Most of us strive for a purpose-driven life. But what we’re really talking about when we talk about purpose is finding meaning. And more specifically, meaningful work. How do you find that kind of work? Or do you? To live a life of purpose, it’s important to know the meaning of purpose, but also have the ability to embrace change and be open to new ideas. You see, creating change requires more than setting goals and optimizing morning routines. And while seeking purpose is a worthy goal, the path to a meaningful life also can be fraught with difficulties.

Embarking on this journey to a meaningful life won’t be quick, certain, or simple, but it will be worth your while. Which is exactly why you must prepare for the challenges as you seek purpose.

Overcoming Anxiety

Pursuing purpose actually can induce anxiety. That’s because we think that if we haven’t found it, we’re doing something wrong. It’s far too easy to sink into the anxiousness of not having found it.

According to a study out of the University of Pennsylvania, as we seek purpose, there are indicators showing that we’re also becoming more anxious. The majority of people in the study experienced purpose anxiety on their search. The ironic part is the more anxious you are then the more difficult it becomes to achieve your goals, which directly correlates with finding purpose.

Some people seem to operate with purpose in their DNA. They don’t even need to articulate their purpose. They’re simply driven, early on, by an organizing principle or questions that guide them on a path to seek and live with purpose. But for many of us, purpose is more illusive. We test out jobs and relationships and creative pursuits to find purpose with deliberate actions. This is why apprenticeships, internships, or life experiments can be so important. It helps us determine if this is what we feel called to do. One way to step out of purpose anxiety is to define purpose for yourself.

Caroline Adams Miller, a renowned Positive Psychology coach, speaker, expert on the science of goal-setting and grit, and author of Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passon, Perseverance, and Purpose, encourages people to ‘fake it till you make it.’ She says, “act like you’re in recovery before you’re in recovery, because guess what? Bring the body, the mind will follow.” The same is true for purpose. If you put your purpose into action, day after day, you will create a meaningful life.

Tracking Purpose

According to a Gallup poll, seventy percent of working Americans are unhappy with their work and don’t care for what they do. The goal, for many, is to find and enjoy meaningful work, but how? Do we find purpose? Is purpose something that we’re called to?

Katie Dalebout, host of the weekly podcast Let It Out and author of Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling, joined Miller on my Tracking Wonder podcast in 2018 to discuss the meaning of purpose, why we lose it, and how to regain it.

Dalebout has said, “Achieving goals and checking things off your list doesn’t automatically mean happiness,” nor does it mean that you’re living your purpose. To better understand what you want, she suggests making a Monthly Manifesto, in order to “define your intentions—to get them out of your head and write them down so that, when you feel lost, you can connect back to your vision.”

Likely, you won’t know you’re on the right path until one day, you wake up, and realize, this is what I’m meant to do. Deliberately outlining your purpose, as part of a routine, will bring you closer to meaning. Check in with yourself at least once a week if not every morning to track purpose and adjust your priorities, if needed. Remember to keep asking yourself the tough questions: Do I find this work meaningful? Am I getting closer or further from my purpose? What can I do to redirect my focus?

For many of us, the path to meaningful work (and a meaningful life) is long and not without its difficulties. Getting caught up in the to-dos and deadlines, we can forget to come up for air, and sometimes the most productive thing you can do is take a break. Schedule an intentional intervention. Track your progress. Track your goals. And make sure you’re headed in a direction that feels in your gut like the path toward your North Star.

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