"There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It's why you were born. And how you become most truly alive."—Oprah Winfrey
OK, I'm just speaking for myself when I say this, but when I reflect back on my own college experience, I think the worse thing a parent can do is make—and by that, I mean basically force—their child to enroll into a college/university when they are only 17 or 18 years of age. The reason why I say that is because when I graduated from high school at the age of 17, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And college? A big part of what it helps you to do is prepare for your career, which hopefully ties in very well to your life's purpose.
For a lot of young people, it would be better for them to get a full-time job, join AmeriCorps, teach overseas—do something that gives them some time to mature and figure out a few things before thousands of dollars gets shelled out on what ends up being a PhD in life rather than in education.
The chick I am now? I would go to college and get all A's easily. That's because I currently know what my purpose is. And oh, how life is so much more fulfilling, exciting, and even easier when we know what we were sent here to do and we're actually doing it.
Not to say that life doesn't come with its challenges from time to time, but I can confidently say that the most miserable people I know are the ones who either don't know what their purpose is or they put other things before their purpose.
How can you know what category you fall into? If you're living out your purpose, these first five points will fully resonate:
5 Signs You're Living In Your Purpose
1. You Feel a Profound Spiritual Connection to a Higher Power
Growing up, one of my favorite shows was Family Ties (it's still got one of my favorite theme songs of all time—"sha-na-na-nah"). Like a lot of little girls, regardless of ethnicity, Michael J. Fox was a crush of mine. Oh, but it wasn't until he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease that he and his wife (someone who actually played his girlfriend on the show) became heroes of mine. I remember watching him on a 20/20 interview years ago. When the interviewer asked him if he was bitter about having the disease, he casually said, "I'm honored that God would entrust me with it."
Although he made quite a mark as an entertainer, Michael has changed lives and affected legislature since he's had Parkinson's. And there's no way he could be so in tune with himself that he'd be grateful for having such a debilitating disease without having some sort of connection to the Most High. That's why I'm totally with him when he says, "I believe purpose is something for which one is responsible; it's not just divinely assigned."
One way to know that you are living in your purpose is there is a profound sense of spirituality that's attached to it. Not only that but you somehow feel disconnected to that Source when you're not doing what you know you were put on this earth to do.
2. You’re Creating More Than You’re Copying or Duplicating
One of my absolute favorite t-shirts (that you can cop here) simply says, "Created by the Creator to Create." That spiritual connection that I spoke of? One of the things that it does for people who are tapped into their purpose is it shows them how to be truly and authentically creative. Creative people are productive. Creative people are risk-takers. Creative people are originators. Creative people blaze trails more than they follow them. Creative people are the ones who come up with ideas that can't really be compared to anything else. That's because they'd rather create their own blueprint than mimic someone else's.
If you're out here coming up with plans and concepts that folks are calling clever, ingenious, and visionary; if you spend more time praying, meditating, and seeking within than copying or duplicating what folks have already done, this is another pretty telling sign that you're operating within your purpose.
3. Your Natural-Born Gifts Are Being Used
I once heard a pretty good explanation for the difference between our gifts and our talents. Gifts are what come naturally to us; they are the things that we do exceedingly well without a lot of effort on our parts. Talents, on the other hand, are things that we're pretty good at, but we still have to be some extra work in.
My brother? He has a gift for singing. It's like he eats and sleeps it. Me? Folks close to me know that I also can hold a tune, but I consider mine to be a talent. Oh, but put a laptop in front of me and sometimes I'm typing out 8,000-10,000 words a day. It comes very naturally to me to do that. My mother says that when I was a toddler, my favorite thing to do was shake newspaper. For my brother, on the other hand, it was banging on pots and pans. Hmph. Makes sense.
A friend of mine (who is an award-winning producer and a gifted singer in his own right) gives this advice on gifts vs. talents. "If you put all of your effort into doing what you do average, you'll become OK at it. But if you put that into what you are already great at, you become unstoppable. Supernatural, even."
No doubt about it—if you're utilizing your gifts, DAILY, this is another indication that you are working within your purpose.
4. You Are Benefiting Others
This is a good one. A writer and minister by the name of Frederick Buechner once said, "Purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's needs." Purpose, by definition, means the reason why we exist. None of us created ourselves, so it's very selfish to use our gifts and abilities purely for personal gain (I'll get more into that in just a sec).
Just think about it. Some of the most profound figures in our earth's history (Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. immediately come to mind) are individuals who used what they had and who they were to help and benefit others.
If you can immediately list 3-5 ways how what you're doing with your life is making the lives of others better, feel good about yourself. It's one more clue that you are living within your purpose.
5. Your Good Days Far Outweigh the Bad
I am not the richest person on the planet. I have trials and tribulations just like everyone else. But guess what? I love my life. I really do! I can't remember the last time I woke up, thought about what was on my to-do list and wanted to stay in bed rather than tackle those things head on.
A big part of this is because I know—that I know, that I know—that I am doing just what I was created to do. When you have that kind of clarity, confidence, and self-awareness, you can't help but feel good about yourself and what only you can do, in your own special way, while being on this planet.
So, now that we've touched on how to know if you're living out your purpose, what are some red flags that you're not?
3 Signs You're Not Living In Your Purpose
1. Money or Fame Is Your Sole Motivator
There are a lot of people out here—almost to the point of it being an epidemic—where, if you tried to figure out how they got rich (in an honorable way) or what they are famous for (that's worth any merit), you tend to draw a blank. Far too much of society is consumed with being wealthy and having fame. It doesn't really matter how they do it, so long as they do. There's a word for that; it's a mercenary. A mercenary is someone who does something solely for money or some type of reward.
There's nothing wrong with making money. We need it to live. Fame is cool, so long as your fame is influencing people for the better (some of the folks making money off of YouTube alone blow my mind when it comes to what they are doing with their platform…it ain't good).
But individuals who are truly living out their purpose, money, and fame doesn't motivate them. Growth does. Helping others does. Feeling a sense of accomplishment that they can be proud of today and when they take their last breath does.
In the pursuit of purpose, it's always a good idea to do a random gut-check to see what is inspiring you to do the things that you do. It reveals a lot.
2. You Can’t Explain Your Purpose in Three Words/Phrases
Something I'm a firm believer of is you should be able to explain your purpose in three words or three (short) phrases; otherwise, you probably don't know. Me? Sex, marriage and the Sabbath are my lanes. They all tie in together because they are covenant principles (my first name speaks to having a covenant with God in Hebrew too). If there are any things that I can never get enough of when it comes to researching, writing and speaking on, it's these topics.
When you know something down in the deepest depths of your being, you don't need a lot of words to explain it. This is what I believe about purpose. That said, if someone were to walk up to your right now and ask, "What's your life's purpose?" could you break it down in three words or phrases? If not…why not?
3. You Constantly Feel Incomplete
A Canadian writer by the name of Oriah once said, "It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dream of meeting your heart's longing." Amen.
Sometimes I get tired. Sometimes I am irritated. Sometimes, walking in my purpose is literally a faith journey. But when it comes to fulfilling my purpose, if there's one thing that I never feel, it's incomplete.
This is my final "please take note" indicator that you may not be living within your own purpose. When you're doing what you were sent here to do, no matter how hard life gets sometimes, you still feel an unexplainable sense of wholeness and inner peace. How could you not? You're living out the reason for your existence; nothing is more powerful or reassuring than that.
Even if you've got a high-paying job or you're currently doing something that you constantly get praised for, if deep down, you don't feel whole and complete…don't ignore that tug at your spirit. It's a sign that you're either not fully or not at all living out your purpose.
Stop, reflect and find it. As soon as possible. Because the world certainly needs you functioning in your purpose. After all, that's the main reason why you're here.
Featured image by Getty Images.