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When Finding Your Purpose Isn’t Working For You – What Now?

by Andrea M. Darcy

Everyone around you is raving about how they have found their purpose and life is coming up roses.

But the more you work at finding your purpose, the less clarity you have, the worse you feel.

What is wrong with you?

What is finding your purpose about?

As humans we have long questioned, “What is the meaning of life?”. Aristotle declared that, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”. Plato felt the meaning of life was to rather attain the highest form of knowledge.

And nowadays, we have positive psychology and the life coaching movement. They have come along and suggested that the meaning of life is found in individual life purpose. When we identify and act out our personal, unique ‘one big thing’, life, apparently, suddenly makes sense.

And the Western World is hooked on the concept. In 2016, a large-scale global report backed by Linkedin showed that in some countries, over 50% of the workforce now rate ‘purpose’ as important. In fact 38% of workers globally felt ‘purpose’ was as important as money or status. 

But is this Western idea of ‘life purpose’ the be all and end all? Is it even true that we all have an individual life purpose? 

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[Feel like a total failure lately? Little voice in your head telling you that your life has no purpose at all? It’s time to reach out for help. Book an online therapist today, be talking as soon as tomorrow.]

How life purpose can go wrong

life changing events

photo by vladislav-babienko

The modern concept of ‘finding your life purpose’ comes with certain assumptions. The concept implies that we all:

  • have a clearly defined, limited skill set
  • think in a linear fashion
  • find joy through consistent progress
  • feel better the more we narrow our focus
  • have one ‘life path’, point A to point B
  • enjoy interests that are limited to certain areas.

So what if you don’t match this list? If you are a creative person who thinks in circles, who has many talents and is always finding new ones? If you find joy through new experiences over progress, and like to have many projects on the go at once? 

When finding life purpose leads to depression and anxiety

If we are a non-linear, multi-talented creative with many interests, trying to narrow our focus can feel limiting and oppressive.

And our inability to pinpoint a clear purpose can leave us feeling a failure. This can especially be true if we have adult ADHD, which already leaves us with low self-esteem about our different way of thinking.

We start to worry there is something wrong with us. ‘ ‘Why can’t I find my life purpose?’. ‘Am I just a failure, in the end?’

Or perhaps we decide on our life purpose, but we just can’t figure out how to make it actually happen. Our frustration grows.

finding life purpose

Photo by Kristopher Roller

If everyone else around us is enthusiastically embracing the ‘find your purpose’ trend, shame can kick in. So we hide our worries. But they fester. Our worry turns to anxiety.

The less we say, the more our anxiety grows.

And the more our self-esteem plummets, and our  thoughts become negative?

The more we can become vulnerable to bouts of depression.

We go from an enthusiastic person who was getting by in life,  to someone who now feels hopeless. At worse, we being to feel there is no point in anything at all.

The truth about finding your life purpose?

The problem with life purpose lies perhaps in its singularity and suggested size.

For example, what if it was life purposes, plural? And didn’t have to be some ‘big thing’? How much better would you feel? 

Life purpose under Western thought has also become very much about action and achievement. What are you doing to have purpose? And what affect is that going to have?

But what if life purpose is not all about achievement? If feeling purposeful also matters? And could life purpose consist of many small, good moments?

What helps me feel purposeful? What, today, right here and now, makes me want to jump out of bed? How can I live purposefully, whether or not I have one big life purpose, or several? 

How to live purposefully

If you can’t find your ‘one big life purpose’ and it is causing you stress, anxiety, and depression? Try these tips to live purposefully instead.

Go grateful. 

Yes, a gratitude practice is about taking the time to be thankful each day. And this alone can help us remember that life has a point.

But take the time to notice if anything you give gratitude for gives you a particularly expansive, good feeling. A gratitude practice can also help us develop a ‘radar’ for what is important to us.

If, for example, you feel a rush of energy when giving gratitude for an opportunity to speak to young people? Work to get more of that in your life.

Nail the value. 

One of the biggest blocks to living purposefully? Living out someone else’s idea of purpose instead of your own. 

This can look like taking a job because your friends work in that industry, or trying to have a value that your family has even if it doesn’t sit well with you.

The more you identify your own personal values, putting aside what anyone else thinks or feels? The better you’ll feel.

Make it mindful. 

Mindfulness is an easy-to-learn technique now embraced by the psychotherapy community for its ability to lower stress and anxiety and increase focus and wellbeing.

It works to pull you away from analysing a past you can’t change, and worrying about a future you can’t control. Instead, it pushes you to notice what is working right here and now.

The more we come to the present moment, the more we notice the opportunities we actually have to create change. And the more aware we are of what we actually think and feel.  Life becomes far more purposeful if we are more available to experiencing it. 

Wellbeing activities. 

What makes you feel more purposeful – doing things that leave you feeling energised and alive and good, or things that you ‘think’ are the ‘right’ things to do, but leave you exhausted and miserable?  

When we gravitate towards things that raise our energy — ‘wellbeing activities‘ — we naturally align with our values.

Not sure what wellbeing activities work for you? Download your FREE wellbeing workbook now, that guides you to identify a wellbeing plan for your life.

What sorts of therapy help me live more purposefully?

Talk therapy in general works to help you live more purposefully. You learn what matters to you personally, and what your values are. So life starts to naturally take on more meaning.

But certain therapies put a stronger focus on feeling purposeful. These include:

Need help living purposefully? We offer some of London’s best counselling psychologists and existential psychotherapists who can get on track. Not in the city, or even the UK? Use our booking platform to find UK-wide talk therapists, or online therapists you can talk to no matter where you live. 


Andrea M. Darcy mental health expertAndrea M. Darcy is a psychology writer and personal development teacher.  Diagnosed with adult ADHD at aged 23, she knows a thing or too about feeling like she has ten life purposes instead of one! Find her on Instagram @am_darcy

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Blog Topics: Anxiety & Stress, Self Esteem

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