How to Find Your “Why” In Life and Why It Matters

How to Find Your “Why” In Life and Why It Matters

By Ladies Get Paid Founder & Author Claire Wasserman. Follow Claire for more career tips, or purchase The Ladies Get Paid book. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.

Finding your “why” in life is the solution to feeling stuck and uninspired. Life is complicated, chaotic, and at times, really damn hard. We get pulled in a thousand different directions, our duties and responsibilities pile up, we never seem to have enough time to get things done, let alone give to ourselves (If you’re feeling overwhelmed just by reading that, check this article out).

It’s clear we need a way to cut through the noise. With so many things competing for our attention, it’s crucial to identify and hone our “Why” in life. Otherwise, we run the risk of getting swept up in the expectations of others, and letting our circumstances dictate our future, when we should be taking command of our choices and creating a life that is aligned with who we are. Our “Why” is the compass we can use to direct our actions; it’s the filter for evaluating opportunities, and an anchor to return to when we experience self-doubt or low self-esteem.

Follow these 11 tips to find your “why” in life

1. Identify your signature strengths

According to positive psychology, we are happiest when the work we do, whether at home or on the job, allows us to use our signature strengths. Martin Seligman defines them as “strengths of character that a person owns, celebrates, and frequently exercises.” These are the personal traits and skills that come naturally, and that gives us a sense of fulfillment and purpose when we use them. This survey is a good start to finding your “why” in life.

2. Reflect on times of flow

A term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “flow” is an experience of feeling completely alive, present, and fulfilled; it’s as if time melts away and you are totally involved with whatever task is at hand. Reflecting on memories where you were “in flow” can be helpful in identifying patterns of strengths, and environments that help us thrive. When reflecting on those memories, no detail is too small: where were you? Who was there? Were you with a team or alone? What were you doing? Was it with your hands or in front of a computer? These don’t have to be work-related, they just provide clues you can stitch together later on as you contemplate or create future opportunities. Identifying what, where and when you’re doing when you find flow will help guide you to your “why” in life. 

3. Get clarity on your values

The Self-Confidence Workbook by Barbara Markway and Celia Ampel describes values as The principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity.” Given how many things compete for our attention, being clear about your values can be helpful in determining if an opportunity is truly right for us. Take this survey, and focus on your top three as points for exploration as you continue to hone your “why” in life.

4. Explore your curiosities

When finding your “why” in life, rather than focusing on what you’re passionate about, dig into your curiosities, problems you’re compelled to solve, or times you go down the rabbit hole of the Internet. If you pursue a path that’s aligned with your curiosities, you’re more likely to stay engaged. If you’re unsure, try this prompt from Eve Rodsky’s book, Find Your Unicorn Space

    1. I would like more time to explore _____________
    2. I have always wanted to know/make/develop/learn ____________
    3. What was once interesting and meaningful to me was ______________
    4. I want to rediscover or get back to _________

5. Write your own eulogy

In Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the number one regret was not having the courage to live a life that was authentic, rather than what was expected. Writing your eulogy will help clarify what’s most important to you, plus hopefully kick your butt into taking action to figure out your “why” in life.

6. Take action

The only way you’ll know if you’re in alignment with your “Why” in life is by taking action, trying things on, trial and error, and experimenting to see what lights you up and what doesn’t. I suggest starting with one of your biggest strengths and considering a new way to express it every day for at least a week. 

7. Keep refining

Whatever you come up with as your “Why” in life, I encourage you to continue digging and refining to get to the core of what’s important to you. Use the following prompts, courtesy of Cassie Holmes in her latest book Happier Hour:

    1. Why? 
    2. Why is that important? 
    3. Why do I care about that? 
    4. And why that?

8. Look ahead

 What are obstacles or distractions that may come your way in pursuing your “Why” in life? Family or societal expectations, fear of failure, too many obligations and not enough time, the pressure to make money. They’re all valid but often become the excuses we make from going after what we want. Don’t wait to get tripped up, start now by identifying the roadblocks and how you’ll avoid or deal with them.  

9. Schedule check-ins

Things change, and we change. But sadly, we often don’t check in with ourselves until we’re forced to. Whether it’s daily journaling or putting periodic check-in times on your calendar, don’t wait till you experience a breakdown, burn out, or have a birthday, to re-evaluate where you’re at and what you want next in your life.

10. Stay inspired

Read books. Listen to podcasts. Visit a museum. Surround yourself with people who are living their whys in life, and experiences that inspire you, to keep yourself aligned with your own why in life.

11. Listen to your intuition

Finding your “Why” in life means uncovering your inner voice, or your intuition. In order to hear – and trust – that voice, you need to give her space to emerge. Get in touch with your body and your emotions, whether it’s through a mindfulness app, listening to music, or journaling. Familiarize yourself with how that voice feels inside you (Glennon Doyle describes it as “a warm liquid gold” in her book Untamed), and when confronted with a fork in the road, conjure her up and see where she takes you.

Finding your “why” in life can be challenging, but it’s worth doing to live a more healthy, productive, and aligned life. Need help getting started? Learn how to stop procrastinating and start doing.

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