How to Find Your Life's Passion
We all have a reason for being here. What's yours?
Posted October 25, 2019 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
As we come to the end of October Mental Health Awareness Month, I think it’s important to address something that really contributes to mental health: knowing your life purpose.
When thinking about this concept, I’m always drawn back to a poem by William Stafford called “The Way It Is."
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
We all have a life purpose and a reason for being here. As Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.” In general terms, it’s your life theme or thread that tends to drive you forward; it gives you a reason to get up in the morning. It may be described as a trajectory or action that your life has followed in the past... and will continue to follow in the future. You’ll know when the theme is right for you because you’ll feel a sense of flow, as if you’re headed in the correct direction. Elation sometimes also accompanies this life theme. In his book Flow (2008), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said that when life has meaning, you feel a sense of harmony, similar to when people in the 1960s used to say, “Man, you got your head together.”
Many people know what their life purpose is, while others struggle to determine what it is. If you don’t know your life purpose, there are many things you can do to try to figure it out. Listening and expressing yourself is always key, but a regular journaling practice can also help your theme or purpose emerge because you begin to see patterns in what you write about.
Years ago, I had a personal assistant who was very devoted to me and my work. During our time together, she became inspired to start journaling. What she realized after a few months of doing so is that her true passion in life was cooking—something she’d loved since childhood. She decided to apply to culinary school, and because of the pressure of the workload, she had to stop working with me. I was very sad to lose her but happy that she was able to tap into a passion that had been buried deep inside of her for a very long time.
Here’s an exercise I do in my writing workshops to help the participants figure out their life themes:
- Fold a piece of paper in half, and then in half again. You should have four rectangles.
- 1st rectangle. Write: “What I like.”
- 2nd rectangle. Write: “My talents and gifts.”
- 3rd rectangle. Write: “What’s important to me.”
- 4th rectangle. Write: “What I want to do before I die.”
Get another piece of paper and draw an image that goes with all the items on your list. This piece of paper will consist of three images that can be considered the entirety of your life purpose. Carry this with you as a reminder or touchstone of your thread. Maybe it’s something you often write about or something you pull out during challenging times.
Look back at all your journals and at the exercise above. See if there’s a thread you follow that connects your actions. Maybe you know your thread and you’re doing everything you need to be doing, or maybe there are areas you haven’t tapped into yet. You can ask yourself if you’re happy or if you have another destination or dream for yourself. You’ll be surprised by what can emerge through the writing process.
Raab, D. (2017). Writing for Bliss: Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Ann Arbor, MI.
Stafford, W. (1999). The Way it Is. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press. MI.
Czilkszentmihalyl, M. (2008). Flow. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.