Living life ON purpose and WITH purpose gives me more satisfaction than chasing happiness. Don’t freak out if you don’t know your Purpose with a capital P. We’re talking about living your life ON purpose—living deliberately—and living a life aligned WITH your values.
How to live life on purpose is a challenge we all face throughout our lives. Being on-track and on-purpose leads to a deeply satisfying, full, and productive life.
How to Live Life on Purpose
To live your life on purpose, you align your life with your values rather than what you think your values should be or what other people think they should be.
We all have some kind of internal alert system that lets us know when we are living on purpose and when we’re not. Typically, when we’re off-track we know we’re off track.
I have never done anything that turns out to be a mistake that I don’t have at least a little feeling that maybe what I’m about to do isn’t such a good idea.
While I am not always thrilled with my seemingly endless ways of going off-purpose; I certainly do learn a lot from these experiences.
And oddly, I believe that’s part of our human experience too. I don’t have an official reason that ALL people do this. Maybe it’s curiosity? Maybe it’s the desire for a little adventure? Maybe the resulting bad feelings help us appreciate when we are on track.
However, in an effort to keep us all on purpose, because that IS an awesome feeling, here’s a list of things that can trick us into not living our own lives on-purpose and 7 strategies for staying on-purpose.
7 Strategies to Stay On-Purpose
We want to do something that feels on-track and on-purpose but it’s taking longer than we think it should. This is probably one of the biggest reasons people begin to doubt they are on-track. They take action and then they feel it should not take as long as it is taking. We often overestimate how quickly we can achieve something and when we don’t do it in that amount of time, we call the experience a failure and give up on it.
We look at others and their timelines and make comparisons that ultimately do us harm.
On-Purpose Strategy: Our timing is unique to us. Often, we quit before we have made the shift, where what we are attempting solidifies or takes form. Many things feel like failure…until they don’t anymore. That shift can take place in an instant. Sometimes almost without warning.
Look for signs that things are “warming up.” Remember that game from childhood? You’d look for something and another person would give you clue about whether you were warm or not. This time, you have to feel the clues of whether something is getting warmer or cooler. Go in the direction of warmer. It may be subtle but look and feel for it.
There’s something we want to do that feels on-purpose but it’s harder than we thought it would be. Have you ever tried to learn something and then discovered that it was MUCH harder than you had imagined and you quit? I’m totally guilty of that. I tried to learn dancing a couple of years ago. I quit after two lessons.
Recently, I tried to learn some new technology and it was much harder than I thought it would be. I wanted to give up. But I couldn’t because someone was counting on me to learn it and to be able to provide a service. I stuck with it and almost magically, after a few weeks, I knew how to use the technology. This encouraged me to try another new thing and the same thing happened.
On-Purpose Strategy: Now I know, that for me, learning that at first appears difficult or even impossible can often be learned with perseverance and a belief and intent that it can be learned. Set the intent, that you can and will learn or accomplish what you need to do and that you will stick with it until you do. Take a short break if you need to clear your mind.
I am amazed at the difference that setting the intent to learn something and not quitting until I do, makes. Sometimes something I’ve struggled with for weeks will suddenly become clear very quickly after declaring my commitment to myself.
We’re concerned with what other people think. We’re social creatures. We care about what people think, like our life depends upon it. And our life did depend upon it when we were kids. Now that we’re grown-ups, we can still feel overly concerned with how others perceive what we’re doing.
Maybe we’ll look silly? Maybe we’ll look dumb? I do struggle with this. I want to look cool and in control all the time even though I know that’s not even possible. Not only is it not possible, it’s not even a good thing to try for. Being vulnerable and acting with purpose is where movement and growth happen.
We might stay more comfortable in some ways, but ultimately it is not for our best.
On-Purpose Strategy: Keep in mind that most people are way less concerned with what you are doing than you think. In addition, most people will take their attitude from you. If you feel ambivalent, they will pick up on that and reflect that back. If you radiate confidence in yourself, they will reflect that back. Eventually. You ultimately set the tone for how people perceive you.
We’re concerned we’ll get kicked out of one of our tribes. We belong to many tribes: our families, our friendship circles, our work, our churches, and our communities. There are times when choosing to live your life according to your own values will move you out of a tribe. This can be your choice and sometimes it is not.
If you have to sidestep your own values to belong to a certain tribe,: you have to seriously question whether that tribe is best for you.
On a happier note, sometimes your tribe will surprise you with acceptance.
On-Purpose Strategy: The groups we are aligned with can change over time. Sometimes we outgrow a particular group or tribe. It happens. Accept that for each loss; you will have an expansion into another group that is more aligned with your purpose.
Being on purpose doesn’t provide immediate happiness. To chase happiness as a 24/7 way of life doesn’t quite lead to happiness. But living your life with purpose and on purpose leads to a feeling that might just be better than happiness.
However, sometimes living your life aligned with your values and purpose leads to very uncomfortable and very NOT-happy feelings. This can happen especially at the beginning of new ventures and experiences.
There is no guarantee, that if you genuinely believe that you are acting inline with your values and with purpose, that life will turn out all roses and happiness. Yet, I can tell you that there are feelings that are better than that.
On-Purpose Strategy: Happiness can be fleeting and attempting to hold too tight to that particular feeling can make it impossible to achieve. Enjoy and savor happy moments for sure. But learn to relish and value the feeling of living on purpose.
We hang on too tight to earlier purposes and values. I believe that our purpose in life evolves over the years. We might have one purpose at 20 and a totally different one at 40. In my twenties I was busy being a mom, a wife, and a good Catholic. I know women who have held similar purposes throughout their entire lives—beautifully. That didn’t turn out to be my own experience though I did hang on for dear life for years!
On-Purpose Strategy: Accept that your purpose and values will change over time. Be willing to explore this at your own speed. You do not need to abandon old purposes all at once and can gradually discover and lean into new ways you want to live on purpose.
We don’t know other people who are living with similar purposes. I have beautiful friendships and strong family connections. But I don’t know a single person who is living like me with the same kinds of values and purpose. It’s scary to be living off the narrow track that was laid out before me when I was a kid.
On-Purpose Strategy: Perhaps this is the BEST sign that you are living your life on-purpose. We are all so unique that it amazes me how we attempt to fit ourselves into boxes that we think will match up with everyone else’s. When your life is different that those around you, you have definitely stepped out of the box!
Stepping Out of the Box and in to Your Purpose
Start with baby steps and go as slow as you need. Remember that living on-purpose and with purpose is not about knowing what your “Purpose” is. It is about aligning with your values and what is right for you.
We often seriously try to bend and shape ourselves in ways to please other people or our culture in general. Or we follow outdated ways of living in an attempt to hold onto something that worked for us before. Or we are convinced that there is NO way we could possibly be happy if we choose to do what deep inside, we know is right for us.
Yes, it does take a certain amount of bravery to live your unique and on-purpose life. I’m not going to lie about that. An on-purpose life can be uncomfortable at times, especially during some of the transitions. The reward is that you get that feeling, that is unlike any other feeling, of living life on-purpose—Your Purpose.
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I'm a former counselor, career services leader, and college advisor. Now I coach and write at My Think Big Life promoting health and personal growth.