We’ve all been there.
Lost, confused, and mystified about what exactly we should be doing with our lives. We invest in expensive degrees, we search for better jobs, we read self help books, and we even read blog posts like this one, all in our quest towards figuring out where our purpose lies.
We look to our professors, our partners, our friends, our parents, our coaches, our yoga teachers, our favorite authors, our favorite bloggers, you name it, hoping that they can give us the answers we need.
I hate to break this to you, but they never will. Because they can’t.
That responsibility lies on each of us as individuals. And actually, that’s an incredible blessing.
Even being able to ask ourselves the question, “what is my life’s purpose?” is an absolute privilege. It means we have already recognized that we have the power and the freedom to decide exactly how we want to live our lives. We have the power and the freedom to decide exactly how we want to live our lives.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty damn exciting to me.
In Hinduism, dharma is described as following one’s true, natural calling, which creates balance, harmony, and connection in the universe. By this definition, the sun’s dharma is to radiate warmth and light, the tree’s dharma is to provide shelter and clean air, and the bee’s dharma is to pollinate the flowers and make honey. When life forms live in accordance to their dharma, these tasks don’t feel like work. They feel like bliss.
For us humans, our dharma seems to be a little less clear.
I recall a time when I didn’t have a clue about what my dharma was. Though to be fair, I hadn’t really investigated it. Rather I looked to what my peers were doing, what my parents were doing, and what society told me I should be doing.
It wasn’t until I stepped outside all of that, outside of the programming of the world I had lived in, and started to simply BE, that I began to walk my dharmic path. When I did, my tasks stopped feeling like work, and just like the honeybees and the trees and the sun, I too felt bliss.
Since then I’ve discovered that dharma lies at the intersection of what you’re naturally good at doing, what you enjoy doing, what lifestyle you want to live, and how you can serve others to make the world a better place.
Ready to discover YOUR life’s purpose? Let’s dive in.
Step One: Do Nothing
Not what you expected? I’m not surprised. In our culture that’s completely obsessed with doing, we’ve somehow drifted from the simple practice of just being. If you don’t know how to just “be”, how can you possibly know what you should “do”? At the heart of it, the dharma of every single living thing on Earth is simply to exist. Embrace that first, and the rest will come much easier.
I first discovered just how useful doing nothing can be when I went to Costa Rica. I had been so “busy” in my life in the USA, that I had completely lost touch with how it felt to be alive. Taking two months off from work to sit and be in nature was the most profoundly constructive thing I’ve done in my entire life, and the catalyst that led me to discovering my life’s purpose.
Costa Rica is an amazing place to do this, but really, you can do it anywhere. Set aside time every day to go out and be alone in nature. Sit and listen to the sound of the water. Wake up in the morning and watch the sunrise. Practice yoga, meditate, do a relaxing visualization, lay in a hammock, do whatever it takes for you to shut off your mind and rest your body. When we allow the constant movement of our bodies to still, and the constant churning of our minds to silence, these are the times when the most profound wisdom within us surfaces. These are when we have those “aha” moments.
In fact, even Einstein, when on the brink of a discovery, would sit in a chair with a cup of coffee in his hand, so that just when he drifted off to sleep, the coffee would spill and wake him up with the answer.
There’s a much simpler, and less scalding way, you can achieve this same clarity. If you practice yoga, you already know it, it’s called savasana (aka dead man’s pose) or as I like to call it “doing nothing.”
To practice savasana, lay on your back, with your eyes closed, and feel the weight of your body grow heavy. At the same time, feel as if your chest, the tip of your nose, your fingers, and your toes were completely weightless. Focus on the spaciousness that surrounds you. Try to rest in a place somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. Keep practicing this and you will perceive yourself and the rest of the world much more clearly.
Step Two: Own What Makes You a Rockstar
Now is the time to be boastful. Now is the time to look in the mirror and see what makes you perfect rather than what makes you flawed. Now is the time to own your unique gifts that make you so special.
I remember growing up, how it was much more socially appropriate among my peer group to say bad things about myself than good things. When someone complimented me, I denied the claim. I called myself ugly, fat, untalented, stupid, annoying, and crazy instead of gorgeous, healthy, talented, intelligent, fun, and expressive.
This self-deprecating thinking can be difficult to deprogram. It requires constantly shifting negative thoughts into positive ones. Waking up in the morning and repeating affirmations like “I am beautiful,” “I am worthy,” “I am fierce,” etc. can help you re-pattern your brain to believe how awesome you truly are. Because damnit, you are!
To really hone in on your unique strengths, sit down and think about how a dear friend might describe you. What words would they, or have they, used to praise your character? What compliments do you receive consistently from others? Make a long list and begin to notice common themes. From there, you can derive your greatest strengths.
Step Three: Figure Out What You Like to Do
For those of us who have very little free time, this may be the most challenging step of all. When your life is centered around school, work, family, friends, and relationships, it’s easy to get into habits and routines that don’t allow much time for play.
You remember play, don’t you? The thing that you did all the time when you were a child. The thing that you did that brought you absolute joy. To really know what it is that brings you bliss, you have to go out into the world and play.
Before I started traveling I went shopping and made dinner for friends in my free time. I decorated my apartment and gave people design advice. I thought that was what I was into. Even though I wasn’t that into it.
In Costa Rica, in a new environment, I was forced to try new things. I started playing by myself in nature, practicing yoga, writing stories, taking photographs, and dancing for hours with reckless abandon. To this day, these are the activities that bring me the most bliss and have become my deepest passions.
This is one of the many reasons why travel can help move us closer to our path. When we put ourselves in foreign places with the time and space to simply discover, we do more than learn about different foods and cultures and landscapes. We learn more about ourselves.
Whether you are traveling or not, make an effort to devote time to doing things just for the fun of it. Challenge your ideas about what kind of person you think you are. Try new things and it may surprise you what you discover about yourself.
If you already know the things that you love to do, do them more often and let them become a regular part of your life. For some reason our culture considers “hobbies” things we do in the rare moments when we have “free” time. We leave our greatest passions on the back burner rather than energizing them into unstoppable forces of positivity into the world.
Imagine if your life were actually centered on your hobbies. A life in pursuit of one’s dharma, a life in pursuit of one’s bliss, is exactly what that is.
Step Four: Discover Your Ideal Lifestyle
Let’s forget about the details for a minute, and look at the bigger picture. What kind of life do you want to be living? What do you want your life to look like?
Start by thinking about what kind of environment naturally feels good to you. Imagine where you would physically be in space if you could be anywhere right now.
Would you be high in the mountains where you can hike every day and breathe the crisp air? Would you be at the ocean where you can play like a mermaid as soon as you wake up in the morning? Would you be in a bustling city where you have access to all kinds of people and activities and cultures and stimulation?
Then consider what your day to day might look like. Design in your mind your most perfect, ideal day and meditate on it.
Perhaps you start your day with a run down a long country road, or maybe you cook a beautiful meal for your family, or you sit inside of a temple in the mountains and meditate. Maybe your ideal day to day looks like adventurously exploring the world or maybe it looks like nesting in a place you love with the ones you love.
The bottom line is, your LIFE should dictate your WORK, not the other way around. Start focusing more energy on imagining what kind of life you want to create, and less on what kind of job you should be pursuing. When you focus on the life first, the job will become much clearer.
Step Five: Forget About the Money
When we ask ourselves “what should I be doing with my life?” often what that question really means is, “how should I be making money?” Try your best to imagine that money doesn’t actually exist.
Imagine that you won the lottery tomorrow. You won so much that you would never have to think about money ever again. What would you decide to do with your time, for the rest of your life?
Mentally take yourself through the process of releasing the pressure of earning an income and centering your life on what you want to do instead.
Step Six: Ask Yourself How You Can Serve Others
If you woke up tomorrow and you actually did win the lottery, it wouldn’t take long before you felt compelled to channel the energy you once put into making a living somewhere else. You might even begin to ask, “how can I use my time to make the world a better place?”
This shift is one away from survival and one towards service. Instead of wondering, “how am I going to pay the bills?” you can ask, “how can I change someone’s life for the better?” This attitude is one that ultimately leads to much greater fulfillment.
And that doesn’t have to mean quitting your job and joining the Peace Corps. Or starting a nonprofit. Or becoming a nurse or a teacher or anything else that carries the stereotype of “helping people.” Or resigning to poverty and giving away everything that you have to others.
The key to making the greatest impact on the world and its inhabitants is by channeling your unique gifts in a way that brings you the greatest joy. Follow your bliss, and the doors will open. Follow your bliss and the money will work out. Follow your bliss and everything will follow.
It might be scary, and it might not be easy, but it’s worth it. And so are you.
The world needs to hear your voice. It needs to hear your voice just like the trees need sunshine to grow and the flowers need trees for shade and the honeybees need flowers to make honey. The world needs to hear your unique voice, so that it can live in harmony.