Find Your Purpose with 1 Simple Question

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He who has a “Why” to live can bear almost any “How” – Friedrich Nietzche.

Having a sense of purpose is key to having passion, energy and clarity in your life. Recent research even shows that aligning yourself with your Ikigai (生き甲斐、Japanese) – your reason for being – can help you live longer.

Unfortunately, people are increasingly confused and dispassionate about what they’re doing. The fact that mass media and society are overloading us with hundreds of messages daily doesn’t help: figuring out what you really want is no easy task.

See what I mean?

Life Without Purpose is Mediocrity

At University, I got to study with some of the world’s brightest young people.

Guess what? Most of them had no passion; no ikigai. I often asked my course mates why they were at university; what their dreams and goals were. 90% of the time, the answer was “I don’t know… To get a good job, I guess.”

Society had taught them that getting a degree – and then a career – was the smart thing to do and that was that. These brilliant people were capable of extraordinary things; they could’ve been anything they wanted to be.

And yet, they didn’t even think about being more than salaried employees. Their potential was going to waste because they had no purpose; they were just going through the motions.

How about you? If you aren’t clear and passionate about your purpose, you’re setting yourself up for mediocrity. Here’s how you can make sure you’re going in the right direction with a simple question.

Asking Your Way to Your Purpose

  1. Write down a goal, ambition or target.
  2. Ask yourself why you have it. Write down the answer
  3. Look at the answer and ask “Why” again.
  4. Repeat step 3 until you’re left with the core thought. If it seems silly, irrelevant or foreign – toss it out. If it gives you deep feeling of relief and resonates somewhere deep within, congratulations – you’ve found a piece of your purpose.

My Own Story

When I found this exercise, I made a list of the 10 main goals and desires I had in my life. By the time I was done, only 3 were left; 7 were discarded.

Turns out, I didn’t want to pursue a corporate career; I didn’t care about having a luxury car or sleeping with as many women as possible either.

What I really wanted to do was help other people, have an exciting life and become a kick-ass person. Once I figured that out, everything started to come together. Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m fulfilling my purpose by helping my readers!

What Next?

I don’t believe a single exercise is powerful enough to reveal your life’s purpose in its entirety. I know Steve Pavlina has a kick-ass post that has helped many people, but finding your ikigai is an ongoing process.

That’s what makes the “Why” exercise so good. It helps you clear your mind of  junk – goals you don’t need, ambitions that aren’t yours – and focus on what matters time and time again. Use it for introspection and your purpose will always be clear to you.