Have you ever felt like there’s something lurking beneath the surface each day, asking you what the purpose of this life is?

As I entered my thirties the urges that whispered to me occasionally became stronger. Those bubbles of desire to reconnect with my passions and live each day with more purpose.

While I’ve always been pretty passion-driven, knowing as a young child what I wanted to study at university, as the world opened up to me I realised things had changed.

I’ve worked in some cracking jobs with great people: been immersed in muddy waterways pulling fish nets; seen Queensland’s beautiful Channel Country turn from desert to river; travelled overseas to be part of soil and satellite projects…

But as the years went on, I’ve often had a niggling feeling that I wasn’t living my full potential. And that my energy investment wasn’t generating the returns I wanted and that the world could benefit from.

As I looked around me and dug a little below the surface with friends and colleagues, I discovered that many of them felt frustrated, trapped, resigned or totally bored with those 8-hour days at work.

And clearly millions feel like this.

This video was released a week ago by Jay Shetty and on Facebook, it’s already had 68 million views on Facebook (and has been shared over 1.5 million times; I was one person who shared it) plus 67,000 views on YouTube.

Why is this a problem? Because ultimately, the purpose is an important part of happiness. The scientists at Berkeley say that happiness is made up of a combination of things but they sum it up as fleeting feelings of joy, contentment, positive wellbeing combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.

So if so many people are wondering what they’re doing and feeling like a square peg in a round hole, what can we do about it?

To start to answer that question I was drawn to explore what lights me up now and what sparks have I seen over my 37 years on this planet. I asked myself but also other people — friends and family — what they’d observed, for example, when I was most driven, enthusiastic, living with purpose and happiness.

I went deeper and asked myself “how could I make more of a difference in my little patch of the world?”.

I believe exploring the internal world as well as the outside world (travel!) leads to a more open mind and open opportunities.

Now before I go any further, I totally pay homage to the fact that in many countries getting paid work is not easy let alone finding work that’s interesting, but this blog post is not about these broader global realities.

I’ve read and been part of many conversations arguing for and against working in a job or business that you’re passionate about. Without going into all the details here (see the reading list at the end of this post), the key sides of the argument are:

Against: That trying to monetise your passion will likely result in the complete death of that passion as well as financial hardship as, c’mon, who’s going to pay you for delivering your purpose to the world? The other aspect is that just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at it.

Ok, fair enough, what about the other side?

For: That living and working with purpose lights you up and that energy also inspires others. You’ll be more likely to work through inevitable challenges in your job or business and succeed at your goals. Plus, according to the smart people at Deloitte in their US-focused Unlocking the passion of the Explorer report, the passionate worker will be the one to reignite the economy of the future.

For and against - indicated by tick and cross symbols

For and against arguments for starting a passion-based business or career (indicated by tick and cross symbols).

So with all these ticks for working in an area you’re passionate about, I figured many people would be working in a job they loved. Apparently not.

Research by Gallup shows that globally more than 80% of people are disengaged in their jobs! In the USA/Canada, it’s 72%; Australia/New Zealand 76%; Latin America 79% and it keeps going up from there. Wow.

I had knee surgery in 2016 and I am grateful that my surgeon showed a passion for his work. If I’d had a zombie-style surgeon who clearly didn’t care, I’d be running (ok, shuffling on crutches) for the hills.

If you’re wondering whether you’re connected to what lights you up and helps you live with purpose and are ready to start navigating this windy road (because it’s definitely not easy!), read on for the six steps I have taken.

1. Find space to reflect

Do you know what values drive you?

Are you feeling fulfilled that you are contributing your unique spark to the world day-to-day?

What did you love and naturally do as a child?

What are you doing when you feel in flow?

These are tough questions to answer, but if you’ve felt that niggle that you aren’t doing what you are passionate about or you’re not living the life you want, then it’s time to explore.

I recommend finding some space from the everyday. I love traveling so I use the space created through being in a new place to tap into myself. We humans can sometimes hide our unhappiness in busy-ness. I bet the last time you took a really great holiday you picked up on some interests of yours that had been going unfulfilled.

2. Identify people that inspire you

Start widening your awareness. Who is doing awesome stuff that you’d also like to do?

It’s easy these days to find inspiration online, like through Instagram or Facebook. I’m not necessarily talking about celebrities here by the way, inspiration could come from anyone nearby, such as a local business person or a relative.

Who seems driven and on-purpose and happy?

Discover the superhero strengths inside. Find your purpose. Man opening shirt showing 'Superman' S symbol

Discover the superhero strengths inside.

3. Get clear on your strengths

Agreeing with the point in the Against argument, if you want to make some money to get by, you need to combine your passion with your strengths.

You can also ask friends and family what unique attributes they see in you and what they’d pay you for. Some helpful tools I’ve used are Strengthsfinder 2.0 ($15USD) and also VIA (free). I had some ‘aha’ moments realising why I liked or disliked certain roles and situations as a result of these tests.

Unfortunately, in many organisations it is still general practice to encourage everyone to work on their weaknesses, their non-talents. This can lead to further disengagement.

4. Be a little responsible (if needed) and think ‘side hustle’

Wet blanket alert! So of course, there are many benefits for those people around you when you get out of bed excited every day. You’ll likely have a spring in your step.

But if you have commitments, like financially supporting a family or looking after elderly parents for hours every day, you’ll need to work carefully on fulfilling these commitments. Otherwise, you will likely find yourself stressed and others around you hurt and confused.

One approach that I definitely advocate is exploring a side hustle, while you maintain your normal income. Search ‘side hustle’ online and you’ll find the internet is abuzz with this topic.

According to John Crudele, in the New York Post, 44 million Americans have what it calls “side hustles”.

I recommend checking out Chris Guillebeau’s Side Hustle School podcast. Chris has long been an advocate for living the life you want, rather than conforming to what’s ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ and he offers fabulous bite-size (4-8 minute) podcasts.

You can also ask your employer to reduce your hours slightly if you want to give yourself a bit of scope to explore new work ideas through, for example, work experience with a company you admire or through building an online business.

For me, I started thinking about my business directions and blogging years before I left my job. It wasn’t a true side hustle though but that was a matter of timing; when my job situation changed, I launched. I just made sure I had a buffer of cash to pay the bills while I sorted my income streams out.

5. Set a few small goals and communicate them

Setting (specific!) goals and communicating them is something I’m not particularly great at but it’s an important action to take. The general consensus is that people who write down their goals and have accountability partners are more likely to achieve their goals.

Communicating about what you want to do — even if small steps — will prompt others around you to help.

How many times have you said ‘I want to…’ and that’s led to someone offering ideas, contacts or information?

Plus being upfront with your goals helps your loved ones adapt around you where they need to.

I recommend starting relatively small with goals too. So you can see your progress and not get disenchanted.

While pondering the long-term vision can be inspiring, it’s not tangible. Humans need to be able to set in place goals they can work on day-by-day. Check out this article that summarises Todd Herman’s 90-day goal approach. This is similar to an approach I used in a coaching and accountability program through The Quiet Collective in 2017.

Remember why you are on this path. Man and child walking down an outdoor path.

Remember why you are on this path. Source: Pixabay.

6. Remind yourself often of why you’re on this path

There will be challenging times with exploring and pursuing a change. It’s critical that you remind yourself of the reasons you chose this pathway as our brains have a habit of glossing over things.

Also keep in mind that you would have had challenges if you’d stayed where you were (for example, sapped energy, coworkers you don’t click with, less time with family). Whatever those challenges were; remember them clearly. Write them down.

It also helps immensely to write down the reasons why you’re pursuing the new path.

For example:

  1. I want to help… to stop them suffering…
  2. Everyday I am getting out of bed energised to…
  3. Enough is enough! I will no longer stand by while…

So I ask you if you’re feeling like a square peg in a round hole, wouldn’t you feel better-feeling freer to walk your own path?

Have I got it sorted? No way! But I’m getting closer and the process up until now has been rewarding. I feel less frustrated and more empowered to go for what I want, including working with innovators to help them improve lives and our environment to make the world a better place. And I’m still curious, trying new things and mashing together the good bits.

Recommended resources

This article was originally written for and published on Owning 30, a site with the objectives to empower, educate and inspire women in their thirties. It has been updated and published here.

Some images are sourced under license and should not be republished.

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