Seven Questions to Help You Approach Your Life with Purpose

Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Ellise Raghavan, currently a graduate student in clinical mental health counseling. We would like to thank her for her submission and credit her as the author of this blog post.

Purpose is one of the key ingredients to creating a meaningful life, according to the now-famous positive psychologist, Martin Seligman. Think about it: Why do you get out of bed in the mornings? When you have something important to do or are looking forward to the day, isn’t it much easier? Here are seven questions you can ask yourself to approach your education and your life with purpose.

1) What are my values and principles?

Many of us form our values and principles without realizing it. We may pick them up from our family, friends, important life experiences, or the media. Becoming more conscious of your values gives you a solid foundation on which to make big life decisions without falling into a self-doubt spiral. To explore your values, ask yourself: What matters to me most in life? What concept(s) or energies could I build my life around? Is it adventure, love, joy, challenge, creativity, making a difference, or something else?

Knowing your principles helps you discover how you want to live out your values. To discover your principles, ask yourself: What kind of person do I want to be? You may want to be honest, loyal, aware, responsible, funny, or any number of other traits that might come to mind. How do I want to treat other people? How do I want my life to affect those around me?

Keep in mind: Your values and principles might turn out to be different from those of your family of origin, and that’s okay.

Consider using Steve Pavlina’s 400-word “List of Values” to help you find words that resonate as describing your values. Danielle LaPorte’s “Core Desired Feelings” is also a great resource for teasing out what really matters to you.

2) What do I want in my career?

Okay, okay, I know you’re unlikely to have an ideal career description all figured out, 100% guaranteed to give you purpose. (If you do, congratulations! Get ready for it to change as you do.)

After all, here’s the truth about the path to success, whether in life, relationships, or securing the job of your dreams:

Approach Life with Purpose

Sergey Nivens /

Still, there are likely some things you DO know about what you want in a career, so what are they? Do you know your ideal location, the skills you want to use, or what type of organizational culture you want to work within? More importantly for the sake of purpose, what type of impact do you want to help make in the world? Do you want to solve social problems, save the planet, create beautiful art, be a good parent? All of the above?

If you don’t know, consider taking some time to dive into the possibilities. Start talking about the impact you want to make to whomever will listen, and they will help you develop it further (if only to shut you up).

If you really don’t have any clue and you’re an adventurous sort, you could do what this guy did and try a new job every week for a year to figure it out.

3) What are my boundaries?

In order to say “yes” to your values and the life you want, what do you need to say “no” to?

Common boundaries successful young adults choose to put in place include limitations around their time, energy, money, social media, and substance usage.

What drains your energy? What takes up too much of your time? What costs more than it’s giving you? How does your body feel about caffeine, sugar, or alcohol?

When you put purposeful boundaries like these in place, you automatically raise the bar on life. You say to yourself, and to the world “My time, my energy, my health, my attention is valuable.”

And trust me, it is.

4) What types of people bring out the best in me?

Relationships can be a tremendous source of purpose, as well as support, inspiration, and fun.

Choosing people who bring out the best in you doesn’t have to mean you have relationships with only one type of person. It’s awesome to have many different types of relationships, from those with people who bring out your wild side to those with people who challenge you to study more or to try something new.

A great way to discern whether the relationship (friendship, romantic relationship, mentorship) is one you want to keep building is to ask yourself: Do I feel better after spending time with this person, or worse? Do I like how I show up around them, or not?

You can also begin to notice whether there are any shared traits that you value across different types of relationships, like honesty, dependability, or a willingness to admit it when they are wrong. Knowing what to look for will help you anytime you move cities and find yourself needing to make new friends to add to the old.

5) What could pause me?

Ask: What tends to get me down, or slow me down, in life and in school? Failure? Rejection? Things not going the way I expect? Not having support from my family? Having to do stuff I don’t care about? Working with certain types of people? Working by myself? Negative self-talk? Not knowing how to start?

While you can’t know exactly how hard something will be or exactly what you’re up against before you take it on, taking some time to think through your potential obstacles helps you get used to the idea that there will BE obstacles.

When you can accept that there will always be obstacles, you are less inclined to lose faith in yourself at the first sign of struggle.

So know the obstacles to getting what you want, at least as much as you can.

6) How can I use my strengths to overcome those obstacles?

First of all, what are your strengths? There are only a zillion strength tests you can take online (this is a decent place to start), but you probably already know some of your strengths. You may be good at baseball. Or cooking. Or partying. Or putting together an outfit. Or biology. That’s great! Now, let’s peek a little deeper. What are the strengths that lie inside those skills, and how are they transferable to beating the obstacle at hand?

For example, I am good at making friends. One of the strengths that underlies this skill is that I easily feel connected to others. How does this help me overcome obstacles? Whenever I have to do a thing I really don’t want to, I dedicate my effort in doing it to a person or cause that matters to me.

Sometimes I tell that person of the dedication, but mostly it’s just a way to keep me engaged and remind myself that doing the thing matters. Also, I do everything I can to build relationships with others who are doing hard things, even if not the same ones as me, so we can support, cheer, groan, and ultimately, celebrate our efforts together.

How can you add your strengths to the equation so your obstacle doesn’t stand a chance?

7) When I look back on my college experience after graduation, what do I MOST want to see? What do I most NOT want to see?

Prioritize accordingly.

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