Susan Tolles, Director of Local Groups at 4word, talks with us about purpose, a topic she’s so passionate about that she wrote a book about it!
You were created with a unique purpose to fulfill, a part to play in this complex world we live in. You didn’t just randomly happen. As you were being lovingly crafted, you were given a unique set of gifts, values and personality traits that make you who you are. In all the billions of people who have ever lived, and will ever live, there will never be another you.
God set you on your life’s journey in His perfect timing, pre-packed with those unique gifts that allow you to make a difference in the world. Whether you have known it or not, you have been living out your purpose throughout your life in many ways. You can’t help being you—it’s how you are wired. Fulfilling your purpose has taken on a different appearance at different stages of your life, but at its very core, it has never changed.
Deep down, each of us has a longing to know our personal “why,” as we ultimately seek to glorify our Creator. Finding it may seem elusive or overwhelming, but it really is not that complicated. I recommend following these three steps, allowing yourself some time to be quiet, pray, reflect and journal.
Ponder your past. The word “ponder” means to consider something deeply and thoroughly, and that’s what you need to do as you think back on the times when you were happiest and most fulfilled. As far back as you can remember, when were you truly happy? What were you doing and who were you serving?
When you are reflecting on the past, allow yourself to really feel what it was like at the times you were happiest. Spend time examining each experience to discover what it was about each one that made it so memorable. These are the first indicators of your true purpose.
Examine Your Present. What things bring you joy, stir your passion and ignite your energy? What do you believe are your unique gifts, core values and personality traits? What comes easily? What do others praise you for? Also, what do you wish you hadn’t said yes to (an indicator of what is not your purpose)?
In your career, do you have a positive attitude most every day? Are you effectively using your God-given gifts? Do you have a “get to” attitude, or a “have to?” Or are you in a role that pays the bills as you settle for flat and unfulfilling? Does your volunteer work align with your true passions, or are you there because a friend asked you to join the movement? Personally, are your relationships stale because you hang out with the wrong people? Evaluate your roles and responsibilities closely and see what is working and what is not.
If you have trouble identifying your unique gifts and traits, ask others for input. Send an email or text to 10-15 friends in different areas of your life—friends you’ve known for many years, workplace colleagues, people from church or networking groups—and ask them “when you hear my name, what are the first words that come to your mind?” Their answers will be very consistent because you can’t help being who you are! The words will be affirming, giving you a picture of how others see the authentic you. And you’ll see common word themes that point to your purpose.
Vision Your Future. This is a time to cast a vision without limitations! Don’t worry about the how, just think about where you want to go. Where would you like to be both personally and professionally in one year, five years or 20 years down the road? If you knew you would not fail, what would you do? What would your work look like, and who would you be serving? Also, what do you not want to do? Picture yourself at 90 years old—what do you want to tell your family and friends you are most proud of?
Once you have completed all three steps, look for common threads running through the stages of your life. What do you want to do most in the future? Who do you want to impact? What words stir your soul and ignite your passion?
Bring the most meaningful words and phrases together in a statement that sums up the reason you were created. Your life purpose statement doesn’t need to be long. In fact, it can be as simple as:
- My purpose is to teach.
- My purpose is to nurture.
- My purpose is to bring joy to others.
Or you can extend it to include how you will specifically live it out:
- My purpose is to teach the underprivileged how to be successful in life.
- My purpose is to nurture and raise my children in a loving home.
- My purpose is to bring joy to others by creating beautiful art.
My God-given purpose is “to inspire joy by awakening worth.” The moment I discovered it, I cried. I knew I had been living out my calling throughout my life without even knowing it: as a mother, a children’s ministry assistant, a school board president and a founder of a lifestyle website for women over 50. As a Christian Life Purpose Coach, I embarked on a journey to help other women find their “whys,” knowing that the discovery would make a profound difference in their lives. Today, I am living out my purpose by serving women in the workplace through 4word. I have also created a nonprofit Flourishing Life International Ministries that allows me to take this message to women in Africa and Asia as they experience God’s provision of joy in the midst of abuse and poverty. A huge part of my recent journey has been writing a book Created to Flourish by God’s Design which guides women to overcome self-sabotage and discover their own true callings.
Author Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Knowing your purpose opens a world of possibilities that you might never have imagined. Success will take on a new meaning as you pursue significance in God’s eyes instead of what the world demands. You will take risks to pursue your dreams and you won’t allow fear to hold you back. You will know that every day was fruitful just because you were truly alive.
What’s your “why?” Share it below, then share it with the world!