One of my favorite stories on discovering—or, in this case, calling in your purpose—comes from Jim Carrey.
The Canadian-born actor had a vision in his mind about being a successful actor and comedian long before it actually happened.
In a 1997 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Carrey told the talk show host that he would drive around Los Angeles and visualize having directors interested in him.
“I would visualize things coming to me that I wanted,” he said. “I had nothing at the time but it made me feel better…I would drive home and think, ‘But I do have those things. They’re out there. I just don’t have a hold of them yet.’”
Carrey decided he would write himself a check for $10 million as a kind of declaration for his future. He dated the check for Thanksgiving, 1995—a date that was two or three years away.
Just as he envisioned, right before the Thanksgiving of 1995, Carrey was signed on to make $10 million on a film project.
While Carrey knew from an early age that his life purpose was to be an entertainer (he did stand-up comedy as a teenager), many of us have no idea.
How do we even begin to know?
Focusing on these five questions could very well help forge the way forward.
1) What would I do if I didn’t have to worry about money?
Camilla from NoMoreHamsterWheel asks people this question all the time.
“I am always surprised to hear some say, ‘I don’t know. Never thought of that because that would never happen,’” she says.
“It saddens me that people haven’t dared to dream. That even the thought of dreaming feels so far out of reach.”
Camilla believes that most people really do have some idea as to what their purpose might be but they just haven’t given themselves permission to think about it.
“That dream, or that passion or [innovative] idea got buried a long time ago when life got busy or because a lack of money made it seem out of reach,” she says.
“Why do we think that we cannot pursue our dreams because we don’t have the money right now,” she questions. “Or that we have to continue working a job that we don’t really like because we have bills to pay?”
We’re not saying to quit your job if you have a family to feed, for example, but pursue your passion on the side until you save enough where you can. This will make your day job a lot more tolerable because you’re seeing it as a means to an end.
If you don’t know what you would do if you didn’t have to worry about money, start dreaming, says Camilla.
“Because when you do your mindset changes. You start seeing opportunities instead of obstacles. You start feeling differently. You gain a different energy.”
You also start attracting people that are being paid to do what you want to do, into your orbit.
2) What do I feel naturally inclined to do despite the odds and obstacles?
A few years ago, I interviewed Indigenous fashion designer Sage Paul, who, despite finishing fashion school in 2006, found it extremely difficult to break into the industry.
“I found the mainstream fashion system to be elitist and not understanding of fashion outside of the Euro-Western construct,” she shared with me at the time. “I didn’t understand at the time that the structure was built to maintain a class system that didn’t include me.”
Paul decided to embrace what she felt naturally inclined towards even though it wasn’t the “fashionable” thing to do. She released her first collection only among her local Indigenous community at a small gallery in Toronto.
“I don’t know if I would call that breaking into fashion,” she said with amusement. “But it wasn’t until I worked professionally with other Indigenous artists that I began to see an ability to create a space for myself and others.”
Paul was well aware of the obstacles against her, but she found a way to not only go forward with her own dream, but also to create Indigenous Fashion Week—a platform that gives aspiring Indigenous designers the chance to showcase their talent.
3) What is something I would feel inspired to do even if it sucked some of the time?
The reality is that even dreams and desires have downsides—and you have to be okay with that.
“Everything involves sacrifice,” says Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.
“Everything involves some sort of cost. Nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all of the time.”
Manson says the question becomes: What struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate?
“Ultimately, what determines our ability to stick with something we care about is our ability to handle the rough patches and ride out the inevitable rotten days.”
For example, if you want to be the next brilliant tech entrepreneur like Bill Gates, but you can’t handle failure, then you most likely don’t have what it takes to run a company that could be the next Microsoft.
If you want to be a professional artist who shows their work at galleries around the world, but you can’t stomach rejection, then you’ve really finished before you even begin, says Manson.
“If you want to be a hotshot court lawyer, but can’t stand the 80-hour workweeks, then I’ve got bad news for you.”
You have to think about what unpleasant experiences you’re able to handle.
As a journalist, whenever I get a pitch that’s rejected, sure it can sting a little—particularly if I really feel inspired to do the story or it’s a dream media outlet—but I just take it as a “not right now” or “not this outlet.”
You just reroute and move on.
In Manson’s words: “What unpleasant experiences are you able to handle? Are you able to stay up all night coding? Are you able to have people laugh you off the stage over and over again until you get it right?”
4) What is something you love doing so much that you forget to eat sometimes?
This happens to me when I’m working on an article I’m especially passionate about or when I’m reading the memoir of someone I’m about to interview. I get so caught up in the story that I don’t realize the time.
I’m sure this happens to anyone passionate about their career—musicians, writers, entrepreneurs, and the like.
Apparently it also happened regularly to the man who discovered the laws of gravity. We’ve all heard the story of the apple falling, inspiring Isaac Newton to develop his law of universal gravitation.
But here’s another story about Newton you probably didn’t know: supposedly his mother had to regularly remind him to eat because he would spend entire days so absorbed in his work that he would forget.
To clarify: just because you can easily binge Netflix and forget to eat is not a good thing.
Mason says he used to be like that with video games. “For many years it was a problem,” he says. “I would sit and play video games instead of doing more important things like studying for an exam, or speaking to others face-to-face.”
Mason says that it wasn’t until he gave up video games that he realized that his passion wasn’t actually for the video games themselves—although he loved playing—but for improvement.
“[It was about] being good at something and then trying to get better. The games themselves—the graphics, the stories—they were cool, but I can easily live without them,” he says. “It’s the competition with others and with myself that I thrive on.”
It was when Mason applied that “obsessiveness” to self-improvement and competition to his own business that things really took off for him in a huge way.
“Don’t just look at the activities they keep you up all night, [but] look at the cognitive principles behind those activities that enthrall you. Because they can easily be applied elsewhere.”
5) How can I be of service to the wider community—or even the world?
Many people might find that their purpose is in relation to others. They have a fervent desire to be an active member or their community and want to contribute on a bigger scale, says Maggie Wooll at BetterUp.
“You’ll discover that there are many others out there who share your passions, interests, and values,” she says.
Being part of a community gives you a sense of connection because you’re working together toward a common goal.
This could be something to do with human rights, politics, the environment, and so much more.
For one anonymous person, it was teaching.
“Finding something that is valuable to your community/society is also important. I worked in TV for a while and I liked the work, but ultimately I was making someone else money off of my creativity. Now I am a teacher and I get to be creative for my students, and that is more worthwhile for me.”
Some parting words on finding your purpose:
You can find your purpose at any age or stage of life. Your purpose also has the potential to change or evolve at different points of your life. It’s never a “pick one thing and stick to it forever” type of situation.
As one expert said: your purpose is as unique to you as your fingerprint. So never worry about what anyone else is doing. What works for them most likely won’t work for you—and that’s a good thing.
Create your own personal vision for your life and have a growth mindset—your purpose is sure to find you.