As a leadership and business coach, quite often I find myself working with a client (or more frequently I’ll be facilitating a small group of like-minded individuals who have come together in a business advisory group or mastermind group), focusing on how to discover their purpose and passion. It’s really very similar to strategic planning work helping an organization create or update it’s mission, vision, and values. However, for the individual involved in the discovery process I am sure it seems different.  Somehow more personal, more important, and often more elusive. Sometimes it’s best to start with reflecting on the past even if the eventual focus will be the future.

When a person reflects on the past with an eye to creating a future filled with purpose, passion, and meaning it is important to reflect on past successes, not failures.  Questions to guide this type of reflecting might be: Think about a time when you had your best day ever.  How did you feel? What made you feel that way? What led up to this day of success? How might you replicate these types of feelings with other experiences and in other situations? The reflection can then expand to multiple positive interactions and situations.  Then the analysis kicks in as the participants in the exercise compare the positive situations and stories in their life to find any common threads that can point to specific things the individual is passionate about or things the individual values most highly in life.

Another reflection exercise that can be helpful is to ask yourself to imagine you had a close friend who moved out of the are for about 10 years, and you lost touch with them. 10 years in the future you hear this friend is back in town and you arrange to meet them over coffee or tea. You are running late, so when you arrive at the coffee shop you discover that your friend is talking with another close friend of yours.  Someone you currently know very well.  You hate to eavesdrop, but you can’t help but notice that your current close friend is telling the old friend from 10 years about all about you. She explains what you’ve been up to this last 10 years, what you’ve accomplished in all different areas of your life, and what you’re doing now. Then, with this overheard conversation in mind, I ask the client to tell me or write down everything they “hope” their close friend from 10 years in the future will say about them.  What do they hope to hear they have accomplished, what type of person do they hope to hear they have become?

Once the underlying values are uncovered most people gain a great deal of clarity about how they would like to spend their time and resources in order to fill their lives with more days they can feel positive about, more days filled with passion or joy, and more days that are meaningful because they are based on important values.  Meaning is derived from what a person values, and purpose is tied to living intentionally and aligned with your own values. This is why the first step to envisioning your ideal life filled with purpose, passion, and meaning is to discover what it is you most value.