“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
At his 25th college reunion at Yale, Adam Leipzig was astonished to discover that 80% of his friends were unhappy with their lives. Most of his friends were privileged—highly educated, financially well off, and in positions of power. “Not only did they have the first house and the second house but also the first spouse and the second spouse!”
And yet, they were unhappy with their lives and some of them told Adam:
“I feel as though I’ve wasted my life and I’m halfway through it.”
“I don’t know what my life is all about.”
On the other hand, the remaining 20% were those who had studied subjects like literature, theater and history. They did this not because they thought it would direct them towards a specific job but for the joy of learning. Of course, they still got jobs and were financially successful. More importantly, they didn’t feel they had wasted a single day of their lives.
So what was the difference between these two groups? Adam found that each person in the happier 20% knew their life purpose because they knew five things:
- Who they were
- What they did
- Whom they did it for
- What those people wanted or needed
- What those people got out of it
Adam says that using this insight enabled him to teach others a simple way to figure out their life purpose in less than five minutes. Yes, five minutes!
To figure out your life purpose, you only need to answer these five questions:
- Who are you?
There are two ways you can answer this question. Adam suggests you get this question out of the way by writing down your first name. Or you can follow Jeff Goins’s advice and declare to the world: “I am a writer.”
- What do you love to do?
Here again, the answer is simple. Most of us love to write.
However, if you are multi-talented like Marie Forleo, then ask yourself this additional question: “What is the one thing you are supremely qualified to teach others?” Then write that down.
Adam recommends that you answer this question with a single word.
- Whom do you do it for?
This is your target audience, your tribe, your present or future followers.
If you find it difficult to visualize a group, think of a single ideal reader or client. Picture him or her in your mind and then write down what you see.
- What do those people want or need?
Again, write this down in one or two words. It could be information, knowledge, entertainment, inspiration, or a combination of these.
Or you could be more specific or more creative in your choice of words.
- How do they change as a result of what you give them?
This last question is the most important and also perhaps the most difficult to grasp. So take a couple of minutes but no more to think about this.
Once you have answered all five questions, craft them into a single sentence and there it is: your life purpose.
Why is this formulation of five questions so powerful? Because, says Adam, of the five things that you need to know about what your life purpose is, only the first two are about yourself. The remaining three questions are about other people. So doing this exercise forces you to be “outward facing.”
Like the happier 20% of Adam’s friends, you will have a clear understanding of who you serve, what they need, and how they will change as a result of your service. Happy people focus on the happiness and satisfaction of other people. And when they do so, they are automagically taken care of.
In the immortal words of Zig Ziglar, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”
Finally, your life purpose is not cast in stone. Use these five questions to kickstart the process of creating your life purpose. Then refine it until it reflects your vision, values, goals and dreams.
For example, my present life purpose is “I write stories for children so they can sleep with a smile and dream of adventure and happy endings.”
What’s your life purpose?
Let us know in the comments below.
1. This article is based on Adam Leipzig’s insightful TED talk: How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes.
(Adam Leipzig is currently the CEO of Entertainment Media Partners, and author of Inside Track For Independent Filmmakers: Get Your Movie Made, Get Your Movie Seen and Turn the Tables on Hollywood.)
2. Eunice Hii’s TED talk “Don’t Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y” presents an enlightened perspective on the right way to follow your passion.
3. Cure Boredom and Build Your Self Improvement Foundation: Find Your Purpose in Life: This article explains three important reasons why you need to define your life purpose and how to do it.
(16 July 2014)