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The M Dash

Live with purpose.

12 Questions to Ask Yourself if You Want to Find Your Purpose

This is what you should know about yourself before making a major change in your career or your life.

By Caitlin Abber

When was the last time you sat down and asked yourself if you’re actually living the life you want or if you’re really in the process of creating a legacy you’ll be proud of? For most people—especially working mothers—the constant worry wrought by the pandemic overrode the ability to daydream or consider big picture questions, but it was that very same uncertainty that left many of us questioning everything. Why do we spend so much time in careers we don’t find fulfilling? What did we used to want to be when we grew up, and why didn’t we pursue it? What excites us the most about being alive? To be sure, having the mental energy to contemplate one’s own happiness is certainly a privilege, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. In fact, some would argue that if more of us are aligned with our values and our purpose, we will be in a better place to help others find theirs.  

In her ongoing project, Finding Your Second Act, Alissa Heinerscheid explored this very notion by speaking with 100 women over the course of 100 days, taking stock of the questions they were grappling with, and looking for patterns in their responses. Mostly, though, she listened with empathy as almost every woman she spoke with exhaled for the first time in months, years, or maybe their entire life. “I think there’s something really powerful about not feeling alone—that we are in this thing together,” says Alissa. “I think that’s why I got such an overwhelmingly positive response. People were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to talk about this stuff and I don’t have anybody to talk about it with.’”

And Alissa did know. As a marketing VP for Anheuser-Busch, she’s spent her adult life climbing the corporate ladder and doing everything she’s “supposed to do” as a professional woman. But now, in the midst of her late 30s, she’s looking at the next chapter of her life and wondering if she’s meant to be doing something else. This feeling—an extremely relatable one for many women in 2021—is a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and for the first time in a long time, wonder.

When Alissa asked the 100 women about what they truly want to be doing with their lives, many of them expressed trepidation and concern about things like financial insecurity, family obligations (especially child and eldercare), and the fear of trying and failing. But there was also a recurring interest in reconnecting with their own inner children, and perhaps as a result of living through a pandemic that has killed over 700,000 Americans, a newfound desire to leave behind something meaningful when they die.

“This recognition, this moment that I think so many of us are having, I don’t think it would have happened if the pandemic hadn’t inserted this critical juncture into our lives,” Alissa explains. “We certainly could have had moments of realization here and there, but I don’t think it would have happened on any sort of scale like this.”

If you are on a similar quest, Alissa has offered to share a playbook she created specifically for women who are redefining their career ambitions. These 12 questions are intended to spark a dialogue and forward momentum into discovering purpose, fulfillment and joy in your career. So grab a journal, a cozy sweater, and prepare for your life to get very interesting.

12 Questions to Ask Yourself if You Want to Find Your Purpose:

1.   What matters most to you about who you are, and what dreams do you have for yourself?  

2.   Think back to the last heated disagreement you had with someone. What deeply held beliefs did this argument touch on?

3.   Imagine that you’re reading your own obituary. What does it say about you? 

4.   Imagine you’re 70 years of age and retired. You feel deeply fulfilled by your career and the choices you made to get there. What were some of those choices?

5.   Which career path did you want to follow but never did? 

6.   What industry/focus excites you most? If you can imagine yourself involved with it somehow in 3-5 years’ time, what would you be doing?

7.   What is the role you play to others in your life, including your partner, your colleagues, your friends, your family, and your larger community? Are you satisfied with this role?

8.   Create a timeline of your current career, and map the peaks and lows. What do you want to do more of, and what did you learn from the lows?

9.   What professional equity (networks, languages, international experience) do you have, and how can you best leverage it? 

10.   How much money do you need to earn to maintain or slightly improve your current lifestyle? How much money do you want to earn at the peak of your next career? 

11.   What does being “in the zone look like for you? How might you introduce it into your second act?

12.   What needs to happen for you to step confidently and boldly into your second act?

Read on.

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