When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my cousin Sam.
As a child, he asked for something related to fighter jets for every birthday and Christmas. Toy planes, a replica helmet from his favorite pilot in the Blue Angels, trips to go watch air shows in nearby cities.
In high school, he joined the junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, a program that helps you prepare and fast track your career as an eventual officer in the military.
College rolled around, he took (and aced) every single course his military advisors recommended to him. He even went out of his way to get his pilot’s license during his free time outside of school.
Sam was literally obsessed with wanting to become a fighter pilot when he grew up. And he made it happen. For more than ten years now, Sam has been flying as a pilot in an elite squadron for the Marine Corps.
He had a very clear mission—a calling that never wavered.
We all know someone like this who has a laser focus on achieving a very specific goal. But the reality is that most people aren’t like this. I know I’m not. I’ve never had a clear, lifelong mission that’s been impervious to change.
We all know someone like this who has a laser focus on achieving a very specific goal. But the reality is that most people aren’t like this.
Over the past five years since graduating from college, I’ve had several different jobs, shifting aspirations and careers in different fields. Sometimes I’ll stumble upon an exciting new opportunity or come up with an idea that’s worthy of deviating from my current path.
My progression through life hasn’t been as linear as Sam’s up to this point—and that’s ok. For the vast majority of us, there won’t always be a clear mission or route to get there.
Change the way you think about finding a mission
The very thought of finding a mission is overwhelming for most people.
According to William Arruda, author of Ditch, Dare, Do! here’s how we define having a personal mission in our society: A personal mission statement provides clarity and gives you a sense of purpose. It defines who you are and how you will live.
A sense of purpose? Who are you? How will you live? If that’s not overwhelming, I don’t know what is.
These are deep questions that can produce a lot of anxiety for someone who doesn’t have a strong calling in a particular direction today.
How nice it would be to have this thing—a mission that we can dedicate ourselves to pursuing for the next year, five years, more. But honestly, what are you willing to commit to chasing right now, for the next five or more years? That’s extremely difficult. And this line of thinking will set most people up for failure.
What are you willing to commit to chasing right now, for the next five or more years? That’s extremely difficult. And this line of thinking will set most people up for failure.
Your mission needs to begin as a micro-commitment
When it comes to finding a mission, you need to think about it as a process of identifying pursuits that are worthy for now and are flexible enough to change at any time in the future.
One month. Attending two classes. Writing three articles. Coaching four people.
You need to give yourself permission to try, experiment and fail with the potential missions you’re testing out. Micro-commitments are a great way to do this.
Whether it’s deciding to look for new jobs that could give you more purpose, starting a side hustle with the goal of eventually freeing yourself from full-time employment, volunteering for a non-profit, or something else that has the potential to evolve into a more meaningful mission, start with just a one month trial to see how you like it.
Give yourself a 30-day period of time for testing out the pursuit of a potential mission without expectations for the type of success you need to experience. Re-evaluate at the end of your month-long experiment and see how you feel about continuing.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have big goals, hopes, and dreams.
However, your mission shouldn’t be this lofty objective to commit yourself to, with the expectation that it’ll keep you motivated, driven and feeling passionate forever.
Studies show that Millennials job hop more than any other generation—reporting an average of three different jobs within the first five years of graduating college. Locking yourself into just one mission won’t work.
Embrace the reality that you’re more than likely to have several, if not dozens of different missions over the course of your life.
Start thinking small and ask yourself these questions
Big goals are never achieved overnight. They must be broken down into smaller, attainable objectives and tasks.
My cousin Sam worked hard for more than ten years before his first flight as a military pilot. And he didn’t get there by going straight to his final pilot’s exam. It took him many years of training, graduations, and hitting small milestones along the way to becoming a pilot—and achieving those smaller goals is what continued to reaffirm his mission over time.
To find a mission that’ll be worthy of pursuit for you, start by asking yourself these questions and begin setting small goals to test your way into them.
What are you doing already? Take a look at where your time is going today.
Let’s say you’ve undergone a physical transformation as a result of getting serious about exercise and nutrition. Do you spend hours each week maintaining a healthy lifestyle now? If so, that’s the foundation for a skill that could be finessed into expertise by helping other people achieve their personal fitness goals.
Here are a few more follow up questions that’ll help you dig deeper into what you’re already doing—that could lead to helping you validate a personal mission.
How do you spend your free time outside of work?
What do you like talking about most with friends and family?
What’s one thing you could write an essay about (and actually enjoy it)?
What inspires you to do the things you’re already doing?
What are your values?
Once you land on a potential mission that aligns with your interests and experience—say, helping fellow Millennials train for marathons—break down the process you’ve already used to experience results in this area, yourself.
Then, you can start pursuing opportunities to work within the industry as a running coach. Or you can start your own side project and identify and personally train a few potential people within your network that may be interested in running a marathon later this year.
What are you good at? We tend to like doing more of the things we’re already good at.
When we’re actively using our strengths and leaning into our expertise, we’re also more likely to receive praise for our work, which creates a positive cycle that reinforces doing the activity more.
Rather than hoping to find your mission by waiting for it to fall down out of the sky, choose to pursue working on a personal project that engages your strengths. If you’re not sure what your strengths are, I have a free skill assessment that’ll help you get more clarity.
The assessment will help you dig into your biggest wins, look at feedback from friends and answer questions like:
What are you strongest soft skills? How about hard skills?
What comes naturally to you?
What’s one thing you stayed up way too late working on (because you enjoyed it)?
It’s possible to be good at something you don’t really enjoy doing. Be sure to gut-check these strengths to make sure they translate into a potential mission that you’d also be interested in pursuing as a test for the next few weeks.
What’s something others view you as an authority on? Helping people with a particular challenge is the foundation of any potentially successful business, especially when it’s driven by a mission to better the lives of the people you’re helping in some way.
Ask yourself these questions:
Do you have an acute knowledge of a particular subject?
Do your friends and family come to you asking for advice all the time?
How about a valuable, in-demand skill, or personality trait that others in your life have always found useful?
You don’t need to be the world’s leading expert in order to help people. Give yourself the credit you deserve if you’ve been able to build a little authority on a topic, even if it’s just within your small group of friends. Chances are, you’ll be able to help others too.
What’s your favorite aspect of your current work? Even if you’re not exactly in love with your day job, there has to be an element of your work that gets you excited.
It may not be something you do every day or get the opportunity to focus much time on, but if you had to identify an aspect of your job that lights you up the most, what would it be?
Do you like working hands-on with customers, educating them about your product?
Do you enjoy writing blog posts or perfecting sales copy?
Do you feel energized after closing a new sale over the phone?
Take note of your most recent memories from the office when you laughed, smiled or let time slip away while you were engaged in a particular task.
These will be the types of activities you’ll want to maximize your ability to focus on in order to find a mission that has the opportunity to stand the test of time.
Give yourself permission to experiment
There’s no step-by-step equation for finding your mission in life.
Some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had were brought upon by seemingly insignificant events that simply landed in my lap. You have to be open to embracing interesting opportunities that come your way and summon the strength to try them out even when failure seems inevitable.
Some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had were brought upon by seemingly insignificant events that simply landed in my lap.
For the vast majority of people, your mission is going to naturally grow, change and evolve over time. Be kind and grant yourself the permission to experiment with growing an area of interest and seeing where it can take you.
Sometimes it’ll pan out into becoming a passion project or a full on business. Others may be destined to live on as volunteer activities. And other still, may just fizzle out after you get into the thick of it.
The possibilities are unpredictable, yet incredibly exciting.
The more you take action, the quicker you’ll find your next mission—for now.
Need help finding your mission? We're here to help. Simply check off these actions and find yourself on the way to purposeful bliss.
Ryan Robinson is an entrepreneur and content marketing consultant to the world’s top experts and growing startups. On his blog, ryrob.com, he teaches over 200,000 monthly readers how to start a profitable side business. Find Ryan on Twitter: @TheRyanRobinson.