THE BLOG
02/18/2015 02:09 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2015

5 Steps to Help You Discover Your True Purpose

Katelyn Downs Photography via Getty Images

Purpose. We all have one. No, I don't believe in the theory of predestination -- I mean, we can't just hang out, eat Cheetos and watch our amazingly fabulous lives simply unfold before us, but I do think each one of us was born to do and to be something. Something that no other person can be in exactly the same way. So how do we find what that is? Well, that's what I wanted to know, too.

I once heard Oprah say that everyone really knows what they want to do in life. "Um, okay, O," I thought. "You may have known since you were a tot what your purpose was, but I personally have no effing clue." I really didn't. And I had no idea how to even begin to find it. Apparently I was just supposed to know who I was and how to live my life around it.

Does that sound familiar? I think when we get to a certain age (and pleeeaasse do not call it a mid-life crisis) we all begin to feel this little nagging inside. No matter how happy we are in our lives, we still feel this restlessness. Routine is a part of life, but sometimes it just seems that the days bleed into weeks, months, even years.

We want what we have -- our partners, our children, our careers, our families (well, some of them), but we want it all broader in some way. More expansive. More fulfilling at a deeper level. That is the yearning for purpose. Our own individual purpose. I felt it. I ignored it for a long time and fixated instead on achieving, acquiring, attempting to be a level of awesome that I never would or could attain. But one day, I realized that my quest for things was only keeping me from living the life I desperately wanted and actually was quelling my dreams in the process. So here's how I began to fight my way to living a life that I really always wanted:

1. I made the decision that I didn't want a life just rote with routine.
This doesn't mean I didn't want the life I had. In fact -- the exact opposite. My husband and I had created a family and a life that we deeply adored, and we were determined not only to keep it, but to help it to thrive. I wanted a big, expansive life -- not just for me, but for my family as well. I wanted a life that would be filled with joy, even while trudging through the grocery store. I wasn't sure if that was possible, but I was willing to try to find out.

2. I reached out for help.
I found someone who had been down this path, who had spent a good time searching, run into hurdles and had crossed over them. I delved in and asked how they did it and how they could help me do the same. A therapist may be a good place to start, but it doesn't have to be a hired gun. It can be another person who is just further along in the process than you are. They probably will tell you that it takes a good bit of work to re-find who you are, so you first have to decide if you are all in.

3. I had to look back to be able to move ahead.
You ready? Then throw all your chips down on the table and start digging. No, not through your cash, but down into your old pains, disappointments, missteps, flat out awful mistakes and wounds from growing up. I had to see mine, relive them, sit in them, feel them and then sit in them some more. It kinda sucked, but only by immersing myself in some of my oldest hurts could I actually see them and know how they shaped who I was today -- or more accurately -- who I portrayed myself to be to the world.

See, we all build up coping mechanisms as we wiggle our way into adulthood -- we morph into individuals that can best survive in the environment that we find ourselves in. We end up covering up who we really are in an effort to protect ourselves, and the result is like we're wearing a mask every day. But one day (like maybe today?) we realize that the mask doesn't fit anymore. Figuring out why we created the mask in the first place, what we're hiding from when wearing it and how we act while we are behind it is the first step to dismantling it. We begin to realize that we don't have to feel angry, guilty, shameful or whatever our stuff is, and by knowing this, we can show everyone the glimmer of us that is hiding -- and has always been hiding -- underneath. We then have the courage to take off the mask.

4. Shh... Do I hear a little voice?
Yes. We all have one. No, you don't have multiple personalities (or maybe you do -- totally a different article), but you do have a little governor in there that wants desperately for you to live a life of joy -- a life of purpose.

Unfortunately, most of us ignore her because she often tells us to do things that require us to take off the mask. But as you lose the fear to hang it up, you open up the opportunity to hear your voice -- to hear yourself. And by hearing her, you then can follow her advice. When I first started to listen, I felt like I was in one of those cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, but more and more, I brushed the devil off and started listening to the angel.

Sometimes it was a matter of pure self-control, but when I paused and acted in a way in tune with my voice, I felt more peaceful, my relationships started to change and opportunities started to open. By first taking off the mask and then listening to our little voice, we start to open a little clean spot in our lives that isn't muddled with fear, anxiety or regret. And as we stop acting out of those old primal feelings, that spot of clarity grows even bigger.

5. I just started trying.
So, you made a clean spot--now what? What do you put in it? Well, I don't think it's actually what we put back into it, but what we let emanate out. After stripping off all of the outdated emotional baggage we've piled on, we can finally let our authentic selves shine through, and when we do, we attract what we've always wanted. The people, the work, the creativity that we truly desire -- but maybe didn't know it -- start to materialize around us.

It's our job, however, to have the courage to reach for them. We have to start trying new ways, new things, let in new people and then see how our lives transform because of it. By reaching, by trying, by grabbing the possibilities open in front of us -- which we now have the clarity to see -- we then have the tools to find our purpose. It starts with dismantling the old so that we can reach for the new, but once we do, once we do the hard work, we then can begin to live the big life of which we have always dreamed.