How to find your purpose in life

Partially uncurled hedgehog

Mark Twain said:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Knowing our life purpose helps us to focus on what matters and to ignore what doesn’t. It helps us identify the outcomes we want to create and find work with meaning and joy. And that helps us to live longer.

The best way I know to find your life purpose takes only about ten minutes to complete. (Other questions can help you find a deeper answer, but the basic set takes only ten minutes.) Then you can start to put it into practice and evolve it over time.

The method is adapted from Jack Canfield®’s Life Purpose Exercise, which he adapted from Arnold M. Patent‘s book, You Can Have It All. Both are very similar to Jim Collin’s “Hedgehog Concept,” described in his bestselling book Good to Great.

In that book, Jim Collins tells the story of the hedgehog and the fox. The fox, he says, is very clever and can do many things. But it cannot eat a hedgehog. That is because the hedgehog can only do one thing, but it does it very well.

Success for a business, Collins says, comes when a business learns to behave like the hedgehog and does one thing very well.

To achieve this it must combine three factors:

  • What it can be the best at in the world
  • What it is most passionate about creating
  • What drives its economic engine, its profitability

By translating these three elements from the business world to the world of people we create a very practical approach to finding life purpose.

To find your life purpose follow these three simple steps:

  1. Identify Your Two Best Qualities
    What are the two best qualities you bring to the world? Not skills or knowledge but qualities. If you find it difficult to pick only two, ask some trusted friends. Listen to their answers, ignore what you don’t like, and keep what you do. Then pick the two qualities you feel best describe you: qualities you love expressing and which summarise the essence of who you are in the world.
  2. Say How You Love Expressing Those Qualities
    Next, ask yourself how you most love applying these qualities. When you are putting them into practice, what outcomes are you trying to create? How do you most love expressing your two best qualities?
  3. Describe Your Ideal World
    What would the world be like right now if it were perfect according to you? What would you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell? What would that mean? What kind of a world is that? What would the world be like if it was perfect, according to you?

Your purpose in life is to express your best qualities in the world, in the ways you most love doing, to create a world that is as you want it to be.

So you might say, “The purpose of my life is to use my [two best qualities] to [achieve the way you love expressing those qualities], in order to create [your ideal world].”

Or you might say, “My life purpose is to create [my ideal world] by using my [two main qualities] to [achieve what you said was the way you most love expressing them].”

Try it out. Change the words around until you find a set of words that feels right for you.

Then test it. Think of a time when you have felt most alive in your work. Were you living in line with your purpose? Think of a time when you have felt most demoralised. Were you not living your purpose?

Which parts of your life are you living most in line with your purpose today? Where are you least living your purpose? What is the one simplest change you could make to live more in line with your purpose? What would come next?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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