For many years in my life, I fell into the trap of thinking that if I search externally, my purpose would come to me. It began during my junior year of college, when I saw most of my peers preparing themselves for interviews with consulting firms with the hopes of landing a summer internship, which would then convert into a full-time offer before senior year.
I thought that consulting was a good option based on its popularity on campus, in addition to how the consulting firms marketed themselves, “Consulting is like a continuation of your liberal arts degree. You’ll get a breadth of experiences across sectors and you’ll get a depth of knowledge by diving into each of your projects.”
At the beginning of my senior year, I landed a full-time offer as a consultant and I was over the moon! As a first-generation, low-income college graduate from an immigrant family, I was going to make more money than my parents and achieve upward mobility. However, it didn’t take long for the excitement to wear off when I discovered the monotony of my job. A year and a half later, I left my job and shortly afterwards, I took a sabbatical to work in Italy for a few months.
I had very high expectations for my sabbatical – I very much believed that working abroad, being surrounded by different people and living in a new environment would lead me to, one day, wake up and magically know my purpose. Spoiler alert: It didn’t! Although, I will say, the experience helped me realize what I enjoy, what I don’t enjoy and that my problems/existential questions will follow me, wherever I go, even if I’m halfway across the world.
With these experiences, I’ve learned that uncovering our purpose is more about turning inward – tuning into our inner guidance, something that is always available to us, if we’re able to quiet our minds and listen. I’ve also come to realize that our purpose encompasses much more than just our careers. Living our purpose means living intentionally – engaging in meaningful and worthwhile pursuits, both in and outside of work. When we can contribute to those around us in ways that feel true to us, we are then able to feel a deep sense of contentment and fulfillment that is hard to find elsewhere.
When you have a moment to access that quiet space within you, I invite you to reflect on the following questions to uncover your purpose:
1. WHO do you admire?
When you admire people, it’s usually because they embody certain qualities. Whatever qualities you see in the people you admire are qualities that already exist within you. Perhaps they just need to be given some attention and cultivated so that you feel like you are embodying those same qualities in your everyday life.
Go and do the things that make you feel happy! (Even if it feels like you’re not being “productive.”) When we let our minds rest and feel happier, new ways of thinking are available to us. For example: I love being out in nature. One day, I went on a solo 2+ hour walk on a trail without listening to podcasts/music, which didn’t seem very “productive.” However, it was during this walk that all these ideas for my business popped up.
3. WHERE are you?
We are a product of our environments. When I was in a small town in India, it was so easy for me to relax and take each moment as it came because the people around me had a similar approach to life. However, if you asked me to embody this way of being in New York City, I’d have a much harder time because New Yorkers are always on the go. So, what this question is getting at is – are you surrounding yourself with people who support your dreams and aspirations? Are you in an environment that is conducive for you to reflect deeply and dream big.
4. WHEN were you happiest and WHEN were you most angry?
The first question will enable you to see the values that were being honored when you were happiest and the second question will enable you to see the values that were violated when you were most angry. Both questions will inform you of the values that you hold dear to your heart and when you’re aware of those values, you can use them as a guiding light any time you make a decision.
5. WHY do you do the things that you do?
Be honest with yourself. For example: Why did I choose to go into consulting? I went into consulting because I thought that it was the “right” path due to the fact that:
- most of my peers were going down that path
- I was convinced that consulting would give me the “breadth and depth” of experiences
- I felt like I needed to earn a certain amount of money
However, had I been more honest with myself, I would’ve realized that what I cared more about than fitting in, having a variety of experiences and making good money was helping people. I did eventually come to that realization so when I was looking for another job, the main question became, “What are the job opportunities that will allow me to help people?” “The answers you seek are inside of you.” May you give them the time and space to come forth.