Identify your life goals stemming from your purpose

Purpose of our life can be more tangible when thinking about the goals of our life. Many people confuse purpose and goals: you can think of purpose or mission as a direction. Goals are then actual points lying in the direction of the purpose.

Which goals one can achieve in life to fulfill the purpose really depends on predispositions. No single person is capable of guaranteeing our sustainable survival, we all have to contribute our bit. You can choose from many meaningful goals based on your circumstances. For example, if you are a politician, your goal can be setting sustainable long-term policies. If you are a scientist, you can choose to research more efficient use of resources. If you are a teacher, you can educate children about sustainability. If you are a manager, you can make your department carbon neutral. If you are a parent, you can send children to scout so that they learn essential survival skills.

Start with the end

Similarly, like an expedition or a project, our life has a beginning and an end. Whether we think about the target of an expedition or goal of a project, we always first envision the goal and then plan the optimal way that leads to it. Even though expeditions and projects without a clear goal can sometimes bring unexpected results, they are very risky and mostly fail. On the contrary, expeditions and projects with a clear goal are typically much more successful and rewarding. Applying this analogy, a powerful way of determining purpose of life used by many psychologists1 is by envisioning the end…

For the following exercise, find at least an hour of time at a calm place free of distractions. Prepare to go through some painful thinking, but the results will be well worth that investment.

To get started, close your eyes and imagine the time flying by until you are very old. Imagine yourself lying on your deathbed knowing that this is the end of your days. Think about the life you have lived before reading this article. Did you use the time of your youth wisely or was there lots of waste? Do you regret something? Do you wish you had been doing something differently?

Now think about the years to come after reading this article? How would you like them to be? What would you have to do to make you feel proud of yourself, to make your dying easier knowing that you have spent your life well, that you have lived with purpose? Imagine the full past life that really makes you happy both for what you did and what you leave behind.

Don’t hurry to read on, just think about it for a while.

Now, when your final day has passed and it is your funeral, imagine a very close person – best friend, child or a spouse – giving the eulogy memorial speech about you. What would you like them to say?

If you took enough time to think about and answer these questions then you are probably closer to knowing the target, the goal, the desired end state of your life that would make you satisfied.
But even if you don’t have any specific achievements in mind you might think at least roughly about some of the personality traits and values that you want people to value about you. These values will guide you in the right direction towards your purpose. When you once figure out where exactly you want to get, you will be at least closer.

Similarly, it might be a good idea to set a goal even if you know you will most likely never accomplish that exact goal, because going towards that goal can at least bring you closer. If you figure out what the purpose of you life is in ten years from now, you will at least have walked in the right direction. For example, a biologist may see own purpose of life in helping the mankind overcome illnesses. She does not know how exactly to do it, but she sets goal to shorten the period antibiotics need to take effect. Even if she never actually reaches the goal, she is at least spending time on meaningful research and as a side effect she identifies what food inhibits the effect of antibiotics. She might not have reached her exact goal so far, but she is still content about life, because she has lived with a purpose and actually helped mankind with overcoming illnesses.

Knowing the goal of your life will provide you with guidance to accomplishing it. It will increase the chance that you will feel good about yourself on the deathbed instead of regretting and wanting to turn back time.

  1. For example S. Covey: 7 habits of highly efficient people  

We should not postpone thinking about our purpose because later may be too late

Unfortunately many people realize that something went wrong way too late. Take John for example. He was a smart kid and studied well. Right after graduation he found a sales job and started to earn decent salary. He could then easily get a mortgage to buy his own apartment. He was popular with girls but after a few years of wild parties he settled down, got married and had a son. He has been good at work and eventually got promoted to head the department. Except for his recent divorce he always thought he has been successful in life. Does this sound familiar?

Now all of a sudden, at the age of 56, John has been diagnosed with an advanced-stage cancer. It might have been caused by his smoking, stress at work or simply bad luck. Realizing he might have just a couple of months left finally makes John think seriously about what he wants from life. Only now when he is left all alone he realizes how important family is for him and he feels ashamed for the affair that brought him couple nights of pleasure in exchange for ruined relationship with his wife. He now regrets missing his son’s concerts because of work. But what work, was all that pushing products to people who did not really need them something that could make him proud of himself? He always wanted to travel around the world but it was impossible with all the commitments. Why on Earth did he take the mortgage right after school in the first place? Wait, and why did he study commerce just because most of his classmates did. Didn’t he actually want to be a scientist? He now wonders why he never talked seriously about the purpose of life with his buddies when they spent those hundreds of hours together and could name each other’s top ten favorite football players by heart…

Now, could not John have been some of your close friends in the future?

Couldn’t he have been you?

Do you want to take this wake up call or rather wait for a deadly illness to make you think?

Unfortunately, we can’t turn back time1 and we can’t just push restart and start afresh. We are in a one way-street so we had better think how we want to live our live before we actually live it.

Thinking about the purpose of life is painful. It makes us uncomfortable and therefore is often avoided. A big mistake is to postpone thinking about the purpose of life for later, believing that we still have lots of time to figure it out. We are all mortal and our time for life is quite limited. If you ask the elders, they will always say that the time goes by quickly and you don’t even realize before you become old. Time we have indeed is very limited, especially given the infinite amount of options for spending it. Some new possibilities appear for us only later in life with increasing wealth and experience, but more options vanish as you become older, because of the limitations of your body, your previous commitments and less time left. In other words you can accomplish more if you start working towards it now rather than 10 years later.

Whatever stage of life you are at, you would be foolish to waste more time doing something that might make no sense in the end. Rather you can be better off when you invest some time into figuring out your purpose of life. Even if you are still young and lack the experience to make a perfect decision, choosing a rough direction will be better for you in the end than having no direction at all. When you start moving in the right direction your goal will be closer and easier to spot. You may always fine-tune your bearings but at least you don’t waste time going left if you actually want to go right.

  1. Traveling back in time will never be possible, because if it was about to become possible many people would surely already have came back to benefit from their knowledge of the future. Either it is not possible because of the laws of physics or our civilization will get destroyed before we figure out the technology. Either way, you can forget about traveling back in time.