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Mark Twain once said the two greatest days in a person’s life are the day they’re born and the day they discover why. Deep? Definitely. But let’s be honest: the first day is a somewhat passive experience. The second day, however, can feel like a lot of pressure. While some of us can quickly identify our purpose (in our careers, or otherwise), others may struggle to answer the question “Why am I here?”
“I believe that everybody has a purpose and was created for a reason,” says John Maxwell, author of The Leader’s Greatest Return: Attracting, Developing, and Multiplying Leaders. “Your purpose is an anchor that keeps you grounded. It’s also your North Star that helps you soar. But it’s not always easy to find.”
If you’re struggling to find yours, Maxwell suggests asking yourself these five questions:
1. What do you do well?
This question helps you uncover that unique talent that sets you apart from others. Perhaps you’re good at public speaking or motivating others. Or maybe you’re good at finding computer bugs or supporting your friends through tough times. Whether you have a hard or soft skill, knowing what you do well will put you on your way to using your talent in your purpose.
2. What do your friends say you do well?
Unfortunately, it can be hard to recognize your own talent. When something comes naturally, it doesn’t always seem special. To get some help, ask your family or friends what they think you’re good at doing. This question gets to the heart of recognition “Most of us are not self-aware,” says Maxwell. “We all have blind spots, but you can ask others to help you identify your talents.”
Ask several people, suggests Maxwell. When you start to hear certain talents over again, you’ve identified an area of strength.
3. If you could do or be anything, what would you do or be?
This question taps into your internal desires, and can help you identify your purpose. A good way to answer this question is to consider those things you like to do in your free time or the projects at work you volunteer for or seek out. You can also think about the spots in the day when time seems to fly—what are you doing when you get lost or immersed in a project?
These things should also align with your talent, and it’s important to not confuse purpose with passion, says Maxwell. “Sometimes your passion is something you’re not any good at,” he says. “If you’re passionate about something you’re not good at, you can make it a hobby, not a career.”
4. What gives you results when you do something?
Your purpose will give you a return, and this question helps you identify the things you do that generate results. For example, if your talent is sales, you likely hit your goals every month. Or if you are good at innovative thinking, you might share ideas at work that prompt new projects. Pay attention to the tasks you do that get you accolades and awards.
Strengths and purpose are more than knowledge, says Maxwell. “Knowledge is overrated,” he says. “I can ask Siri, and she’ll tell me what I need to know. But what value is something if you know it but don’t use it? The result of knowing or learning is action application.”
5. How can you get better?
Once you identify your uniqueness, you need to fine-tune and work harder at it to set yourself apart. While having talent helps make you special, developing it further can make you strong. “Your growth potential is connected to your strengths,” says Maxwell. “In your weak areas, your growth potential is low, but when you’re working to improve your strength, you have a higher capacity.”
Why purpose is important
When someone is drifting, they probably haven’t identified their purpose in their life, says Maxwell. “Once you discover your purpose, you can do life on purpose,” he says. “Intentionality takes you to a whole new level.”
No one has ever been successful doing something that they didn’t like, and no one has ever been successful doing something they can’t do well, says Maxwell. “I see millions of people every day doing something they don’t like doing and wondering why they’re not a success,” he says. “Success is knowing your purpose in life and having a growth plan to help you reach your maximum potential.”