Ask Yourself These Questions to Find Meaning and Purpose

Ask Yourself These Questions to Find Meaning and Purpose
Photo: fran_kie, Shutterstock

One of the many unanticipated aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been being forced to (or having the opportunity to — depending on how you see it) reflect on what you want to do with the rest of your life. Maybe you lost your job and want to use this as a chance to figure out what other type of work you might enjoy more. Or maybe you’ve been working more than ever over the past few months, and that has caused you to consider whether that’s really how you want to continue to earn a living.

Of course, it’s not always possible — or even advisable — to “follow your passion” when it comes to finding a job. But it can be useful to figure out what, for you, has meaning and purpose. The result may not necessarily be a career-related epiphany, but it could help you figure out how to bring meaning and purpose to different parts of your life (including your job). Here are two questions to ask yourself to identify the driving forces in your life.

Why ‘Finding Your Passion’ Isn’t Enough

We like to say that people should “find their passion” to experience success in their careers and therefore, in their lives. If you really love something, it will feel easy and right. Right? That may actually be the worst possible way to approach new ventures.

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How to find meaning and purpose

The questions come courtesy of Cleo Wade, a community builder, TED speaker and the author of books including Heart Talk The Journal: 52 Weeks of Self-Love, Self-Care, and Self-Discovery, and are found in a post that’s part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series.

First, Wade points out that despite all the pressure, we shouldn’t feel as though we have to identify our one, single “passion” in order to give our lives meaning. This is because, as she puts it: “We are all such multilayered beings with an abundance of gifts, talents, interests, and ideas.” So why limit ourselves?

Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Isn’t Always The Best Advice

You’ve heard it a thousand times from motivational speakers: the key to success is to follow your passion. It’s an appealing notion, but as Mike Rowe points out, just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at it or that it’s a viable path towards creating a...

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Next, Wade explains that our passions may shift throughout our lives (which is completely normal), and attempting to focus our time and energy on one single passion may leave us feeling inauthentic and stressed. Instead, she suggests bringing passion and purpose to everything you do, starting by asking yourself these two questions:

What type of kindness, care, joy, and patience must I harness in order to bring purpose and passion to my relationship with myself and those around me?

What level of openness and curiosity must I own in order to bring meaning to jobs and tasks in my life (even, or especially, the roles that don’t spark an immediate sense of excitement within me)?

Once you have a better idea of how you’d like to approach life, you can start applying it at work, at home and when you socialise.


  • Ah, yes. And what is the right answer to the man dropping ashes on the Buddha?

    That actual Zen koan makes exactly as much sense as those questions. They AREN’T nonsense, but you need to spend so much time in intense meditation/self reflection/therapy to even parse meaning from them that they might as well be. Presenting it simply doesn’t make it simple, in the same way that an advanced calculus question can’t be answered by a third grader, no matter how elegantly it’s written.

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