How to Find Your Purpose with One Simple Question

“What’s your purpose?”

That is such a loaded question. I don’t know about you, but it’s one that tends to cause me a bit of anxiety, feelings of self-doubt, and perhaps a little envy towards those who feel so sure of why they were put here on Earth.

I know many people feel a deep knowing of what their purpose is – whether that’s raising a happy and healthy child, helping to shape government policy and laws, sharing the peace one can find through yoga, teaching financial literacy to high school students, developing the perfect wine, coaching entrepreneurs, putting humans on the moon (again), or a myriad of other things. Each one is so personal and unique – the list is virtually endless.

I’ve never felt like I have a strong or singular purpose. When I told Adam that he said, “Maybe that is your purpose.” Sigh. Sometimes he gives me Yoda when I’m just looking for something more concrete, like a financial update at a shareholders meeting. But, then again, one must be careful what one wishes for! Facts won’t help me learn more about myself or you about yourself. But great questions will!

I recently heard a question that stopped me in my tracks: “What bothers you?”

Let me share the full context. On a recent episode of the Lex Fridman podcast, Jordan Peterson, psychologist, lecturer, podcast host, and author, was talking about how he thinks through an idea. Specifically, he was talking about how people decide what to write about.

Peterson said, “And well, the first question is, what bugs you? What’s bugging you? There is such a cool thing, it’s like where is my destiny? Well, what bothers you? Well, that’s where your destiny is. Your destiny is to be found in what bothers you. Why do those things bother you? There’s a lot of things you could be bothered by, like a million things, man. But some things grip you. They bug you and they might make you resentful and bitter ’cause they bug you so much. Like they’re your things, man. They’ve got you. So then I look for a question that I would like the answer to.”

That thing might just be your purpose.

In this case, to me, the question is, “What is your destiny?” Or in other words, “What is your purpose?” But, and here’s the kicker, instead of asking yourself those questions, try asking a different one: “What bothers you?”

What bothers you is undoubtably different than what bothers me. But those little things that bug you, all the way up to the deep injustices in the world that keep you up at night, are signposts for where your time and attention could and should go.

Your less than stellar customer experience may spark an idea that revolutionizes the client experience in your industry. Your love of music and the lack of access to it for many children frustrates you, so perhaps you make it your mission to bring music to more schools. Or your belief in universal health care (and your anger that it isn’t more accessible to more people) prompts you to run for a local government office. These are just a few examples of the many things that may bother you, bug you, frustrate or infuriate you, that may point you in the direction of your purpose.

Listen to the Signs

I’ll leave you with one final thought. Don’t get too caught up in any of these questions. Pay attention to the little signs that show up and pull you in one direction or another. What’s bothering you is a great place to start. You may be uniquely designed to solve that problem for the world! But also pay attention to what lights you up and gets you excited to create and contribute.

I’m still contemplating the question, but it’s been extremely helpful for me. What do you think? What bothers you? Do you think that’s your purpose?

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