It’s always the moments of crushing despair that bring you back to what’s really important in life. Things like getting laid off from your job, failing your final exam, losing a loved one, or in my case, getting rejected from all of my dream companies after several rounds of internship applications, interviews and tremendously high hopes. It’s in those moments where you truly begin to ask yourself “WHY?”. What is the point? Why am I doing this? Is it really worth it?
Two months ago, I finally sat down and thought about what exactly I wanted my life to look like. Not what society expects it to be, not what I was taught as the “right” path to go down, but a life that brings ME the most joy, passion and meaning. A life that pushes me out of bed in the morning, charged with purpose and an insatiable desire to reach my full potential – at which point I could positively impact the world around me.
Brushing the tears away, I sat down at my desk and got to work. And let me tell you, the fire that created under me has never been so bright.
I just want to put a disclaimer out there that I am by no means an expert on this subject – I’m still totally all over the place in terms of my own purpose and self identity. Likewise, the process of actually building a life of purpose is extremely personal and requires extensive self reflection over the course of your entire life.
With that being said, I have found other people’s unique journey to finding purpose quite helpful in my own, and have even applied some of their techniques. So without further ado, here is the three-step process that has transformed the way I live my life.
1. Accept yourself.
I f**king hate cliches. This one in particular is horribly overused and, in my opinion, pretty misunderstood. But if implemented correctly, it will create a distinct purpose and clarity that guides you to a life that is unquestionably YOURS.
It can be hard to accept yourself when you don’t fully understand who you are yet. That is okay. What helped me was to make lists of my skills, passions and weaknesses, being as brutally honest as possible. Continue adding to these lists as you grow, and try to embrace your flaws as much as your strengths. Key word: “embrace”, not “love”. Do I love that I get anxiety when plans change at the last minute? Obviously not. But do I now accept that this challenge may affect the way I handle situations? Yes.
Instead of getting pissed at yourself for something you do all the time, a sense of self understanding will explain your actions and help you overcome that challenge next time. You don’t have to love every single part of yourself, but understanding and accepting who you truly are is a game changer.
2. Create your own personal brand.
Say hello to the nerdy communications student, whose years of branding courses are finally coming to good use. If you’re unfamiliar with how a company or person creates their own brand, it begins with a mission statement, vision and core values. These three pillars guide the brand in ALL aspects – its messaging style, what it supports, who/ what it surrounds itself with, etc.
So I decided to brand MYSELF. I created a list of values (authenticity, perspective, community, curiosity) and devised a mission statement of how I want to live my life. This simple process completely altered my mindset and illuminated the goals that I had so much trouble identifying before. I began embracing the things that aligned with my values and saying goodbye to those that contradicted them. I now approach each and every day knowing that as long as I make decisions based on my values and mission statement, I am probably on the right track.
3. Challenge the norms.
This is a tough one. Growing up, we were all told in one way or another the kind of life we should live. If you live in the U.S., it goes a little something like this: go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, retire and live happily ever after.
There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this kind of life, but assuming that it is the path for every single person is unrealistic. It is okay to go against the grain. If you feel called to be a chef even though you grew up thinking “med school, med school, med school”, do the damn thing and go cook.
If you master Step 1 and truly accept yourself, then it’s time to be bold. Go live a life that no one – not even you – expected. And if you’re scared, just know that there are a whole lot of people (including me) trying to do the same.
Something I tell myself every day is that it’s never too late to change course. As I navigate through my relentless thoughts and jumbled emotions, I know that wherever my mission and values guide me is where I’m meant to go. Trust in yourself. We’ve got this.