Play 20 Questions to Discover Your Purpose

Use This Classic Game of Inquiry to Help You Take Action Pursuing Your Purpose

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“Person, place, or thing?” my daughters asked as we headed into the sixth hour of a fourteen-hour drive from our home in Littleton, Colorado to their grandparents in Fountain Hills, Arizona. I had won the last round of 20 Questions so it was my turn to pick an answer. “Thing,” I replied with my hard-to-guess object cemented in my mind. My thing was a water tower. Looking across the dry and desolate landscape of western New Mexico all I could think about was the tall water tower in the small midwestern town where I grew up. These people could really use a water tower, I thought to myself. Questions help us make associations. The girls began carefully grilling me to unearth my secret word.

The classic game of 20 Questions can be challenging. Whether you play it using person, place, or thing or with the original animal, vegetable, mineral, you never know what strange idea will pop into your opponent’s mind – like a water tower. You must methodically ask targeted questions that narrow down the possibilities until you close in on the answer. I’ve found that when you play the game for a while, you become better and better at asking questions. Of course, this makes you better at getting right answers. The same is true for finding your purpose. So many people struggle with the question “what is my purpose?” but it is the only question they ask. They get stuck because they don’t continue asking questions that lead to the answer. Let’s try playing a little game of 20 Questions with ourselves and see where it leads us.

Before we dig into the questions though, I think it’s important to define what we mean by the word purpose. It’s a lofty word. And when we start talking about our “life’s purpose” it’s a word that can make us feel either fulfilled, on-track, and worthy when we feel we are living our purpose; or one that can make us feel adrift, frustrated, and unworthy if we see ourselves as not living our purpose. Here’s my belief – being you is your purpose. That’s right, think about it for a minute. It’s what you were put on this earth to do. I believe all that you do, all you encounter, your good and bad choices, the things you do for others, your victories and defeats help you become your best you. Sometimes because you succeed, sometimes because you learn.

As a noun, the dictionary defines purpose as “the reason for which something exists.” Like I said, you exist to be you, so why should any of us bother asking those 20 questions to discover our purpose? Because we are looking for the verb in our purpose. Verbs are the action words. And our purpose, our quest to be our truest self, compels us to act.

The definition of purpose as a verb is, “to set as an aim, intention, or goal for oneself; to intend or design; to resolve to do something.” It is this resolve to do something, to set a goal for ourselves and to feel like that goal adds value for others, that we call pursuing our purpose. We are doers. We are looking for our purpose in verb form. We are asking ourselves the question poet Mary Oliver asked so pointedly:

“Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

So here’s an easy exercise to get started on that pursuit. Sit down with the following 20 questions and see where they lead you. (Get the worksheet here.)

  1. As a kid, what was the first thing you can remember wanting to be when you grew up?
  2. What have other people told you that you are good at?
  3. What do people ask you for help with?
  4. What do you like to share?
  5. What makes you lose all track of time when you are doing it?
  6. Who do you admire most?
  7. Why do you admire them?
  8. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had?
  9. What comes easy for you?
  10. What is hard for you but worth doing anyway?
  11. What are you most proud of?
  12. When did you feel most confident in yourself and your abilities?
  13. What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome?
  14. How did you tackle it?
  15. What makes you angry enough to do something about it?
  16. What problem would you most like to solve in the world?
  17. Why do you want to solve this problem?
  18. How would you solve this problem?
  19. What one word best describes you?
  20. What would you do with your one “wild and precious life” if you knew your time was limited?

Your time is limited. Everyone’s is. So it’s time to get busy. Set an aim, intention, or goal. Resolve to do something. That’s your purpose. Use your answers to these 20 questions as a guide. And if you find 20 questions aren’t enough, keep asking more. Purpose is an action word. Now’s your time to act.

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