The secret to discovering your purpose in life is to actively hunt for it.

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A few people seem to know what they want to do with their lives from the get-go. Mozart was composing music at age 5. T. S. Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” when he was 23. Orson Welles was 25 when he made the classic film “Citizen Kane.”

The rest of us, however, may take longer. In fact, it’s not uncommon to be completely incapable of answering the question, “So what do you want to do with your life?” at age 18 or 22 or even 42.

Which brings us to Profound Piece of Advice #1: Don’t worry if this is you. You are not alone. Feeling lost and conflicted and unsure of where you’re going is part of the human experience.

You can approach this dilemma in a number of ways, many of them easily found by a quickie Internet search: make a list of your passions and strengths; pretend you’ve just won the lottery and then ask yourself what would you do next; write your own (imaginary) obituary; identify the activity that makes you lose track of time; follow your curiosity/bliss/inclination; do what scares you the most; write a description of “your perfect day”; connect with your inner child; mediate, pray, seek therapy or read self-help books.


You should definitely go ahead and try some of these techniques. A few of them are bound to help.

But be warned: None of them will work if you ignore Profound Piece of Advice #2: You can only find your life’s purpose by actively looking for it.

Meaning you can’t just sit back and wait for inspiration to come to you. You have to get out there and hunt it down with a stick.

Two more nuggets of wisdom: 1). Don’t worry if some of the paths you start on turn out to be dead ends — they will ultimately help lead you to the right one. 2). Just because a particular path has unpleasant elements does not mean it’s the wrong path. Every field of work has things about it you’re not going to enjoy. In fact, if you find yourself willing to tolerate some struggle or sacrifice, it just might be a sign that you’re on the right path!

Good luck. Hang in there.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at