Since time immemorial, human beings have been perplexed by existential questions regarding the philosophy of purpose. As complex beings whose brains are wired to try and make sense of things big and small, it is only natural to wonder what our role in the vast universe is: Are we born for a reason and is our mission to unveil and live by it over the course of our lifespan? Or do we choose a purpose? Can we change our purpose at will, and indeed, is life even supposed to have a purpose?
The answers to these universal questions are highly subjective, personal, and left to each person’s individual life journey, but something that people will most likely agree on is this:
Everyone wants their life to be meaningful.
The dilemma is what if you don’t know what meaning to make of it? If you are one of the wandering souls wondering about this, the good news and the bad news is that there is no right answer. This means that while you can make meaning out of your life no matter what you decide to do, you also have to take responsibility for the meaning it will have.
Here are two interesting and insightful exercises you can work on to better understand your answer to the abstract question of purpose:
Make a limitless bucket list
A bucket list is a personal list of things you would like to do before you die. To help you make your list, you can use the following questions as a guideline:
- What would you do if you had unlimited time, money and resources?
- What have you always wanted to do but have not done yet?
- What activities or skills do you want to learn or try out?
- What would you like to do together with other people (people you love, family, and friends)?
- What do you want to achieve in different areas: Social, Love, Family, Career, Finance, Health, Spiritually?
When you make your list, don’t hold yourself back. Take your time and have fun with it. Put in everything you can dream of without worrying if it will or can happen or not. The idea is for you to understand yourself better, see what your dreams and innermost desires are; it’s a sneak peek into your ideal world. Your answers are likely to tell you a great deal about what holds meaning for you.
Make a list of things you do not want.
One of the most effective ways of coming closer to understanding what you want is also by eliminating all that you don’t want. Figure out what you don’t want from your life. Specifically find things that you do not wish for. If you find it difficult to come up with things naturally, use the following questions as a guideline:
- What kind of careers would you never opt for, even as your last option? Why?
- What kind of person do you try to ensure that you will never become?
- What characteristics, qualities or traits in a potential partner would put you off?
- Which social cause are you least likely to help or work for?
- Which kind of animal least symbolises you?
If you ask yourself “why?” in response to your own answers to these questions, you will be able to gauge what motivates you. What you don’t want or wish to avoid indirectly says a lot about what you actually do value. If you would like to take this understanding a step further, follow up your initial answers with “I would rather…” and see what comes up.
The underlying principle behind these exercises with regard to finding, choosing or developing your purpose is quite simply (and complexly) to understand yourself. Look at yourself today— are you in alignment with what you want and what you don’t want? If you’re seeing disconnect, perhaps your insight from these self-reflective exercises can bring you closer to making sense of it. Meaning is a matter of personal perspective. If your life appears meaningful by others’ standards, it matters little if you don’t find it meaningful yourself. The key to knowing why you are here is to know who you are.
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