I wish I were paid by the number of conversations I have with people about discovering their unique purposes. When we read the Bible or look at major events in history, some people played significant roles that impacted all of humanity. People like Moses, David, Ruth, Mary, and Paul set a high bar when it comes to purpose. If you happened to grow up attending church, you heard about these heroes and were likely challenged to be like them. There is a fundamental problem though with that challenge. They weren’t really preparing for the role they played. Some of them tried to avoid their calling and ran the other direction. Also, there were only so many opportunities to lead a nation out of slavery, to slay a giant, or to serve as the mother of Jesus.
This leaves me with two questions we need to wrestle with: Does God have a unique purpose for all of us or just a few of us? Secondly, if he does have a unique purpose for all of us, how do we discover it? Let’s quickly address the first question.
According to Psalm 139 and multiple New Testament passages, God made every person to uniquely express the image of God. There are no two people who look the same or act the same. He also gave gifts to every person to be used to build-up others. Gifts, strengths, and skills aren’t just to be enjoyed by the one with the gifts; they are given with the purpose of being used to serve others. Since we have all been uniquely designed and uniquely gifted, we have a unique purpose. This leads us to the second question: How do we find our purpose?
Finding Your Purpose
Let me propose six actions that will help us “cultivate” our purpose.
- Keep moving ahead. A moving car is much easier to steer than one sitting still. As we faithfully move into opportunities that God puts right in front of us, we usually discover the next step. I wish I could say we discover the rest of our steps, but life rarely works out that way. Faithfulness with “the now” is very underrated. It is the faithfulness in the small things that prepares us for the next thing.
- Look back often as you move ahead. We can see trends and gifts in our lives as we look back at events and accomplishments. We see tendencies and patterns. We see how people have impacted and shaped us. I encourage people to look at their lives in five-year increments and identify events, accomplishments, role models, and successes.
- Know your strengths. Resources like Strengths Finder can help you identify your core strengths. It is important to avoid strength envy and objectively identify your top strengths. Close friends can also help you identify these if they have a few years of history with you.
- Identify your core values. Core values guide most of your decisions and actions. These are elements that you want to be known for. A few of the values that guide how I live are spirituality, respect, authenticity, and clarity. Simply honoring these values will keep me from making certain decisions or pursuing certain opportunities. Values serve as guardrails.
- Discover your passions. When people are great at something, they usually have a passion for it and find fulfillment in it. Malcomb Gladwell has the 10,000-hour rule which says that to master something, you need to devote approximately 10,000 hours to it. If you are going to invest that much time into something, there needs to be some passion involved. What is it that lights you up and gets you super excited? What would be some of your dream jobs? What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t on the clock at work? These questions can help you identify some passions.
- Finally, the last and most important step. Since purpose is cultivated and not simply discovered, we need to process the above five items, usually with other people, to begin to live into our purpose. I love using the word “cultivated.” Here is my theory: When it comes to purpose, we need to experiment in our 20s, edit in our 30s, hone it in our 40s, master it and duplicate it in our 50s, and perhaps coach it in our 60s and 70s. I can’t point you to a profound principle for this theory, but it seems like the greatest achievers follow this type of pattern.
If you are a teen or are in your twenties, use this time to explore and experiment in various jobs, internships, and roles. Better to experiment in your twenties than in your fifties. Whatever your age, keep moving and process the above items with trusted friends. In so doing, I believe you will cultivate a unique purpose that will leave a lasting mark on humanity.