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When purpose is hard to find, how to move forward with intent

May 17, 2022 - 16 min read


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Why do we need a purpose in our life?

What is purpose anxiety?

How to know if you have purpose anxiety

4 self-help strategies to deal with purpose anxiety

5 consequences of lacking purpose

What to do when you have no purpose

Remember: Purpose doesn't come overnight

Each time I scroll through social media, it seems like there's always one person talking about their purpose in life. It can instantly feel like a comparison game. And while it’s great to see people on their self-actualization journey progress, not everyone shares that accomplishment yet. 

It’s OK if you feel like you have no purpose. For the most part, all human beings have to start their journey to find purpose somewhere. 

And I won’t lie, I’ve been in that space where I feel like I have no purpose. But what gets me back on track is I know that I can do things to find a sense of purpose. There isn't a time limit on when people find the meaning of life. 

When I put effort into sharpening my sense of direction and finding my meaning in life, I still find I feel anxious. But it turns out that I'm not the only one that feels that way. Lots of people experience purpose anxiety as they search for what guides them. 

Luckily, we can overcome this issue. But first, we need to remember that our lives aren’t purposeless and talk about why it's important to know.


Why do we need a purpose in our life?

Finding our purpose in life goes far beyond deciding what we should do with our lives. Having a sense of purpose increases our self-awareness and improves our mental health and overall well-being. In fact, a 2019 study found that understanding what your meaning is in life will improve your mental and physical well-being, too.

We're more in tune with our values and what we're passionate about. We're more focused on our goals and our sense of direction on how we work to achieve them. And we’re one step closer to realizing our full potential

When our mental health is taken care of, our physical health can thrive better. Studies have even found that having purpose helps take care of our physical health and even leads us to live longer lives. 

Feeling like you have no goals or ambitions in life can confuse what you want, too. If we haven’t yet learned that we love to help others, for example, we won’t spend time volunteering in our community.

If we aren’t happy in our current role, we may not need to work for a promotion. A lack of purpose can make you feel like you aren't living a meaningful life or enjoying spending time with others. Without a sense of purpose, people undermine their abilities and accomplishments.

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What is purpose anxiety?

Just knowing that we lack purpose makes us anxious. Purpose anxiety occurs when we feel stress and nerves about trying or struggling to find our purpose in life. 

Researcher Larissa Rainey explored purpose anxiety and found it can happen at two stages. One of them is while we work to discover our purpose, and the other while we work to achieve it.

Everyone experiences purpose anxiety differently. Some of us find that anxiety turns to fear and stops us from self-improvement or goal setting while others feel frustrated or stressed that we’re taking so long to find our purpose.

It’s easy to forget that we have our whole life to find our passion — and we might find more than one.

But for everyone, purpose anxiety does negatively impact our mental health. It causes our well-being to plummet, and it doesn't leave us with any excitement over finding our true purpose.

Having healthy well-being impacts our professional and personal lives in many ways. With BetterUp a personal coach can provide the guidance you need to strengthen your mental fitness and begin thriving in life.

How to know if you have purpose anxiety

Purpose anxiety can take many forms, it's handy to know how to identify it if we start to experience it along our journeys. We all want to flourish and feel good about the journey we're on, but that's not always the case. 


Here are five signs that you're experiencing purpose anxiety:

  1. You never celebrate any of your accomplishments or positive experiences
  2. You're constantly changing your job because nothing seems to fit just right
  3. You have a lot of self-doubts and low confidence and self-worth
  4. You worry that you'll never find your purpose in life
  5. You compare yourself to others too much in a negative tone

4 self-help strategies to deal with purpose anxiety

Since purpose anxiety can look different for everyone, we can learn to appreciate all the different ways to help ourselves overcome it.

Some strategies could be beneficial for you and reduce your anxiety, while others may not work at the moment. 

What matters is that you're taking time to understand your feelings better and what you can do to strengthen your well-being.

Here are four self-help strategies to try when you experience purpose anxiety:

1. Talk about it with someone you trust

Find someone in your life who's first a good listener, and second, that you trust with your feelings. Think about a friend, loved one, or a coach or mentor. Talking about your challenges and symptoms aloud can help you understand yourself more. 

Since you aren't the first or last person to have purpose anxiety, you could be talking to someone who's already overcome it, and their advice could be helpful.

Man and-woman-having-a-conversation-in-a-cafe-1

2. Practice mindful breathing

Does your heart feel like it's going to jump out of your chest? Slow things down. Take a moment whenever you can and do some breathing exercises.

Through meditation and other relaxation strategies, you'll be able to calm your mind.

It'll help you think more clearly. You can incorporate these breathing exercises into your morning or night routine or practice them when you need to regulate your emotions.

3. Avoid things that heighten your anxiety

This one seems obvious, but it's important to think of things that increase your anxiety. They could be things like alcohol, toxic people, or stressful or hostile places.

Whenever you can, avoid them. It may cause you to change your routine or pause on certain hobbies, but identifying what increases your anxiety is a great step toward managing it.

4. Keep a journal

You don't have to share your journal with anyone else but yourself. In fact, anxiety journaling could be a useful tool to leverage. This is a place where you can keep a record of how your purpose anxiety has made you feel when it's the most intense. 

Upon reflection or when rereading your journal, you can take the time to notice any triggers or possible solutions that come to mind. Don't forget to write down your accomplishments or any progress you've made.


5 consequences of lacking purpose

Feeling like you have no purpose or lacking purpose doesn't come without any consequences. These consequences impact many different areas of our lives, not just our mental health. They affect who we are as people and how we interact with others.

Here are five consequences that a lack of purpose can bring you:

  1. You don't see the purpose of your work
  2. You don't feel motivated to work well with your coworkers
  3. Your relationships with friends, family and romantic partners leave you feeling empty
  4. You feel depressed and anxious all the time
  5. You begin to isolate yourself from people in your life and feel lonely

What to do when you have no purpose

Here's the good news: You won't spend your entire life feeling like you have no purpose if you put in the effort to find it. Putting ourselves out there is scary, but how else will we discover new things that we enjoy? 

Woman-doing-her-morning-routine -1

If you're feeling a little stuck, here are five tips to focus on if you’re wondering what to do in life when you have no ideas:

  1. Reflect on what excites you and fills you with passion
  2. Practice spiritual wellness and take care of your well-being
  3. Ensure that your career has a purpose and that you believe in your work
  4. Learn new things by reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching documentaries
  5. Don't be afraid of challenges, even if they intimidate you at first

Remember: Purpose doesn't come overnight

You won’t wake up one day and know exactly what you want from life. No matter how hard we try to quicken the process, these things take time. But with patience, we can find what matters to us.

Lots of people take years and years to find their purpose. Next time you're scrolling through social media and you see someone post about how they've found their purpose, don’t think, “I have no purpose.”

Tell that inner critic in your head to be quiet. Instead, be happy for this person and know that your patience and sustained efforts will lead you to a better life.

Along with patience, you might need someone to hold you accountable. BetterUp can provide the accountability you need to stay on track to living your life with purpose. With virtual coaching, you can find your path to living with greater purpose, clarity, and passion.

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Published May 17, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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