6 Keys to Finding Your Purpose
Solve the mystery of what you're meant to do with your life
By Susan Biali Haas M.D.
This Article was originally published on Psychology Today
I recently gave one of my all-day retreats for women, speaking on everything from creativity to hormones, and the topic that provoked the most intense discussion was that of establishing your life’s purpose. This subject has fascinated me since I walked away from Emergency Medicine and began the journey that led me to a very different, purpose-driven life.
For you, here are my “Six E’s of Finding Your Purpose”, a small but key part of the presentation that I gave at the retreat the other day:
Many think that purpose should be obvious and easy to identify, an idea that leads to much frustration and disappointment. More typically your purpose will slowly emerge as you put one foot in front of the other, following where your heart, talents and life seem to be leading you.
You may even go through a season where you long to find it, to the point that you feel deep emotional pain but can’t seem to find a clue anywhere. If you have this experience, like I did, you could even start believing that everyone else might have a purpose, but you very sadly don’t.
There may be the occasional person who knows their purpose from the time they were a child, sets out on the perfect course of study, and spends their whole life doing what they were meant to. This wasn’t my experience, and chances are it wasn’t yours either.
As you go through this journey, gaining wisdom about yourself and receiving delicious, surprising clues from life (I liken it to a treasure hunt), your sense of purpose will evolve and change.
After I left Emergency Medicine I decided I was meant to be a dancer and a writer. I started publishing travel pieces, and then began to write about wellness and nutrition. I also studied salsa and flamenco dancing and began to perform and teach. Next, I felt called to educate people about mind-body medicine through public speaking. Then I discovered a passion for coaching, for helping people discover their purpose and create more fulfilling, happier lives.
At each phase I thought I had found my purpose and it felt like – and looked like - I kept changing my mind. I never imagined that one day I would find my ultimate purpose in merging all of the above to serve others. Today, I’ll often surprise the crowd at a conference by flamenco dancing onto the stage (dance), after which I speak about creating a healthier, happier more fulfilling life (public speaking). There’s usually a book signing after (writing), and at that time people who want to work with me will sign up for one-on-one programs (coaching).
It may have looked like I kept changing my mind and was trying to create four careers at once (generally a bad idea). My purpose was simply evolving as I explored each area, acquiring skills and experience that would end up creating the whole.
As you seek and live out your purpose, don’t be afraid to let it evolve if it wants to, even if you were sure you had already discovered and embarked on what you were destined to be in this life.
3) Emerges from Experience
By all means set out on the course that feels and seems right to you, but be open to learning from it and adjusting.
When I decided to become a professional dancer at 28 (with almost no prior dance training), it was fulfilling a forgotten dream I’d had as a little girl. I was insanely passionate about it, and all kinds of doors opened quickly. I was amazed to discover I could earn decent income from it, and decided I wanted to focus exclusively on dancing. Soon though, I discovered I didn’t actually like focusing on dance full-time. I recognized my error, and went back to building the multi-faceted career I have now. I’ll never regret having tried the dancing route, though, it was such a unique and exciting experience and I’ll never ask myself “what if”.
What experience or purpose is calling to you? Give it a chance. If it causes you to change your mind or even abandon what you sincerely thought was the right path for you, you’re wiser for having tried it.
4) Exactly perfectly timed
Sometimes when things don’t happen in the time frame we’re expecting, we think all is lost or that we were wrong to begin with. In our society in particular, many mistakenly believe that fresh starts, success and exciting, passionate purpose are only for the young (the young being anyone who is younger than us).
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If I’d gotten the ballet classes I’d wanted as a child, I probably would have quit by my late teens and wouldn’t have been left with the desperation to dance that completely transformed my life in my thirties.
If you’ve got a dream and your heart still beats with it, even though nothing seems to be happening, keep at it and don’t let go. Other times, you may feel it right to step away for a while and come back when it calls you again or circumstances shift.
5) Eminently qualified
When I share the rather wild story of my dancing career (I ended up performing for and even teaching celebrities, crazy!), I always make a point of telling the audience that I’m not actually a great dancer. Sure, people apparently will pay me to do it, but I’m nowhere near the best even in my local community. Still, somehow life (aka God) considered me qualified for this amazing adventure.
Though people have criticized me for this, I encourage you to just go for whatever calls you. Sure, get as much training as you’re able to and need to get started, but don’t hesitate to go for something even if you don’t have all your ducks or qualifications lined up in a row. Some of the best artists have never taken an art class. Your natural genius may even be negatively impacted by an “expert” imposing their theories or structure regarding what its expression should look like. Just get started, and next steps will become clear.
6) Enjoyable Adventure
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Don’t get too stressed about this or put too much pressure on yourself about clarifying your purpose. Your purpose might indeed be something grand and complicated, or it may be as simple as dispensing love and kindness wherever you go. Remember to be present in the moment, and delight in watching it all unfold. Life really is beautiful.