. I’ve put a link to this book in Show Notes.
So, you may be wondering what Travis is up to today? Well, I’m still in touch with him from time to time and I can tell you he’s in a much different place. You see after our work together all of those years ago, he would go on to earn some additional credentials, like a master’s degree in education. Today, he’s teaching history courses for one of Chicago’s city colleges.
And here’s the thing – he loves it. No, it doesn’t pay him what a corporate job might. But honestly, he doesn’t care. He’s happy doing what he is doing because when he wakes up on the morning, he feels on a deep and intuitive level that the work he is doing brings his life meaning.
So, before we end today’s show, let’s recap the five strategies we just went over:
Step One: Know Your Story
Step Two: Identify Your Obsessions
Step Three: Use a Tool
Step Four: Start Moving
Step Five: Give Yourself Time
OK, that’s what I’ve got for you today. As we close out this podcast, I’m going to ask you a favor. If you love this podcast or any of the past pods that I’ve done, please take a few moments right now to leave a review wherever you may be listening, but particularly on Apple Podcasts.
By doing this, you are helping this program to grow organically and show up higher in the listings so that other men just like you can find the podcast.
I’m going to leave you now with the following request: Make it your goal today to put a smile on someone else’s face.
Thank you for listening to the Men’s Self-Help Podcast and I hope you have an amazing day!