5 Steps to Living with Purpose
Are you living with purpose? Or maybe you're just existing, crossing off the days on the calendar and unintentionally counting down until you die. Or maybe you never quite looked at it that way before, but that's the reality. Either you are living with purpose, or you are just existing. If you want to have a shot at leading an extraordinary life, however, you have to do more than just exist. The good news is, you can change it all in a moment. It's all about decisions, and you can decide right now to find your purpose and live with that at the forefront of everything you do. After all, if you have to work 40 hours a week, why not spend that time working in a field that you love and making a difference in the lives of those around you?
My six daughters as guest performers on a Chinese television show in May 2017
Finding Your Purpose
As a Catholic, I believe that God made each of us uniquely and wonderfully, with our own unique gifts and talents. The first step in finding your purpose is to identify your gifts. Maybe you are gifted as a writer or as a musician. Maybe you have a brain for math or science. Maybe you are a fabulous empathetic listener or an inspiring leader. Maybe you have the gift of teaching. Maybe you are drawn to healing. There are many, many gifts, and we all have different ones, which is a beautiful thing. As it says in the Bible:
1 Corinthians 12:15-26
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1. What are Your Gifts?
If you are having trouble figuring out your gifts, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, what things do you like to do? Have you enjoyed drawing or playing an instrument since you were little? Or maybe you were the one always building things with Legos until your parents forced you to drop the Legos and go to bed.
As soon as my daughter Katherine learned to write, she started writing and illustrating her own books. Not that they were Pulitzer prize winning stories or anything, but all her free time as a 7 year old was devoted to making up stories, writing them down, drawing cute little pictures to go with them, and then binding the pages together with a hole punch and ribbons tied into little bows. Her gift as a writer manifested itself very early, and to this day she has a wonderful poetry blog, she has written a book with her sisters, she has ideas for multiple books of her own, and she writes a lot of lyric ideas for the band she and her sisters have, "Cimorelli".
Music video for my daughters' song "Alive", based on a poem written by Katherine (which can be seen in the last frames of the video)
Sometimes a gift is less obvious and takes awhile to manifest itself. I used to hate writing, and I really struggled with it in school. I did well with grammar and spelling, but I was terrible at writing. My sister was a natural writer (much like my daughter Katherine), and she now has a doctorate in English. I didn't really learn to write well until I was a senior in college, and from there I really blossomed as a writer in grad school, as there was an enormous amount of research and writing assigned. I discovered that I really loved it, but it wasn't until one of my professors unlocked the mysteries of it that I discovered this gift.
More obvious for me was music. As a kid, I sang constantly, and I learned to play the piano at 4 years old. I wasn't a big fan of piano lessons, but in high school, I started accompanying choirs and soloists and playing for musicals, and I learned the joy of playing in ensemble with others. I was hooked.
As a freshman in high school, I took a drama class, and I was terrible at it. I was so self-conscious at that particular age that I could never quite loosen up on stage. I got a grade of "C" for the first quarter, which was the first "C" I had ever gotten in my life. I was mortified. By the end of the 2nd quarter, I wasn't doing any better, and I was looking at getting a "C" for the whole semester. The last assignment for that quarter was an improvisational exercise, which would normally have been my absolute worst nightmare. This assignment, however, was different. We were instructed to get together in groups and form an air band with a lip-synching lead singer. This I could do. There was a stack of records to pick from, so I grabbed a few girls to be my band, and I picked my favorite song, which at the time was "Fox on the Run". I got onstage and did exactly what I had been doing in my living room for years. When the instrumental solo came on, I left the stage and let my "band" do their thing. I forgot that I had more to "sing"; all of a sudden I realized that the final chorus was coming up, so I ran out and slid onto the stage, just in time to hit the first lyric of the chorus, just as if it were planned that way. I had so much fun, and when I got off the stage at the end of the song, the teacher said, "Wow! I didn't know you had that in you! That was so good, I'm going to give you an 'A' for the whole semester!!" This was another clue that music was one of my gifts.
When I went to college, I was unsure of what my major should be. I had always been good at math, so I thought maybe I should try heading toward engineering, even though I had no idea what engineers did. My mother thought I should take some music classes, too, just because. Just because why, I didn't really know, but they would fulfill some general education requirements, so I didn't argue with her. I took calculus and got an A in it, although I really didn't understand any of it (the teacher basically spoonfed us the answers in practice tests the day before each test). I didn't understand my physics class very well either, and the professor's idea of answering a question was to say, "Go sit down and think about it," which wasn't terribly helpful. I got a "C" in Physics and hated it. My music classes, on the other hand, were a breeze, at least for me. The majority of students dropped out by the end of the year because the music classes were too hard for them, but I got "A's" in all my music classes without trying very hard. I had also joined a Christian Rock band by this time. These were all signs that music was one of my gifts and not engineering (I went on to earn a Masters degree in Music, with a piano performance concentration).
Me at the piano leading a children's choir. My son Alex, middle, was one of the three "drummer boys"
My first job was as a lifeguard and swimming teacher; I had been a volunteer swim coach before that, and I also taught some piano lessons. Doing these jobs showed me that I also had a gift for teaching, especially with children. I went on to teach piano for sixteen years, direct a children's choir at my church, and became the music director for a youth musical theater company. I also homeschool my children. The perfect culmination of my gifts was when I was able to teach music to my daughters, which gave them the basis for forming a band that has become not only their livelihood, but a way to see the world while touring.
Lessons learned: Look for things that you have had a natural affinity for since you were very young. At the same time, be aware that there may be other gifts you have that you either haven't been exposed to yet or haven't been taught how to unlock (like writing was for me!).
Learn more about developing your talents in The Art of Mastery.
2. What is Your Personality Type?
In addition to finding your gifts, it helps if you understand your personality type and temperament. We are not all alike, and we don't all fit nice and neatly in the same box. I first learned about basic personality types many years ago when I read the book Self-Knowledge and Self-Discipline, which described the Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic temperaments. In a nutshell, Sanguines are the friendly, outgoing, people-loving, life of the party types. Cholerics are leaders who thrive on confrontation. Melancholics are the more introspective contemplative types, and Phlegmatics are the easy-going peace-making personalities. Most people tend to lean toward some combination of two of these four types, with one characteristic running more strongly than another.
In my family, we have it all (as you might imagine with our eleven children). We have a Sanguine-Choleric, two Choleric-Sanguines, one Choleric Melancholic, some Phleg-Mels, some Mel-Phlegs, some Sang-Phlegs and some Phleg-Sangs. I'm a Mel-Phleg, and my husband Mike is a Choleric-Sanguine; we are total opposites. It also helps as a parent to recognize that there is not one best way to raise children, and it's just not helpful to try to raise all children to be the same, as you will squelch their beautifully unique personalities.
Mike and I with our eleven kids and all their wonderful personalities
There are online personality tests you can take, like the Myers-Briggs and Enneagram tests. Just google those, and you can take multiple free tests that will help you learn more about yourself. The key in taking these tests is to be brutally honest with yourself. Don't answer how you think you "should" answer; rather, answer how you really feel and respond to various situations. If you're not sure, think back to when you were a small child, before everyone started telling you how you "should" respond to everything.
3. What kind of Work do You Enjoy?
To help you find your life's purpose, take some time to analyze what kind of work would be best suited to your personality type and your talents. Some people love working behind a desk, while others would rather work in the great outdoors. Some love to travel, while others prefer to work from home. Some love collaborating with others in a creative environment while others do much better without distractions. Are you a leader or a follower? Do you love solving problems, or would you rather input data and analyze results? Do you love things like public speaking or acting? If you like teaching, do you prefer teaching a group or tutoring one on one? Do you have a knack for sales? Or maybe you'd rather be a chef. Are you mechanically inclined? Maybe you're good at trouble-shooting software issues. There are so many different types of work that require different gifts and personality types; there is no one right answer for everyone (which is a good thing, as it would be awfully boring if we were all alike!).
While it can be helpful to ask people who know you well what they think you might be well-suited for, ultimately the answers need to come from deep within. Well-meaning parents will often push their kids into being a doctor or lawyer because those are well-paying jobs with a lot of prestige. If you are suited to be either of those, then that's great. If you're not, you will wake up in your 40's and wonder what the heck you've been doing with your life.
So let's focus on you. Take those personality tests, and then grab a notebook and write down some lists:
- what do you think your talents are or might be?
- what is your temperament?
- what is your personality type?
- what kinds of activities do you like?
- what kinds of jobs sound interesting to you?
- what qualities do you bring to the table (i.e. organization, people skills, promptness, creative problem-solving, work well with deadlines, etc)?
A book that really helped me is What Color is Your Parachute?
4. Work Hard. Really Hard.
Nothing good comes easy. While there is the occasional Cinderella story of success on the first try, that is about as common as winning the lottery. There are countless stories of "new" musical artists or actors who appear to be overnight successes but in reality have been grinding away at their craft for a decade or more before their big break came. Long before the spotlight hit, they spent years writing songs for other people, played hundreds of gigs in smoky bars for a handful of people who weren't paying attention, acted in bit parts or as extras in indie films that no one ever saw, or did the proverbial starting out in the mail room.
Perfect example of staying on your grind: my daughters' youtube channel, Cimorelli, which they started 9 years ago, just hit 1 billion views!
The path to extraordinary is filled with years of hard work, and you have to be humble enough to start at the bottom. A young friend of my daughters was lamenting about her job search. I asked her what the problem was, and she said that she didn't want to start at the bottom, which was all she was finding that she was qualified for, even though she had a college degree. I told her the best thing she could do would be to take one of those jobs and jump in there with an attitude of humility and eagerness to learn. If she made herself more valuable than others at the company, she would move up soon enough and eventually get to the position that she really wanted.
When my husband and I got married 30 years ago, he was fresh out of college with a degree in construction engineering and management. Did he waltz right into the top of a big company? No. He got a job as a carpenter, framing houses. Not even as the lead carpenter, but as the junior guy. After he got home from work every night, he spent a hours writing down everything he had done that day, drawing diagrams to help him remember what he had learned about carpentry that day and how it meshed with the practical applications of the engineering he had learned in college. While he was working there, he continued putting out resumes to large commercial construction companies, and eventually landed a job with one of them. At the bottom. In a position he refers to as "whipping boy". Low pay, few benefits, long hours. After a couple of years of soaking up all the knowledge he could, he started his own company, and within 10 years of when we got married, he owned a company that was one of the Top 25 fastest growing small commercial construction companies in Northern California. To this day, he still uses the knowledge he picked up from starting at the bottom. Whether he's out on a job site with laborers or dealing with the client, it's clear that he knows what he's doing at every level and is not just a paper-pushing desk jockey, which wins him the respect of others as a true expert in his field. This didn't happen overnight but rather through many years of hard work and strategizing.
Never shy away from hard work.
5. Make a Difference in the Lives of Others
While you're working on what you were born to do and making your way down the path to extraordinary, you will find that one of the most fulfilling things you can do is to give back and help others. Shine your light and be a positive influence wherever you are, whether you are helping a fellow student or co-worker or being kind to others you run into in your daily life. YOU can bring the light and brighten someone's day! When I was living in Southern California, I remember talking to a checker at the grocery store and a postal worker at the counter in the post office, and they both told me that I was one of the few people who actually smiled and was kind to them. I was horrified to hear this, as I'm not exactly the most outgoing person. How hard is it to be nice to the people you interact with on a daily basis? A simple smile and a kind word cost you nothing, but if everyone did this to everyone they encountered every day, we could literally change the world.
Another way to make a difference is through volunteering, and it is one of the best ways to live with purpose. Oftentimes the volunteer gets as much out of it as the person they are helping! The basic categories are time, treasure, and talents, and what you are able to give will change according your season of life. You may not have time in some stages of your life to donate your talents, so during those years, you may have to donate some treasure. In other stages of life, you may be cash poor, but you might have some time on the weekends where you can help out at the local soup kitchen or animal shelter.
If you have a gift for building things, look into helping build houses for the needy with organizations like Habitat for Humanity. It's amazing how much progress a group of volunteers can make in a few hours on a Saturday. If you have a gift for music or reading, consider sharing your talent at church or at a children's hospital. They can always use volunteers to read stories or play music for sick children. You can also use those talents at your local library. Museums always need docents to give tours. Animal shelters need helpers, and there are always people who need to be fed and clothed.
My daughters Lauren and Dani mixing concrete for a volunteer project at Catholic Heart Work Camp.
For more ideas on volunteering, see The Unexpected Joys of Volunteering
Once you discover your own unique purpose in life, you will find yourself not only leading a more fulfilling life but also helping others to do the same. Ideally, at the end of your time here on this planet, you want to be able to look back and feel good about what you did with the gifts you were given. How will you leave your mark?
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