Finding Your Unique Purpose
Rabbi Dov Heller, LMFT
Each of us is here to make a unique contribution to better the world based on our unique abilities; to know what one’s unique contribution is, is to know one’s purpose. Besides having a unique personal mission, Jews also have a universal mission, which is to be “a light unto the nations.” When our universal and our personal missions are integrated, we experience a great feeling of vitality, joy, and empowerment.
Knowing our purpose is one of the keys to living a meaningful life. Knowing what our unique contribution is gives us a future, something to live for which energizes and vitalizes the way we live. A person with a purpose is free from boredom and looking for distractions to “kill time.” Living with purpose also has a curative power. A person with a mission is liberated from the psychological malady of self-absorption. A person who knows his purpose is content with himself and his life. This contentment liberates him from envy, competition, and hatred of others, freeing him to love others and helping them find and fulfill their unique mission in life.
Here are five steps to help you discover what your unique contribution and purpose is and how to live it.
STEP 1: Recognize that your unique contribution to the world will be a very specific activity which you love and excel at. Take a moment to think about people you know who are making their unique contribution. It is not hard to recognize these people: the composer and musician, the stand-up comedian, the woman who specializes in educating mothers about Judaism, the fundraiser of an organization, the man who teaches Talmud in a yeshiva, the woman who is an enthusiastic teacher of young children, the philanthropist, the mom who loves being the mother of 12 children, the man who sits on the boards of many community organizations. All of these examples have one thing in common: they are all involved in a specific activity that defines what their unique purpose is.
CAUTION! Many people overlook their unique contribution because it is not big and spectacular enough. We live in a culture that defines meaningful contributions in terms of status, fame, glamour, awards, name recognition, titles, and wealth. Your contribution does not have to earn you a Nobel Prize or an Olympic gold medal! Most people actually do know what their contribution should be, but fail to take ownership of it because they compare themselves with those who get all the publicity. They therefore devalue their own unique offering. Don’t overlook what is right under your nose because you’re spending too much time looking under other people’s noses!
Here are some questions to help you track down your unique contribution:
- If you had a billion dollars what would you do all day?
- If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you love to do?
- What activity makes you feel most alive?
- What activity do you lose a sense of time when you do it?
- What do you enjoy learning about most?
- What do you enjoy talking about most with others?
- What do you spend most of your money on?
- What issue has been a constant theme in your life?
- What kind of giving is most rewarding for you?
- What have you struggled most with in your life? (Note: What we struggle with is often what we want to help others overcome.)
- What is your fantasy about how you will save the world?
- What is a unique talent you have that you excel in?
- What excites you?
STEP 2: Start writing possibilities of what your unique contribution might be and don’t stop until you run out of ideas.
STEP 3: The right one will give you a huge rush when you write it out.
Write the sentence: “My unique contribution in the world is to___________.”
STEP 4: Take ownership of your contribution. As I mentioned, most people know what they’re good at and what their unique contribution should be, but they fail to take ownership of it. Remember your unique contribution will be a very specific action that comes easy for you and which you love doing. The fact that it comes easy is ironically why many don’t take ownership of it. People believe it should be something they need to work really hard at finding and developing. This is incorrect. As Confucius said, “Do something you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” What we are here to do actually calls to us and pulls us towards it. Are you listening?
STEP 5: Make a plan how you will either start making your contribution, or if you’re already doing it, how you can do more of it and do it better in order to make more of an impact.
There is only one you. When you’re gone, your mold will never be used again. Judaism maintains not only is it necessary for our well-being to know our unique purpose, but it is an obligation to find it and actualize it. As Hillel said, “If not now, when?”