5 Ways to Hone Your Ambitions and Discover Your Purpose
Written By: Matt Mignona
"What do I want to do with my life?"
You've probably asked yourself this question in some form or another. Most of us have. No one wants to get up and stumble through the day, passing year after year in a job they don't enjoy and that is not well-suited for their unique skills.
This uncertainty starts at an early age. Many children get told their dreams aren't the right dreams:
- That's too competitive.
- You can't make enough money doing that.
- That's not a real job.
When we hear those stories day after day, we forget how to dream. We stop asking whether there's something we really want to do and start asking if the job or lifestyle will please our parents or impress our friends. Maybe we start assuming we can't do what we want to do, because someone told us so, or because we tried before and failed.
Tony Robbins shares a story about an elephant. At the circus, there was an enormous, full-grown elephant with a rope around his neck tethered to a stake in the ground. A stake! An elephant is more than capable of pulling that stake up and tearing the whole tent down if he wanted to, but he had been taught, from the time he was young, that he could not. He was conditioned to not even try to pull against the stake, because as a baby he was tied to a large stake and, though he may have fought to get away, he wasn't yet powerful enough to pull the stake out of the ground. He finally got tired of fighting, and now he doesn't even try. The elephant accepted that stake and made being tied to it a part of his identity.
Don't be that elephant.
This isn't to discount the reality of bills and responsibilities, but it is time to realize what you're capable of. You can pull that stake out of the ground. Focus on what you're good at, what you enjoy, and how you can turn that into a life you love living.
Here are five ways to help you narrow your goals and discover your true purpose.
You can't wait for your purpose to come to you. You can't pull goals out of thin air and call them your own. You have to figure out what you enjoy and what you're good at, and the only way to do it is to try things.
This doesn't have to be monumental; you don't have to quit your job and start a new one—at least not yet. Just start expanding your awareness of what's out there:
Take a class. There are loads of online courses that you can enroll in for free (or cheap). Start with Coursera and Udemy. Taking a dance, art, chemistry, or language class in your community gives you the added benefit of getting out of the house and meeting people who may become friends or mentors. You don't have to choose classes that directly relate to something you think you might want to do with your life. Just expose yourself to some new knowledge and ideas.
Strike up conversations. It might feel awkward at first, but those conversations with the receptionist as you wait for your appointment or with the person in front of you in the grocery store line may teach you something. The ones that don't are still good practice for the ones that do.
Listen to podcasts. There are so many by professionals in a variety of industries and disciplines. Listen to them on your way to work or while cleaning the house.
Volunteer. Your passion might be in helping others, and volunteering not only gives you an opportunity to do that but to do it in a variety of ways depending upon the organizations you choose to work with. You might volunteer with a homeless shelter, a political campaign, or a non-profit that works to provide clean water, expand women's rights, or feed hungry children.
Go somewhere new. It doesn't have to be a foreign country, although that's fun, too. There might be a neighborhood in your own city that you've never explored, or a town just a few miles away. Even trying a new restaurant or ordering a new dish instead of falling back on the old favorites is a simple way to explore what you like and what you don't.
And if you don't? That's a successful experiment, too! It's all giving yourself more information about what will work for you.
Read More Books
It's the easiest, safest, least expensive (especially if you use the library!) way to explore new ideas. Check online for book lists that feature the "best of" whatever you're looking for. Ask for recommendations from family and friends. Read biographies of the people you most admire. Create your own plan for what you're going to read and when. Do you have a certain number of books you'd like to finish this year? When are you going to make time in your day to read? You don't have to go at a breakneck pace: just a few minutes a day will help you work through your book list.
Fiction is good, too, though a mix of non-fiction and fiction is probably ideal for your reading list. Anything that ignites your imagination is worthwhile.
Keep a Self-Improvement Journal
The truth is, we're constantly growing and evolving in one way or another. Oftentimes, the changes are so subtle, we don't really notice them until they've created a big shift—which can take weeks, months, or years. If this is happening without your awareness, you might not be happy with where those little habits and adaptations lead you.
A self-improvement journal is one way to take control of your growth and ambition. In it, you can outline exactly what makes you happy, what you're grateful for, and what you want to accomplish in a day and over the long term. Since you check in with this journal every day, you can make sure you're doing what you set out to do and taking note of how it makes you feel and what is changing in your life. As soon as you realize something's not working for you, you can change course. Create new goals, take new actions.
The Happier Mind Journal is designed to help you discover and live your purpose. Our Quick Start Guide offers some direction if you're not sure where to start.
Get a Mentor
You're not alone in this. There are people out there doing the things that inspire you, and they were once in your shoes. Many of them are happy to help guide someone who is just getting started. Take it from the professionals:
"We're here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark." Whoopi Goldberg
"A lot of people put pressure on themselves and think it will be way too hard for them to live out their dreams. Mentors are there to say, 'Look, it's not that tough. It's not as hard as you think. Here are some guidelines and things I have gone through to get to where I am in my career.'" Joe Jonas
Every mentorship is different. It's important to find someone who wants to be your mentor, and then to have a frank discussion to ensure you both are looking for the same things in the relationship. Your mentor needs to be able to be honest with you and offer constructive criticism (which is why friends aren't the best mentors, even if you have a friend following the path you'd like to follow).
Know It All Matters
In his book The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope points out that many people get this idea that their purpose has to be flashy: lead a country, become famous, cure a disease. It's a mistake to think this way. Everyone is uniquely suited to something, and all roles must be filled. If you don't want to become one of the country's leading neurosurgeons, don't take that route no matter how cool it sounds, how much money you'd make, or how much your parents would love it.
Your ambitions, whatever they are, are perfect. They're not too big or too small. The world needs what you have to offer, and no one else can do it as you can. Today—today—take the first step toward discovering it.