“The person without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.” ― Thomas Carlyle

What exactly is ‘purpose’? 

Many people ponder over the word ‘purpose’. Is it about my life calling? Is it about the attitude with which I do things? Is it about chasing my destiny? At first thought/glance, it seems simple, but when we take a closer look, ‘purpose’ seemingly becomes hard to put into words. 

To simplify this concept, the Japanese term ‘ikigai’ conceptualizes purpose simply to mean, “reason for being”. What is your reason for being? 

According to ‘Ikigai’, there are four aspects of purpose:

  • What we love to do (our passion) 
  • What we are good at (our strengths) 
  • What the world needs (our mission) 
  • What we can be paid to do (our profession) 



When these factors interact, we experience personal satisfaction, knowing that we are contributing to something larger than ourselves. As such, purpose is closely linked to a sense of direction and meaning, which produces contentment and fulfillment in our lives.

Why should I have a purpose in life?

  1. It shifts us from being unmotivated to passionate

Having a purpose gives us clarity. Most of us like knowing the direction that we’re heading towards– in spending time to make clear what we are working for and why we do the things we do, we can better plan our tomorrows and set progressive goals towards a direction we are excited about. This ultimately minimizes feelings of being overwhelmed or disconnected, as we minimize the unknown and are clear of where to start.

Our decisions may also become easier to make, as we evaluate them according to the degree to which they align  with our passion, strengths, and societal needs. As we make decisions and commit to our goals in this direction, we begin to find life more fulfilling, and less mundane or meaningless. This sense of knowing and working towards a clear goal is extremely satisfying; it is living according to our calling.


  1. It keeps us anchored during tough times 

It is true that life is not always smooth-sailing and it  springs surprises on us from time to time. Having a sense of purpose helps us to persevere and remain resilient because we look beyond our current situations and work towards something compelling to us in the future.  Without a purpose, we are focused on the present hurdles and suffering; with a purpose, we are hopeful for a better future, and have the motivation to overcome current challenges.

  1. It moves us from existing to living (and thriving)

Additionally, making sense of our life purpose moves us from purely existing to living. According to Oscar Wilde, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.” 

Getting to contribute towards things we  feel strongly for and living in line with our passions and ideals energizes us, and it makes life  very gratifying and worthwhile.

With that being said, it means that we need to dig deep within ourselves to find out what is meaningful to us, instead of looking for answers elsewhere.

How can I work towards finding my purpose in life?

“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.” – Bishop T.D. Jakes

1. Craft a list of the hobbies, tasks, and values that matter to you

  • A good fit occurs when our values, passions, and strengths coincide with the needs of society
  • Make time for reflection 
    • What are your core values and how do they guide your decisions in life?
    • What brings you the most satisfaction out of the things you are currently doing?
  • Try out new things and refine your knowledge of what really matters to you based on what you have experienced
    • Seek out volunteer opportunities and try out new experiences.
    • Talk to people in these places to see if you are a good fit with the culture and goal of the activity or organisation.
    • This will help you develop a social network of people who share your common interests and make your experiences more meaningful.
    • Identify areas of your passion that coincide with something you are naturally good at.

2. Develop your strengths and passions

  • A sense of mastery of our passions allows us to contribute meaningfully to our purpose and fuels our passion in this area
  • Our ability to value-add to spheres that matter to us adds to our sense of purpose, as it serves as validation that we are in the right place
  • Developing mastery takes discipline and determination and we have to remember to be patient with ourselves



3. Set goals that align with your values

  • Having goals that align with your values will help to elevate your sense of purpose. 
  • For example, seeking out jobs or opportunities that are aligned with your values and your passion will make you feel like you are spending your time more meaningfully and fruitfully. 



4. Be patient with yourself and be open to learning

  • Try to be flexible and adapt your approach to the setbacks and changes you may face as you progress towards your goals, instead of fixating on ‘ideals’. 
  • Remember that there is something to learn at every stage of life and that we all grow from failure.

What if I don’t have a “big” purpose in life? 

Perhaps you’ve looked around and seen how many people have big and noble dreams – and you look within yourself, only to find that you have very different perspectives. Here’s a reminder that that is okay.

It’s okay if our purpose and what we want to live for is different from what others’ purposes are. What matters more is what you think is most important to you and what you think defines success and meaning in life. While we might inevitably compare our purposes to that of others’, we should keep in mind that there is no such thing as a purpose that is right or wrong, better or worse. Just like how everyone is born different, our purposes can be different too. 


“Your purpose must be particular to you. This is the road less traveled. Your purpose cannot be someone else’s path, not your family’s path nor your friends’ path.” – Drew Scott Pearlman

References

Gaines, J. (2021). The Philosophy of Ikigai: 3 Examples About Finding Purpose. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved 9 July 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/ikigai/