There’s pressure, from ourselves and the people around us, to know the answer to: Where do you see yourself in five, ten, twenty years?
Whether you’re being asked about your professional or personal life, the question can be intimidating. Fortunately, a slight shift in focus can make the dreaded question feel more approachable — instead of asking yourself where you’ll be, ask yourself what drives you.
With this mental shift, you can identify your compelling purpose — and your life’s path — in manageable chunks. First, by defining what you’re passionate about. Next, by complementing your passions with your strengths. Lastly, by planning how you can do more of what you love and excel in.
Our community of mentors offered some constructive tips on defining and working towards your compelling purpose. So when you’re asked for your five-year plan, you’ll know just the answer.
Reflect on the things that excite you
When trying to identify your purpose, either in your career or your life, Michael King suggests starting with the ‘why’: “Getting to why you do what you do is going to be helpful. Think of it as a passion question. What gets you excited? What brings you a sense of fulfillment?”
If those questions begin to stump you, start with more manageable ‘why’ queries. Patrick Gallagher suggests you ask yourself smaller, more casual questions. “Ask yourself: What brought me joy? What did I like doing? Those items should keep you busy for some time.”
Don’t worry about defining everything you’re passionate about right off the bat, Sheila Miller says: “It’s ok to still be searching for one or even all of the answers. But you should have some inkling of what it is that really excites you. From there you can work on defining your compelling purpose and identifying the actions that can get you moving in the right direction.”
Think about where you shine
In addition to discovering your career or life passions, Gallagher recommends you take a hard look at your strengths. “I believe your compelling purpose is to do what you’re naturally born to do,” he says. “Everyone is so unique, so the answer will be different for everyone.”
If you’re looking for resources on how to determine your core strengths, Gallagher suggests checking out A Life At Work: The Joy Of Discovering What You Were Born to Do and the StrengthsFinder book and assessment.
Work backwards to identify actionable items
You’ve identified your passions and your strengths. Now what?
To take further action towards your compelling purpose, Sonali Banerjee advises you work backwards from your long-term vision to your next-step actionable items. She outlines six steps to do so:
- Write — Banerjee suggests you go through journaling exercises on your long-term, high-level dreams. There’s no pressure to have this perfectly accurate or organized. Rather, just document all your thoughts around your dreams and desires.
- Write, again — Next, jot down the activities that get you excited. Whether at work or at home, document the things you could do repeatedly without losing your passion for them.
- Search for patterns — Next, review your journaling for findings. Map out what you want (Step 1) and what you enjoy doing (Step 2).
- Look at your resources — After mapping out your desires and passions, take a look at your skill set. Do you have everything you need to start working towards those big dreams? As Banerjee says, “If yes, then ‘Bingo’. If not, on to the next step.”
- Fill in the gaps — Identify the skills you’ll need to develop in order to achieve your purpose. Again, write them down!
- Pick 2-3 first steps — At this point, you should have two or three ideas on where to get started. Perhaps it’s a new skill set you’d like to pick up. Perhaps it involves pursuing one of your passion points. Whatever you choose, again: document it. Doing so, Banerjee states, “will keep you motivated and excited about achieving them as they help you move closer to your dream.”
In summary, to pursue a compelling purpose:
- Ask yourself what you’re passionate about
- Think about what you’re best at
- Work backwards to identify action items and get started