How to Identify Your Purpose

What to do when you feel like there’s more to life than what you’ve got.

Do you ever feel like there’s got to be something more to life than what you’ve got now?

I’ve so been there.

For me, the time that stands out was right after my third child was born. It seemed life was just passing me by. I was just going through the motions of work, sleep, and single parenting without any real plan. Each day was a lot like the next.

The job I loved, teaching job skills to homeless veterans, the one I’d moved to the “city” for, had gone sour a few years earlier due to an unethical boss.

I took advantage of that change to get some experience in the for-profit industry. The best way to do that quickly was temporary jobs as an administrative assistant. The assignments were all short-term, typically 8 to 5 p.m., and I was able to move around doing work for different kinds of businesses. My plan then was to build enough experience to do some consulting after a couple of years.

I spent nearly two years doing temp administrative work, including six-month stints for two different tax accounting firms, a week for a real estate agent, and several weeks for a telecommunications company. I was gaining great insight. I wasn’t bored because my duties changed significantly every time I landed a new assignment.

Then I had landed a temp assignment with a hospital system. The downside was it was an hour commute each way. But it was temporary, so I decided I could do it for six weeks. I realized I was pregnant not long after that assignment started. Thankfully, before the six weeks was up, it was clear they were going to create a full-time position for me to continue.

But this meant a lot more early mornings and late nights. It also meant after a year, my newborn was spending nearly 10 hours a day in daycare. My oldest two children, who were teenagers, were left to their own devices after school and well into the evening. And now I felt trapped. I needed that income.

After two years at the hospital, I transferred out to work for a team of five orthopedic surgeons. They were associated with the hospital so it made the transfer easy. The commute was a half-hour less each way and everything was brand new again. My next pregnancy (my 4th now) went really well up until a month before my due date. I ended up on bed rest and couldn’t work. I had some decisions to make.

This wasn’t what I had signed up for when I moved us to the city. I was already burning out and I knew it.

I was sure there had to be something more out there.

It wasn’t the first time I’d felt that way and although I didn’t know it then, it wouldn’t be the last time. I’ve gone through this cycle many times now as an adult, but it happens much less frequently since I started freelancing.

A drastic change.

There were parts of all my jobs I loved. Solving problems, creating systems, and helping people. But I was already burning out at the orthopedic office and I could feel it. Now I had four children at home, they needed me and I wanted to be there for them.For me, the answer seemed clear, move out of the city and start freelancing. I may not have needed such a drastic change if I’d known more about my true purpose then.

But when you find yourself in this situation, the important thing to remember is you can pull yourself out of that rut. Most times a job change will do it for a little while. But what I’ve discovered is that it doesn’t always last.

Focusing on your purpose makes a boring job more rewarding.

What if you can’t just change jobs or freelance like I did? One of the things I’ve found helps me to stay out of the rut or get out once I identify I’m there, is to focus on my purpose in my work.

Focusing on your purpose can help you find something about it to turn a not so fun job into something more rewarding.

But only if you know what your purpose is.

It took me almost half my life to get an inkling of my purpose and even longer than that to discover my full purpose.

Up until then, I had been involved with providing direct education and social services to low-income populations. So, I naturally thought the purpose of my work had to include some element of people in dire need.

The difference in the lives of the people I worked with was often visible to me — sometimes immediately, other times gradually. But after more than a decade in education and social service, I found myself once again in that rut.

Administrative work was different. I was helping people, but I was still discontent and not sure why. Why wasn’t I more content?

Here’s how I figured out my true purpose.

I made a huge list of all the jobs that I’d had up until that point. Just a list of the job titles, what I did in each job, and who the client was. I listed everything I did while in each job, even if it wasn’t in my actual job description.

When I made this list, I also wrote down things I did “on the side” just because someone asked me to, because it needed to be done, or because I found it interesting.

Once I had my list, I went back and circled just the things I’d done that I absolutely loved doing. The things that brought me joy or made me content.

I transferred all those things I circled to a new list and I studied them. I analyzed what I loved about those activities or projects.

I thought about WHY I loved that particular task or project. I made notes beside each one and then moved to the next one.

When I finished that list and studied the notes I had made I immediately noticed two things about my list. Everything on my list involved helping other people. That part wasn’t entirely new to me, I knew helping others was an important component for me.

But in the notes about why I loved each of those things I saw another pattern.

Every note I had made about why I loved doing a specific task or project had something noted about seeing the people I helped make progress toward their goals. Or in some cases, at least to recognize their own potential to be successful.

Like the day I took Steve to buy uniforms for his chef prep job. Or when I ran into Chuck and he told me he still had the apartment I’d helped him get after nearly a decade of being homeless.

Seeing single parents who started my life skills class without a diploma or GED, enroll in college courses. Knowing that several moms in abusive relationships had gained the courage to leave and start working toward real independence. Hearing a parent tell me that the HEP college prep program I coordinated changed their son’s outlook on his future because he now believed he had the brains and the funds to go to college.

But I also noticed that I found joy in hearing the hospital secretaries talk about what it meant to hear they were, in fact, Administrative Professionals. Just having someone introduce the change in mindset helped them see their secretarial job as more of a professional career.

I really enjoyed the process of helping the orthopedic practice go from analog dictation and transcription to digital. That project wasn’t even in my job description at first. But I got to see the pay off first-hand. After the switchover, all the staff had more time to spend with patients or on other projects because they weren’t searching for or being blamed for patient notes that hadn’t yet been transcribed.

The whole office was running better by the time I had to leave; the doctors, the medical secretaries, the medical assistants, and the medical records room staff were happier. It all came about because I wanted to help the medical records staff do their job better.

Knowing my true purpose helped me develop my future.

So even though my purpose was helping people reach their potential or do their job better, I also really found joy in getting to see, hear, or somehow know the results. I need both in my work to be truly content.

Now that I knew my true purpose, I had a better idea of how to choose the path ahead. I wanted flexibility in my schedule but I also needed to help people and at least occasionally see those results.

Knowing my true purpose has been a huge part of helping me develop what I now know is my perfect business.

Freelance Filter helps writers and other small business creatives do their business better online. I get to teach, coach some amazing women doing great things, and share my technology experience with business owners. And I very often get to see the results of their progress. To top it all off, my work with the Ninja Writers community is an extra piece I love. And I’m home and available so much more easily for my family.

Know your true purpose.

So when you feel like there’s just got to be something more out there, sit down with a pen and paper and make your list. Just get everything out on paper. Circle the parts you love and look for the patterns in those things.

Identify your true purpose. The more you incorporate your true purpose into your work, the better you will feel. The longing for more in life will begin to fade.

And the day you wake up and realize it’s been years since you had that longing, you’ll know you’ve found the perfect work for you!