Every new year feels like a fresh start, teeming with possibility and opportunity. This could very well be my best year yet! As an international Executive Coach working with global Fortune 500 firms, I often find my January conversations revolve around legacy and finding a deeper purpose to my clients’ lives. Because, sometimes, being successful in your career just isn’t enough.
For a handful of my clients, finding their life purpose has been life-altering and their actions, behaviors and outlooks on life have been forever changed for the better. But for the majority of my clients (and for people in general), the reality of connecting with your true life purpose is a challenge.
You Can Also Live a Happy, Fulfilling Life – Without Knowing Your Life Purpose
It’s a challenge to articulate something as vague as a life purpose and make it tangible enough to change your everyday behavior. Seeking your life’s purpose feels big, scary, vague, lofty, unknowable… and yet too important to mess up. It’s easy to envy those who have found it and long to be like them – not lost but motivated! Not just going along with the flow but creating their destinies! But that comparison only ends up putting even much pressure on ourselves to find our purpose, eventually making the whole process stressful, confusing, and easier to just give up. It’s this frustrating difficulty that can render life purpose as significantly less useful tool than expert coaches usually claim.
But we know that a meaningful life is too important to just quit because it’s hard. Instead, I recommend my clients use a low-pressure substitute that brings tangible results and that you can practice every single day: focus on your contribution.
What is Contribution and Why It Matters
Contribution is about you playing a small role in something bigger than yourself. Greta Thunberg herself can’t reverse climate change– but she can sit outside of the Swedish parliament to raise awareness of the issue. With contribution, you are not supposed to be the lone hero; contribution is about adding your small piece to the world’s success. Greta’s one contribution, week after week, eventually inspired millions across the globe to also contribute in their own ways, resulting in a massive worldwide movement.
Contribution is about producing these small nudges that help to create the world you want to live in. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that, in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, we can only achieve miraculous results and solutions by working – and contributing – together.
3 Ways To Start Contributing Right Now
Focusing on contribution is manageable, doable, tangible… and worthwhile. If every person contributes to the world daily, that’s 8 billion steps forward every single day; the difference will be enormous. Your contribution doesn’t need to cure cancer; it only needs to be a small step in moving the goal forward. Today, I contributed to my 6-year-old daughter’s knowledge about dinosaurs. Some days I contribute knowledge to hundreds in an audience; some days I contribute one-on-one in a personal coaching session.
So here are three ways to get started contributing right now.
1. Get Motivated.
Motivation comes from seeing quick progress and enjoying your results. Ask yourself at the end of every day what you have contributed to those around you and the world. Keep it small to start with and think about what’s reasonable to accomplish in any one given day to really feel the “win”.
Last week I contributed joy to 300 refugee children by baking cupcakes for a holiday party. This week I contributed belonging to a Fortune 70 leadership team who wanted to build an inclusive culture for new employees. Every small step is an encouragement to keep going.
2. Aim to contribute in the places that make you feel happy.
The world has infinite possibilities for where to contribute. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen? Teach kids soccer in Namibia? Save the dolphins? Bake gluten-free cookies for the school fundraiser? All are worthy causes. Don’t focus so much on what you should be contributing and instead focus on what you like to contribute. Enjoying your contribution will feel less like a burden or a chore and you’re less likely to quit because you’re satisfied. Liking what you give is what makes your effort sustainable for you to keep your contribution practice going in the long run.
3. Contribute in your unique way.
The most important contributions you can make are the contributions only you can make. Only you have had your life experiences and see the world in your unique way. While “fitting in” might temporarily feel more comfortable, “standing out” with your unique contributions is what it really means to make your life meaningful. Begin to learn about what you do well — better than others — and see how you can start offering that to more people in more ways. I remember my biggest weakness working in a Fortune 100 Marketing department was my natural kindness and empathy. I took those strengths and turned them into a thriving coaching business where I could better contribute to the world.
Your Life Does Have a Purpose
Small daily actions may initially feel like they’re not big enough or that they are too insignificant – but that’s just your impatience talking! Every one little step in the right direction sends you miles and miles beyond where you ever believed you could reach if you actually just start. The world needs you and your unique contribution. And if you focus every day on how you can contribute to the world, you will indeed be (accidentally) fulfilling your life’s purpose.