50 Questions to Uncover Your Purpose

Our careers tend to play a significant role in defining our identities. It's often a reflection of our strengths, our values, our contributions.

We want our work to inspire us, to have purpose. We want that Simon Sinek-kind-of-Why. A purpose that goes beyond ourselves.

Though, sometimes this desire for purpose can lead to what The Atlantic is calling 'Workism,' a sometimes unhealthy obsession with work and meaning.

As someone who has sought to both uncover my why and cultivate a healthier relationship with my career, I've learned is there is no singular definition for purpose. It's a feeling. And only you know if what you're working on feels purposeful.

Below is a series of questions, prompts, and ideas that can help you uncover your purpose.

This process is intended to be slow. The questions are deliberate and designed to prompt a healthy dose of self-reflection.

I'd love to hear where you land in the process, shoot me a note!

Dara Elliott | Brand Strategist 

To get clarity on your purpose, it’s best to start by uncovering clues from your past professional and personal experiences.

First, get a broad overview of your career history:

1. How did you come to be here in your life?
Reflect on how you got to be where you are today, what choices did you make? Why? Which ones still align with who you are today?

2. What have you achieved to date?
Reflect on your past accomplishments. What are you most proud of?

 Take a look at how you spend your resources:

3. How do you spend your time?
Review your to-do list, your calendar, and your current commitments. For this one, you’ll want to look at the past year as well as what you have coming up.

4. How do you spend your money?
Review your bank, Paypal, and Venmo account. Thoroughly analyze your spending habits for the year.

Find out what’s not working, this will likely be easy to come up with:

5. When do you feel drained?
Looking at both your work and personal life, what things do you dread and avoid doing?
    6. What or who makes you feel angry or frustrated?
    What do ruminate about, or who do you vent about? What specifically irks you about those scenarios or people?
      7. What change do you want to see?
      This may be something you believe personally or professionally needs to change. It could be a cultural observation, a broader social issue, or something as simple as wanting to see people enjoy their lives more.

        Identify what is working. This is often more challenging because we tend to take our gifts for granted.

        8. What are you distinctly good at?
        Identify your inherent signature strengths along with the skills you’ve acquired through work and personal life. Don’t just list adjectives, get specific.

        9. What do people come to you for advice on?
        This gives you an objective perspective on your strengths and skills.
          10. What activities get you into flow?
          Identify the work and personal activities you naturally gravitate to, the ones that energize and engage you, the ones you find yourself getting lost in.
            11. What do you enjoy talking about, listening to, watching or reading?
            Identify the topics you’re innately curious about. It’s helpful to observe when you light up in a conversation, what articles you click on, the podcasts you listen to, the videos you watch, your browser history, your recent book purchases etc.
              12. What are your quirks?
              What makes you, you? What are your unique traits and/or habits people typically associate with you or remember about you?

              Get to know your preferences and tendencies.

              For some answers, you may be somewhere in between. If so, include specifics around the scenario. And when relevant, include percentages to indicate where you are on the spectrum.

              13. What’s your preferred work environment?
              Home, coffee shop, open coworking space, private office, tropical island etc. Get as specific as you can regarding location, people, noise levels, and design elements.
                14. What’s your preferred communication style?
                Writing, one-on-one conversations, group discussions, public speaking, teaching, performing etc. This can be a combination of what you enjoy, and what you’re best at.
                  15. Do you prefer predictability or spontaneity?
                  Do prefer having a plan or keeping your options open? Which one do you find less stressful to cope with?
                    16. Do you tend to be more introverted or extroverted?
                    Do you tend to get more energized by solitary activities or social interaction? This is less about whether you are shy or outgoing.
                      17. Do you tend to be more interested in ideas or facts?
                      When coming to a conclusion about something, do you look for theories and deeper meanings or do you look for data? We all use both, but which one is more important to you, or simply more enjoyable for you to dissect?
                        18. Do you tend to make decisions based on logic or emotions?
                        When dealing with people, do you care more about coming to the practical solution, or coming to a consensus?
                          19. Do you tend to respond to inner or outer expectations? Neither or both?
                          Are you more likely to complete something if you believe in it or if someone is counting on you to get it done?

                          In addition to observing the past for hindsight, it’s critical to look within to uncover insights.

                          Often, we don’t take the time to understand ourselves. This lack of self-knowledge is why we find ourselves on career paths that aren’t a fit.

                          This process will help you better understand that ever elusive subject: yourself.

                          The following questions will require you to get raw and vulnerable. What you find may be illuminating.

                          Let’s start with your self-image:

                          20. What personality traits are you most proud of?
                          This tends to be something you positively identify with, often, something you’re known for within your close-knit circle of friends/family.

                          21. What identity do you most associate with?
                          This could be being a startup founder, a wellness enthusiast, a modern parent, a marathon runner, a creative etc. 

                          22. What elements of yourself are you constantly striving to improve?
                          This could be related to your social or financial status, and/or a physical or personality trait.

                          23. What’s a common misconception about you?
                          This is a false assumption people make about you based on split judgments or when they haven’t had a chance to get to know you.

                          24. What do you wish people knew about you?
                          This is something that you know is true about you but it is not widely known.

                          Next, let’s get to know your aspirations and challenges.

                          25. Is there someone you would trade careers with?
                          Whose career do you admire? Who is doing something that you'd like to be doing one year from now? These people are often a mirror reflecting back what you want. 

                          26. Who do you want to connect with?
                          Who are you fascinated by?  Who do you want to learn from?  Who would you like to build a relationship with? What community would you like to be a part of?

                          27. What's your vision for your career one year from now?
                          What would success look like? How do you want to feel? What results will you see? What kind of impact will you make? Be bold and think outside the box.

                          28. What habits would you need to break to hit your goals?
                          We all have habits that can sabotage our progress. Identify the things you do that are holding you back.

                          29. What habits would you need to cultivate to hit your goals?
                          In addition to breaking habits, hitting your goals require you to step up and be the person you want to be. What new habits will propel you forward?

                          30. What skills would you like to improve upon or learn?
                          Learning and growth are essential to making your pivot and are core to career fulfillment, identify what expertise you’d like to build upon.

                          31. Aside from your career, what two other areas of your life are most challenging?
                          These are challenges that consistently take up mindshare. Typically they’ve persisted over the past few months or longer. It’s could be in the area of love, family, friends, health etc.

                          32. List 10 things you would do in an ideal yet realistic week.
                          This will give you insight into how you would spend your time if you had complete autonomy.

                           Now, it's time to talk finances.

                          33. What type of work would you do for less money than you make now?
                          To prevent you from overvaluing money, this question helps you see what type of work you truly enjoy. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean you'll have to make less money in order to enjoy your work.

                          34. How much money do you need to make? 
                          Identify how much money you'll need to cover at least six months of expenses. This will help you make a pivot that supports your financial needs and doesn't send you into panic mode. 

                          35. How much money would you ideally like to make? 
                          Often, we come up with arbitrary money goals. Identify how much you ideally want to make and what you plan to do with this money. This helps you understand your intentions while giving you a tangible horizon to work towards.

                          It’s time to codify all your answers into your core values.

                          All the questions you’ve answered in both the hindsighting and insighting process have led you to this exercise.

                          A few notes on what your core values are...

                          Your core values are essential. They represent your deeply held beliefs, your highest priorities. They are your north star, your guiding principles. They will serve as a manifesto for your career and your life.
                            Your core values have always been there. They're in the significant stories of your past and present. They reflect the choices you’ve made and your desires. Likewise, when you’ve been frustrated or riled up, it’s probably because your core values were violated.
                              Your core values will remain largely the same. Even when your interests and goals evolve, your core values are unlikely to change significantly. Of course, you may refine them as you foster more self-awareness.

                                      And what your core values are not...

                                      Your core values are not things you ‘should’ value. Identify what is truly important to you, not what will make you appear virtuous. Selecting ‘generosity’ or ‘aesthetics’ does not make you a better or worse person. It just makes you, you.
                                        Your core values are not the same as fundamental human values. For the most part, we follow the ‘golden rule’ and aspire to be loving and kind. We care deeply about our loved ones and our community. Don’t mistake these for your core values.
                                          Your core values are not tangible. They are not things you can have like money or enjoy like a vacation. They are intangibles that reflect what matters most to you like growth, autonomy, impact etc.
                                            Your core values are not a laundry list. If everything is a core value to you, then nothing is really a priority. A useful set of core values are ones you know inside out and can recite from memory.

                                                    You’re ready to define your core values!

                                                    36. What are your core values?
                                                    Select five or fewer core values to focus on. Phrase them in tangible how statements.
                                                    • Evaluate how you are living by your core values today, and how you can further live by them.
                                                    • Evaluate all future decisions and opportunities moving forward.

                                                    Here’s are examples of core values:

                                                    Open-Mindedness - seek fresh perspectivesembody varying points of view. 
                                                    Growth - welcome expansive and challenging experiences.
                                                    Mastery - choose quality over quantity, long-term over short-term.

                                                    It’s time to play detective. Review the above answers from a macro lens, now connect the dots.

                                                    37. What patterns do you see? 

                                                    38. What career options come to mind?
                                                    Braindump all your potential career options without judgment. Build upon what's already working. Get creative and include business ideas, consulting/freelancing opportunities, startup roles, remote work etc.

                                                    39. From the above brainstorm, what options are you most drawn to?
                                                    With more options available than ever before, it’s both liberating and totally overwhelming. To keep your options open while preventing decision fatigue, narrow it down to three paths. Each path should be distinct, not just a variation.

                                                    To hone in your purpose, let’s begin the foresighting process. Run each of your three potential options through this series of future-focused questions:

                                                    40. What is your gut reaction to this option?
                                                    3, 2, 1 answer. Don't think about it, just write down the first thing that comes to mind.

                                                    41. Do these options reflect your core values?
                                                    Your core values are your anchor, any leap you make moving forward needs to hit on your core values.

                                                    42. Will you enjoy the day-to-day work?
                                                    Will you have autonomy over your work? Are you likely to experience flow while engaged in your work? Are you willing to do the nitty-gritty that comes with the work?

                                                    43. Will you experience growth?
                                                    Does this leap expand your strengths and skills? Will this pivot challenge you to move forward beyond your limiting beliefs? Will you get to explore new ideas and experiences?

                                                    44. Will you have a meaningful impact?
                                                    Do you care about the problem you’re solving? Will you play a critical role? Does this have the potential to drive tangible change at scale? Can this create meaningful, positive results? It doesn’t need to be grand, just worthwhile to you.

                                                    45. Is there a market for this?
                                                    Is there a need for your work? Can you get specific on who you will serve? Is there a niche you can clearly identify? Will people pay you? Depending on your financial circumstance, your next pivot may not need to make money right away. However, you’ll want evidence that it will. This will keep you motivated and give you direction.

                                                    46. Are you willing to overcome the obstacles to pursue this?
                                                    Every pivot has obstacles. Is your desire to make this pivot strong enough to overcome the obstacles? Be honest with yourself.

                                                    You now have the hindsight, insight, and foresight to answer the question:

                                                    47. What's next for you?
                                                    Take the pressure off, there’s not just one singular, perfect career leap for you. Your career is meant to be fluid. Make a decision, and let learning and growth lead you. The only thing that will keep you stuck is not deciding, so decide.

                                                    Yay, you’ve identified your career leap, now it’s time to commit to making this change.

                                                    Commitment is required to take the leap. This means that as long as this pivot feels aligned, you’re committed to saying ‘yes’ to this pivot, and ‘no’ to anything that may sabotage your commitment.

                                                    But remember, commitments are not meant to be handcuffs. If you outgrow this path and want to make another pivot, do not stick to the plan at all costs. Again, your career is fluid. Only you know when it’s aligned, and when you’re making excuses to stay stuck.

                                                    At this point, you’ve got clarity on your purpose. And you’re committed to making it happen. 

                                                    Now, it’s time to take the leap.

                                                    48. What micro action can you take to start living your purpose?
                                                    What can you learn? Who can you reach out to exchange expertise and support? What can you participate in? What experiment can you run to test your pivot? What real-world data can you collect?

                                                    While it's a micro-step, it’s challenging.

                                                    We visualize our ideal careers. We do endless research. We take in tons of information. But we often don’t take steps to move forward.

                                                    If you’ve been around the personal development world, you know there’s a lot of emphasis on action.

                                                    In the rational camp, there’s the idea of ‘taking massive action.’ This is the concept of taking action until you get the results you want. It’s about trying again and again until you hit your goal. It’s about grit and resilience. This works for some, and for others, it leads to burnout with minimal results.

                                                    And in the woo-woo camp, there’s ‘alignment before action.’ This is the idea of taking action only when you’re inspired to do so. Instead of forcing yourself to take action, this philosophy encourages you to boost your mood doing things you enjoy first, and then take action from a positive, energetic state. Again, this works for some and leads to procrastination for others.

                                                    The thing is before you take either of these approaches, you have to step back and understand why you’re not taking action in the first place.

                                                    49. What might be stopping you from taking action?

                                                    Now, this where the cognitive-behavioral model comes into play. The most common reason we don't take action is because of the thoughts we have about a circumstance.

                                                    Every circumstance is neutral and objective. Thoughts are what make a circumstance positive or negative.

                                                    Thoughts are subjective, emotional responses.

                                                    Thoughts then create feelings.

                                                    Feelings are a physical, visceral reaction.

                                                    Feelings then determined an action, you'll either take or not take.

                                                    And finally, your action (or lack thereof) determines your results.

                                                    Here’s an example that demonstrates two ways you could interpret your circumstance...

                                                    Circumstance: You’re in the career you’re in.

                                                    Initial thought: I hate what I’m doing but I don’t know what to do next.
                                                    Feeling: Confused.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck doing the status quo.

                                                    Better thought: I want to make a change so I am going to figure out what I want to do next.
                                                    Feeling: Motivated.
                                                    Action: Proactively researching and testing out ways to get unstuck.
                                                    Result: Clarity to move forward.

                                                    See, thoughts are powerful. A subtle shift in thought could take you from stuck to having the clarity to move forward.

                                                    But, thoughts are also pervasive. In an instant, a new thought could get you stuck once again.

                                                    To get take the leap, become aware of thinking traps that may be preventing you from pivoting your career...

                                                    What If-ing
                                                    Thought: What if I make the wrong decision. What if I change my mind. What if ‘they’ think this. What if I suck at it. What if it doesn’t work out. What if {insert worry}.
                                                    Feeling: Worry.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Thought: I’m not sure if this pivot is the perfect path for me.
                                                    Feeling: Doubt.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Too Busy-ing
                                                    Thought: I don’t have time. I have too much going on right now to make a pivot.
                                                    Feeling: Overwhelmed.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Sunk Cost-ing
                                                    Thought: If I pivot, everything I’ve done so far will be a waste. I will have to start all over again. I’m probably going to make less money.
                                                    Feeling: Loss-aversion.  
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Thought: I’m known as a {insert title}. If I make a change, I’ll lose my identity. People might think I’m “flaky,” “a job hopper,” or “a quitter.”
                                                    Feeling: Attached.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Thought: My current situation is not that bad. Maybe I can put up with it for a little longer.
                                                    Feeling: Resigned.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Thought: I can’t do this because I wasn’t born with this {insert trait, talent, privilege}. If only I wasn’t {insert disadvantage}, then I could do it. No one understands my situation. My situation is so hard.  
                                                    Feeling: Helpless.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Thought: It’s not worth pursuing because I’ll never be as good as so-and-so. Wow, so-and-so has made so much more progress than me, maybe I’m not cut out for this.
                                                    Feeling: Not enough.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Wait Until-ing
                                                    Thought: Once I {insert excuse...take this course, get validation etc.}, then I’ll be ready.
                                                    Feeling: Not ready.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    Thought: Making this change is too hard. It’s too much effort. I have to do this, and this, and that.
                                                    Feeling: Dread.
                                                    Action: None.
                                                    Result: Stuck.

                                                    If we don't pause to become aware of our thoughts, we fall into thinking traps.

                                                    50. Observe your thoughts, what thinking traps are keeping you stuck?
                                                    Give each of your thinking traps a name like ‘What If-ing.’ Reframe your thoughts.

                                                    Purpose is a process, not a destination.

                                                    Living on purpose is an iterative process, where you experiment, learn and grow. Increased awareness is the only goal here. Trust that this awareness will lead you to the next step, and that step is the only thing you need to know now.

                                                    Along the way, you'll get greater clarity on your values, strengths, and contributions. The reality is most of us don't have one singular purpose, but rather we want to lead purposeful lives. This is cultivated by following the breadcrumbs, moving towards a path that inspires us. 

                                                    And remember, your career does not define your self-worth.

                                                    Your career is just one facet of your identity. While it plays a role in giving your life meaning, it’s not the end-all-be-all. Regardless of what you do or how much you make, you were enough before, and you’re enough now. We’re all works in progress. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll get a little lost. We’ll get a little wiser. Don’t give your career, or what others think of your career, the power to define your self-worth.

                                                    Wherever you are, enjoy the journey!