What’s Keeping You From Your Life Purpose?

Big questions tend to come up more as the dawning of a new year is just around the corner. One set surrounds our “Why”: What is my purpose for living this life? Why am I (still) here? The ultimate existential “Why” is elusive to many. Up until nearly dying four years ago, I tortured myself for most of my life for not knowing my “Why.” So, I’m very familiar with the pain of not knowing why one was born.

A magic pill doesn’t exist to dissolve the torment of not knowing. However, through personal experience and hearing the stories of many others, I’ve learned that there are essentially three key barriers keeping us from knowing and living our “why.” Let’s look at each and what we may be able to do about it.

Barrier #1: We need to make money

make money

Most of us automatically think of our life purpose as what we do for a living. We must be able to monetize our “Why” before we can embrace it. The safer thing to do is to stay put at our unsatisfying job for the sake of the paycheck—but loathing ourselves for it.

There’s a whole lot to be said about doing work that’s fully aligned with our “Why.” After all, our work life accounts for majority of our waking hours. More importantly, True Prosperity, which includes doing work we love, is our birthright to claim. With that said, however, our soul’s purpose for being here in human form extends far beyond how we make a living. My purpose in this human incarnation is to be Love—to live it, to create from and with it, to express it, to circulate it—in all areas of my life. For another, it may be Joy, Peace, Freedom, etc. I can fulfill my purpose to be Love in any chosen profession, even if some lines of work are more naturally fulfilling than others.

When we connect to our “Why,” it becomes our guiding light for whatever we do, however we live, and whoever we endeavor to become, not just in how we earn a paycheck. When we untie living our purpose from the requisite need to monetize it, we take some pressure off of ourselves to know our “Why” and to live it the best we can—whether or not it translates into a career change.

Barrier #2: No permission to explore

As obvious as it may seem, one of the biggest barriers to knowing our “Why” is that we simply don’t allow ourselves to explore. There are lots of programmed thoughts, beliefs and habits—the dreaded “should’s”—keeping us seemingly trapped in an unsatisfying life. For better or for worse, that’s our comfort zone, our safety net that tends to our most basic survival needs, including a family to support in many cases. We should be realistic and practical. We should be grateful for the life we already have. On and on the programmed messages goboth in our heads and from well-meaning people in our lives—drowning out our soul’s purpose.


To give ourselves permission to explore our “Why” is to begin “untrapping” ourselves from the “should’s” ruling our lives, even if a little at a time. By allowing ourselves to do that, we open up to possibilities otherwise automatically dismissed as impractical or unrealistic, before truly knowing what they present. We stop resisting clues to uncovering our “Why.”

To begin allowing, here are a few suggestions:

  • Stop pushing yourself to figure out your “Why.” Trying too hard only blocks inspiration. If you’ve been at it for some time, you know what I’m talking about!
  • Play. Whatever that means to you, whether it’s a sport, recreation, hobby, or plain silliness. The joy you get from playing lightens you up to receive inspiration.
  • Experiment with an idea that inspires or excites you. Don’t worry about results just yet. Enjoy the exploration.
  • Be a child again. What did you love as a child before you learned to be realistic and practical? Allow yourself to explore that again.
  • Don’t know what inspires or excites you? List all the things you don’t like, and pivot to the opposite conditions. Pick the top one or two pivoted conditions, and think of ways to bring them out more in your experience. Life presents us with the contrasts of what we don’t want to help us get clear on what we do want. Let the pain you’ve endured pay dividends to you!

Barrier #3: We make it too big and too scary

When most of us think of our “Why,” we approach it as an all-or-nothing proposition. We’re either living it or we aren’t—and a life overhaul is called for if we aren’t. We must quit our livelihood, and turn our lives upside down in the name of being true to our purpose. No wonder it scares off the best of us!

questionsSpeaking from experience, we often meet our “Why” through serious soul searching following life-altering events. Nevertheless, knowing and following our “Why” doesn’t need to be stomach-turning, now-or-never upheavals. We just need to be open and receptive to possibilities, however random or insignificant they may seem at a first glance. To explain this further, let me give you two examples, one for uncovering and the other for following our “Why.”

Case #1: No overt soul search but simply following curiosity. Up until four years ago, this civil engineer was miserable at his job, but didn’t know what else to do. He didn’t know his “Why.” One day, a friend asked him two questions that changed his life, “Do you know how to save money? Do you want to learn how to do that?” These were rather innocuous questions, not ones to inspire life-changing epiphanies. Yet, those two simple questions piqued his curiosity, and led him to explore becoming a financial advisor part-time, while holding down the full-time day job he hated. In the process, he discovered that his mission in life is to help others manage money and plan for retirement. He beamed with passion and pride when he told his story and relayed how much he has grown personally, well above and beyond a career change.

Case #2: Remaining open to Divine inspiration. She had outgrown her job for many years, but leaving it wasn’t an option. Instead, she focused on her spirituality and nurtured her purpose for being in this life—to be happy, to enjoy what’s good. Late this past summer, she was offered an early retirement package, which amounted to the graceful transition out of her job that she wanted. Staying open to whatever might unfold next, she had the opportunity to explore franchise businesses, even though the idea never previously crossed her mind. One thing led to another, and she’s now excited about opening her business in the new year! This all transpired over a few short months’ time, while she stayed true to her promise to herself to enjoy the exploration process with an open mind. In doing so, she allowed herself to be drawn expansively toward a new possibility that feeds her joy-filled purpose.

The above two cases show how natural and non-threatening knowing and following our “Why” can be, provided we give ourselves permission to be open. If deliberate soul searching is too dramatic and scary for your taste, there are alternative avenues to uncovering and living your “Why.”

Now, over to you: Are you living your why? (If not, please don’t feel badly, and know that you’re far from being alone.) What do you think is standing in your way?


Photo credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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Awesome article, Dr. Alice. Very insightful. Thank you! To answer the questions, Yes. Success is a progressive realization of a worthwhile goal and I feel gratitude that I had a sense of my purpose from a very long time though I didn't know how. But as Napoleon Hill said wrote in his famous "Think And Grow Rich", my desire to pursue my purpose only got stronger with time and when it turned into a burning desire, He showed me the way, found me a mentor and I took off. My mind was the only roadblock and once I overcame my internal battle, there is absolutely nothing that is going to stop me and I am very thankful for the blessings I receive in form of great friends, uplifting association and all the wonderful people who are playing a very important role in helping me turn my dreams into reality. Thank you much for your continued contribution to a positive and uplifting society. Regards, Kumar

Jon M (@ThinDifference)
Jon M (@ThinDifference)

Great suggestions, Alice. Exploring and being creative are essential. In doing this, we open ourselves to an opportunity to create a spark, and then we will have a better idea of our purpose. When this happens, we need to consistently take steps to do more and more. A momentum effect happens. Living purposefully is so critical that waiting isn't an option. Thanks! Jon

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you very much, Kumar, for your thoughtful share of your won experience. Napoleon Hill is a great teacher indeed! Sounds like you really followed his advice in surrounding yourself with people who'd support you and in managing your mindset. Really appreciate your taking the time to contribute to this important topic! Here's wishing you more success in 2013, Kumar!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Jon. You're right, that living purposefully is critical. That's why it's such a torment when we don't know our purpose. While we can't force the awakening/discovery, once we know what it is, the pull of the vision is pretty compelling. We can't really ignore it for long, as living any other way is simply not appealing. Thanks again for contributing so thoughtfully to this topic, Jon!

Kumar Gauraw
Kumar Gauraw

You are so very welcome and also, thank you for your awesome comment in my blog as well.Happy New Year!


  1. […] the rest of my day repeating with excitement and glee this exquisite mantra. Do it for Love. Love is my “Why” after all, so this mantra powers my intention for this year, and makes who I want to be more of and […]

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