The question of your “True Purpose in Life” can make us sweat buckets
It frequently comes up in job interviews, over coffee with friends, or most annoyingly— just as you’re about to fall asleep.
If you’re feeling frustrated because you can’t find a clear answer, don’t worry. Finding your true purpose takes time.
And hopefully, you’ll gain more clarity after reading this article.
No matter what life phase you are in, here are 11 powerful self-reflection questions to uncover your true purpose in life.
1) Is this a purpose or a goal?
A lot of people get confused with the difference between purpose and goals.
According to psychologist Anthony Burrow, “goals have definite outcomes”— to graduate, buy a house, earn a million dollars.
Purpose, on the other hand, is better framed as “This is how I want to contribute to my community and the people I love”.
To uncover your true purpose in life, get deep on your “Why”.
Ask yourself why you think you’re here. Ask yourself why you think life is worth living.
You’ll realize that while goals are essential, they’re not really synonymous to your life purpose.
2) What were your 8-year-old dreams?
Eight is the age right at the cusp between logic and being focused on the self, according to Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development.
At that age, children are still seeing and doing primarily based on what makes them feel good.
As we age and become burdened with responsibilities, remembering what we enjoyed as children may lead us on the right track.
Because passion and purpose may get buried under what is practical, going back to our childhood sense of self may help us remember and uncover who we are and what we really want to do with our precious life.
3) Will your 80-year-old self approve of your actions?
One of my favorite things to do is have conversations with interesting older people.
I notice that those who are happiest and at peace with their life are the ones who did what they believed in and enjoyed doing.
While it doesn’t mean that there weren’t sacrifices and challenges along the way—every choice comes with its own set of compromises, after all—but their values and passion allowed them to live a long life with few regrets.
Whether it’s taking a risk dating someone, or jumping to a new career, or sticking to the same job for 60 years because they believe in what they’re doing, people with a clear sense of self reach old age with few regrets.
So, just for this exercise, close your eyes and imagine your 80-year-old sitting in front of you. Listen to what he or she is trying to tell you.
4) What do people remember you for the most?
All of us have blind spots and for some, what they are naturally gifted at tends to be overlooked in lieu of the areas where they struggle to be good at.
Do your friends often tell you you’re an excellent writer but you’ve never made money writing so you brush it off?
Or is making organized systems so natural for you that you don’t even consider it a skillset, a career, more so a life purpose.
Make a list of what people have complimented you for in the past and it will help clarify what you’re great at.
And if it matches what you love, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for, then congrats—you’ve got your ikigai!
5) What were the moments in your life that made you feel the most alive?
You know those moments where you feel like you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you’ve forgotten everything else?
Those moments that you feel like you were in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time?
Was it while doing volunteer work with children? Or was it while gardening? Or giving a public speech that inspired many?
While we don’t have to live each day in peak moments, paying close attention to the memories that made us feel the most alive will clue us into our unique true purpose in life.
So whatever it may be, remember the moment and the feeling and do your best to do more of it.
And if you still like it after a while, then do your best to get better at it.
It’s really that simple!
But it usually takes a while because uncovering our true life’s purpose will take layers of peeling off what is unnecessary to make the most of our limited time and resources on this earth.
6) If your sudden death was a news headline, what would you want it to read?
Nobody would want theirs to be, “Passed away while watching a show on Netflix” right?
As sensational as the news can be, it does get what is important in a nutshell—who you are and what you are doing.
I know it’s morbid but sometimes we have to think of the worst to push ourselves to realize what we want to do.
In the end, while we may not be able to choose how we die, what matters is we get to choose now how we live.
For me, I want my headline to read this way: “90-year-old woman passed away while writing the last sentences of her novel.”
It’s very clear, then. I want to be a storyteller.
Now, write your headline.
7) What would you love to do that scares you the most?
Many people live their lives filled with loves that scare them to the core.
For some people, it’s dancing in public but they’re deeply worried that people would think they look stupid.
Just remember, your life purpose is not one single thing you do repeatedly for the rest of your life.
Say you find your purpose is “to help people heal,” it can be as a medical doctor and it can be as a movement therapist or a counselor.
Make a list of the things you would love to do but are still too scared to.
So make a list of the things that you love that scares you the most…then start dipping your toes in them.
Take the first step towards it, and you’ve already peeled off another layer towards meeting your true life purpose.
8) If you suddenly lost all your material resources, who would you be?
So let’s say your house burned, you lost your job, your wife divorces you, and your business falls under, who would you be?
Defining who we are based on what we have, how we look, and who we are with is an easy trap to living a life filled with a lot of things that distract us from our true purpose.
There are many anecdotes of people discovering who they truly are and find their life purpose after a life tragedy or trauma.
Now, you don’t have to wait for an actual tragedy to happen. Asking these questions can already help you to clarify who you are and what truly matters to you.
9) What kind of failure are you avoiding the most?
Let’s face it— nobody wants to talk about failure in the context of finding their true purpose in life.
But the reality is we’re all deeply afraid of the hurt of failing at what we really love, at something that matters the world to us.
Failing at something that doesn’t matter much is survivable. We know we’ll be okay because it doesn’t hit the core of who we are.
But this can also keep us from really reaching in towards what really matters to us.
No matter what field you are in, look at the kind of failure you want to avoid the most because it may clue you into your true life purpose far better than making a list of dreams.
So what are you most scared of? Maybe your true purpose in life lies in the opposite fence of it.
10) What would you look forward to waking up each day?
Ask yourself, “What would make this day better? What would make it interesting? More fulfilling?”
And most importantly, “What would I prefer to be doing?”
If you don’t need to work for money, if you don’t need to clean the house for your family, if you don’t have to do things for your future…how would you be spending your days?
Feeling alive and energized doing what you do is a sure way to know you are stepping into your true purpose and life.
So take note of the things that make you leap out of bed. Maybe you should do them more often.
11) What thoughts will help you sleep deeply at night?
At night is when the regrets and the fears come. And tossing and turning, feeling restless and sleepless isn’t how we want our entire lives to be.
If your sleep has been crappy for a while, and cutting out caffeine and having good sleep hygiene isn’t helping, pause. Something must be off.
Think of what you were doing on the nights you slept well.
What tasks filled your day then? Who were you with? And what were you feeling?
I know I get a good night’s sleep when I’ve done work to the best of my capacity that is aligned with my values and my true purpose. Maybe you too!
When it comes to uncovering your true purpose in life, as important as self-reflection questions are, you need to set a timeline otherwise you could end up stuck in analysis paralysis.
Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes—to change your mind, and to try many things.
Most of all, don’t forget to enjoy the process.
No matter how hard it gets, uncovering your true purpose in life is guaranteed to be filled with more meaning and happiness.