As a Christian Life Coach & Spiritual Director, the number one reason people approach me for help is “Understanding my life’s purpose”. Sure, these questions may come in a variety of forms. But, in
I work on the assumption that God desires for us to live beyond mere existence into a God-given purpose. I believe we all have callings. And, life unfolds in such a way, through all the ups and downs, to help us discover it. We have an ultimate contribution to make to the world. As a Christian, that is very easy for me to believe. It is just good theology. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)
7 Steps to Understand Your Life’s Purpose:
So, I offer 7 steps to understand your life’s purpose. Please keep in mind our purpose is revealed throughout our lifetime. So, following these steps will only give you your best understanding to date. It is an ongoing process.
Step 1: Review Your Past
We are so engaged in the ordinary challenges of everyday living that we lose sight of how we are formed over a lifetime. Yet, each of our lives include a series of people, experiences, and events that have shaped us over the years. The question is, “How has your life been shaped by them?”
Seeing how we’ve been shaped gives us clues towards our purpose. So, I often suggest people make a timeline of significant people, experiences, and events…ten to twelve for each decade they’ve lived. If this exercise is taken seriously, it can reveal all kinds of clues about what we are being formed to carry out.
Step 2: Look For Themes & Patterns
As you review your past, look for themes and patterns. Think about your role in relationships, what your priorities really are, defining how you’ve been wounded, how you see the world, your desires, life lessons, etc.
For example, one of the many themes that jumps out in my life history is “peace-building”. That comes from a good dose of tense life situations, either ones I inadvertently created and had to resolve, or ones those around me created and I had to resolve. Many of my jobs have included resolving conflict as one of my responsibilities.
Step 3: Define Core Values
Many people have a very hard time defining their core values. They may be quick to make a list of things they believe are important. But, often they are confused with goals or aspirations, or show no real evidence of them in their own lives.
For example, I truly believe we need to be environmentally responsible, but it would be wrong of me to list “environmental responsibility” as one of my core values. Why? Because, I have no real history of passionate behavior beyond recycling (when it is convenient) and driving a hybrid.
And, if I’m honest, my motivation in driving the hybrid is far more about saving money on gas than reducing my environmental footprint. In this case, environmental responsibility is more of a goal or aspiration of mine than a core value. On the other hand, “Innovation” is a core value of mine. My life is loaded with examples of creating new things, trying new things, and risking things.
Core values are those things that we cannot help but live; we’ve typically always lived them.
Your core values should be evident in your life themes and patterns. Try to name five or six (no more than eight) core values that inform your behavior and decision-making. Try to be specific. “Peace-building: Creating environments of grace, forgiveness, patience, and authenticity by facilitating dignity,” is a much more specific value than simply listing “peace-building.” The better you can articulate what you value, the greater understanding you will have.
Some have found it valuable to create a few anti-values; they help clarify values. For example, “I do not like conflict,” would tend to point towards values of reconciliation, peace-building, respect, dignity, or the like.
And, if, “I do not like conflict,” shows up as an anti-value, it would not be wise to be asking if you should pursue a new career in divorce law. You may be attracted to justice, even the amount of influence a lawyer has, or his or her income levels, but if you do not like conflict, divorce law is not for you. Perhaps “child-support advocacy” is.
Step 4: Create a Statement of Being
This is a couple of sentences about you, not what you do, but who you are called to be. They flow right out of your core values and line up with your life history. These sentences address overcoming life-long challenges, woundings, calling, passion, etc. Think of them as is a vision statement for yourself. It does not include what you will do for others.
For example, mine is (and yours should be very different), “To enter the abundant life available to me, by believing that I am loved, celebrating grace, trusting God’s provision, leaning on His wisdom, and depending on His power.”
I could tell you in detail how each of these components speaks to overcoming my fears & wounds, and stepping into who I’ve been created to be. I can tell you specifically how I was pursuing these things long before I ever came to my faith. And, how I’ve been pursuing them ever since. At its core, it is who I am called to be; evidence abounds.
Step 5: Create a Statement of Doing
This is a statement about how you will deliver being who you are to others. It too will line up with your core values and your life history. It will have something to do with bringing your life experiences, wisdom, learned skills, gifts, and talents to the world around you. This statement is really about your role (who you are in most relationships and environments), not so much your job (what you do).
For example, mine is, “I help people discover who they were created to be…and how to get there.” No matter what my job has been (manager, entrepreneur, consultant, priest, spiritual director, or coach), that is essentially the role I have filled wherever I’ve been.
Step 6: Add Some Deliverables
I’ve been at this for a while now so it is easy for me to name some more specific ways to deliver who I am. Picking up at my statement of doing, I just added, “I do this through coaching, spiritual direction, pastoring, teaching, blogging, and podcasting.” Again, this lines up with my core values and my life history.
Step six may not be very easy for a lot of people. This is the place where career questions come in, and the kind of place we really need help in developing some next steps. A coach can help.
Step 7: Start To Dream Or Bloom Where You Are Planted
Many people come to me thinking they need to make a major life change. When in fact, once they discover their role, their anxiety decreases and they find that what they have been doing is really part of their purpose and it then becomes considerably more fulfilling. It is just a paradigm shift.
Others realize they really do need to make some major adjustments. Often because they’ve been living their lives to meet others’ expectations and not their own calling. In either case, discovering our purpose gives us the courage to dream, and the enthusiasm to chase them.
You Get What You Give
These 7 steps to understand your life’s purpose can be a tremendous help. As with all things, you will get out of them what you put into them. If you take a step a week over seven weeks, you will likely have a much better idea of who you are than if you try do seven steps in seven minutes. There are not really a lot of shortcuts in life.
We Need To Work Through This In Community
Lastly, it is very helpful to work through this kind of stuff with another person, preferably one that is trained in this kind of thing, like a coach.
We often have blind-spots, think too highly or too little of ourselves, and we tend to end up with a self-portrait that looks like someone else entirely than an accurate view of ourselves. To quote a proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Want To Learn More?
To learn more about Christian Life Coaching, you may want to start with these blog posts: 5 Good Reasons You Should Hire A Coach and What The Christian Life Coaching Process Looks Like, or visit the Coaching page on my website.
I am an Anglican Priest, an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach (ACC), and Certified Spiritual Director (CSD). My mission is simple: I help people discover who God created them to be…and how to get there.
If you have any questions, including how to begin a Christian Life Coaching or Spiritual Direction relationship with me, please feel free to contact me.