Maybe you’ve lost or quit your job, perhaps your relationship has gone belly-up, or your life has changed now that you’ve got a couple of kids and a mortgage. What if you just feel that something is missing – really missing?

How do you find your life’s purpose? What’s a good place to start looking for the dreams and goals you thought you had and what is just a total waste of time and energy?

We’re often being told to identify our life’s purpose and our inner passions, but when you look within, do you come up with a blank canvas? It comes easily for some people, but many of us really need to do some work to identify what we really feel passionate about. This could be about your career, your personal development or simply the next step on the path.

There have never been so many options out there to help you discover your inner drive, but workshops, courses, counsellors and coaches can cost a lot of money and take up a lot of time. Here we examine the options out there.

Life coaches

What Are They?

Life coaching is a practice that helps people identify and achieve personal goals.

Life coaches assist clients by using a variety of tools and techniques, many of which vary greatly from life map planning to hypnosis and mentoring. Life coaching was first taught in the late 70s and early 80s and it is now a growth area with thousands of practitioners in Australia. As well as this, lots of people are currently studying to become life coaches, which is in itself a booming industry. Life coaches generally have a Certificate IV or a Diploma, or in some cases psychology or counseling qualifications.

What Do They Cost?

According to Lifecoach.com most life coaches working with individuals charge about $200 to $1,000 per month for a 30 to 60 minute call 3 or 4 times a month. In Australia, you can find a life coach to work with you in person on a per session basis, or via a designated program. Prices vary greatly, but three 60 minute sessions cost approximately $850, but as with many things, the more you pay upfront and the longer the package, the cheaper it gets.

What Sort of Timeframe is Needed?

Again, this varies greatly. Some people get coaching for a year or more, some people only a few sessions. Most of the research I did showed that life coaches tended to recommend at least a few months of coaching, in weekly or fortnightly sessions, allowing the client time to see the results in their lives. Coach Tamra Mercieca says, “While each person has different needs, it is recommended we speak to each other fortnightly for three months to cement these learnings in place.”

Do They Work?

Results are as varied as the people that try life coaching. Some say, “Absolutely they work,” and others have less exceptional results. The Life Coaching Institute of Australia promises that some clients experience “immense financial and emotional rewards,” but Steve Pavlina, a personal development expert writes a great review of his results with several life coaches, including one who just wasn’t a great fit for him, who he requested a refund from.

When Should You Try Something Else?

Decide in advance how much time and money you want to spend and stick to your plan. Life coaching could be a good option for you, but only if you are willing to devote several months to it, and you must be prepared to do homework that is set. It may be exercises like, “smile at 10 people a day,” or a comprehensive personality quiz. It’s imperative to find a coach you ‘click’ with, so be prepared to shop around and ask lots of questions.

It’s time to move on if you feel that you are not being listened to, your budget has been blown or you’re not seeing any results. Have a good idea of what you want to get out of your coaching, and come armed with a list of areas you’d like to work on, whether it’s personal growth, help with your career or self-confidence. There are many life coaches who also specialise in particular areas, so do your research.

Workshops

What Are They?

Career and personal workshops are designed to help participants establish their personal, professional or career direction and give ways of achieving these goals, as well as the motivation to try. Katie Roberts says, “Many people have preconceived ideas of the career path they wish to take. Often, they enrol in a university course for the wrong reasons and become discontented, changing courses after six or twelve months. It is important people understand the career choices that are available to them and the future opportunities to which these may lead.”

Katie tells a great story about wanting to be a chemist when she was aged 7 because she liked the carpet in the pharmacy! Often our motivations when choosing a path are not in line with our true purpose. Workshops can give us a crash course in working through our motivators and issues.

What Types of Workshops are Out There?

Again, do your research! You’ll find workshops specialising in careers, changing paths, relationships and personal growth. Alina Berdichevsky runs many workshops, promising to help you “liberate yourself from societal pressures and develop healthy boundaries… transforming you into the person you deserve to be.” While The Circular Sounds group in Melbourne uses “the six elements of language, colour, shape, sound, movement and feelings to access different parts of the brain, which allow new ideas to present themselves.”

You can certainly find courses that have a more business-oriented focus, or a more creative scope. Workshops can run for a single hour, over a weekend, or over a longer period. They can also be a great way to meet other people in the same boat as you, to share learning and experiences.

Who Are They Suitable For?

Don’t always rely on a friend or colleague’s recommendation either, as what works for one person, may not work for the next.

Workshops are a great idea if you don’t want to spend months of time on coaching and you need a quick burst of inspiration. The challenge is sustaining what you’ve learned over a long period of time. Workshops suit people who are busy with work or family commitments and can only spare an hour or a weekend, rather than committing to a longer program. They’re also great if you prefer to work alongside others, and if you like group work and exercises.

What Do They Cost?

Just about anything. You can find plenty of free workshops and those that go into the thousands of dollars. Expect to pay between $80 and $300 for an hour or a half day course.

How to Know if They’re Going to be Useful, or a Waste of Time and Money?

Again, researching is the key. Don’t always rely on a friend or colleague’s recommendation either, as what works for one person, may not work for the next. If you can, start with a shorter course and see how you like the teaching style, don’t sign up to something that’s hundreds of dollars if you’re not sure about the workshop leader or the company. Read testimonials and be wary of anything that is asking an inordinate amount of money upfront. Go with larger organisations or a person you feel that you ‘click’ with, who understands your style and what you want to learn.

New Learning Options

Career and personal sea changes are becoming much more popular as almost no one stays in the same job these days for their whole life. People today can expect to change careers 3 or more times in their lifetime, so don’t be afraid to investigate adult learning opportunities.

How Many Careers does the Average Person Have in a Lifetime?

“The problem is career change is tricky to define,” says Solomon Polachek, a professor from a New York University. Some experts don’t count switching temporary jobs in your youth as a ‘career change’ but many studies seem to put the number at around 3 or 4 careers, with over ten different jobs or employers. This means that in most cases, additional study, learning or training will need to be undertaken at some point in your life.

Can you Study Online? At University or TAFE?

There has been a massive surge in the number of people studying online, in Australia and in just about every single country. In the US there is “an almost four-fold increase in students taking courses online (representing) a compound annual growth rate of 18.3% over the nine-year period. By comparison, the overall higher education student body in the US has grown at an annual rate of just over 2% during this same period,” Elaine Allen from DE Hub. Similar figures are reported here in Australia.

It might be your dream career to work as a graphic designer or a photographer, but if you won’t be able to find work or cover your bills, you’ll be back to square one.

This is partly due to more people with access to technology, internet and computers but also to the fact that more reputable institutions are now offering courses online, including Harvard and M.I.T. The technology for online education, which may use videos, YouTube, and online student chatrooms, is growing so fast that many people say that education has changed forever. “My guess is that what we end up doing five years from now will look very different from what we do now,” said Provost Alan M. Garber of Harvard, who will be in charge of the university’s involvement.

In Australia more and more TAFEs and universities are offering online courses, but there are also many Certificates and Diplomas available online via registered training organisations or distance learning facilities such as Open Colleges or Seek Learning.

Identify What You Should Study – for Love or Money?

One of my favourite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, says, “You line up all the stuff you like to do and you figure out which one will pay best. Don’t complain to me that I’m too focused on money. Really. Just do the exercise.” However, you should really weigh up your needs first. Are you changing careers to make more money, or because you feel unfulfilled?

It might be your dream career to work as a graphic designer or a photographer, but if you won’t be able to find work or cover your bills, you’ll be back to square one. It’s important to be realistic with yourself, “we find by doing, not philosophising,” says Trunk. It’s OK to begin some adult education by doing a general interest course, and this can be a great way to work out whether or not you’ll be able to take your interest into a career.

Finding Communities

One of the best ways to work out which direction to go is by immersing yourself in the culture of those that are doing it and meeting the people who are doing what you think you love, and talking to them. Find out where you’d fit in the scheme of things. I have a great friend who wanted to become an actress, until she spent a year in an immersive, year-long acting course and decided that she couldn’t stand the pompousness and self-importance of the industry (her words). Another friend who was doing the same course felt that she had finally met her clan, and is now working in Los Angeles.

Finding a Mentor

For some lucky people, their passion is also their paying job, but for most of us, realistically our jobs are made up of tasks we love, loathe and feel neutral about. So how do you discover if what you love to do can make you enough money to live on? By talking to people who are doing what you want to do and finding a mentor.

“Look for someone that has done what you want to accomplish, maybe not on the grandest scale but who has consistently succeeded with innumerable challenges. Look for this person in a company similar to yours that is not a competitor,” advises Mary Lee Gannon of StartingOverNow.com.

Making Contact with Other Communities

So how do you discover if what you love to do can make you enough money to live on? By talking to people who are doing what you want to do and finding a mentor.

Alicia Banister from Elephant Journal says, “When we engage with others, and namely with community, we are reminded that we are not alone… to be with others gives us an opportunity to be met, to be seen, to allow someone else to meet us as we are.”

Become part of groups, read blogs and connect with others via social media in the areas you’re interested in. This can make you feel like you are moving towards achieving your goals. If you are interested in starting a small business, check out the government resources available and ask plenty of questions. If you want to be a jewellery designer, read industry publications and find Facebook groups linked to your interest. Make friends with people, or sit back and watch the conversations happening and put in your two cents when you feel confident.

Easier Than Ever to Find Communities, Or Harder?

Thanks to social media, it’s pretty easy to locate people doing what you want to do – but some believe that it’s actually getting harder to make real contacts, because we’re all so busy and our interactions lack quality. According to Jonathan Slonim, “Social media, at its worst, becomes the new definition of “community” and our default form of social interaction. This technology, once meant to aid individuals in communicating, becomes the sole means of communication. This inhibits real thoughts and friendships from forming. Our thoughts are becoming dangerously limited in scope and depth.”

Try to also make real face to face contact with people when you can. This is where getting a mentor or joining clubs or beginning adult education courses can be useful.

Identifying Inner Issues

When you’ve done everything else, and you’re still confused or blocked about your life’s purpose, consider what’s happening on the inside

What is Holding You Back?

Write down your fears and worries, think about the times in life that you’ve perceived that you’ve failed. Have a look at personal issues that keep cropping up – do you feel like you’re always the underdog, that you can’t build successful relationships, that you’re always struggling for money?

It’s going to be impossible to find your life’s purpose with the weight of your past hanging over your head. Look inward and see what comes up. This will probably be a lifelong process, but when exterior steps fail to bring forth a solution, all you can do is look inside.

What To Do About It

Once you identify an issue that may be holding you back, you need to work on it. “In our heart of hearts, we know what our obstacles and fears are. “These are the things we need to do but don’t do (or don’t do well) because they make us uncomfortable or fearful,” says Timothy Stratman of Supply Chain Quarterly. It’s really impossible to summarise a method of detangling your fears and issues, but there’s one thing that can be said, you need to take small, positive steps towards changing; you won’t get anywhere by doing nothing.

Could You Be Depressed?

Another possible problem we encounter when looking for our life’s purpose or encountering a road block is depression, or getting over past hurt. Acknowledge that you’re not perfect and that you’ve made mistakes. Get professional help if you feel you need to. Beyond Blue says, “Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious illness. People with depression find it hard to function every day and may be reluctant to participate in activities they once enjoyed.”

The good news is that more and more people are acknowledging depression as something that many people experience from time to time. If you constantly feel hopeless or down, it’s probably time to put seeking out your life’s purpose on the backburner until you feel mentally stronger. Taking small steps is the way to go.

Identifying Exterior Issues

When you’ve checked off your personal list, look outwards: what else could be holding you back? This is the final step towards getting to the crux of your dreams and goals for your life. Be brutal, be honest, but leave space in your heart for forgiveness and understanding.

Who/What is Holding You Back?

It could be circumstances, it could be illness, it could be your partner or your parents. What’s the solution? According to Cathie Brunnick of Patheos, “Refuse to be held back by the opinions of others. After all, what harm can someone’s opinion do to you? What power does it have over you? Only the power that you give to it.”

How Can This Be Managed?

Time to ditch the wife or husband? Sell the kids on eBay? Sometimes you just have to learn how to deal with the things that you feel are holding you back and make the decision to not let them stop you. Or it may be a physical circumstance that can’t be avoided. Understand that you can’t and shouldn’t put your life on hold for these things, you need to learn to work around them.

Get Storied has a great article about turning your obstacles into gifts. “Obstacles are Critical to the Hero’s Journey… Your greatest source of untapped power is in the parts of your story that remain unreconciled.” You can’t expect your life (and the people in it) to be perfect. Decide to use your personal challenges as a driving force.

Don’t Make Excuses – Everyone Can Live a Fulfilling Life

Discovering your life’s purpose means committing first of all to the idea that you DO have one and you CAN achieve it. Acknowledge that what you consider to be a personal goal or ambition may not even be on someone else’s radar. Remember that your life’s purpose does not have to be one single thing, and it can change and shift as we get older. The dreams you have in your twenties are more than likely going to be different to your dreams and goals at fifty.

Discovering your life’s purpose means committing first of all to the idea that you DO have one and you CAN achieve it.

Start today. Begin right now. Create an action list and make things happen. Create a worksheet of all the things you want to achieve and all the things you are currently happy with and want to maintain. Aim for achievable goals, then throw in some big dreams for good measure. Want to be a musician with a number one hit? Add it to your list but also add smaller goals such as creating a website for your music or making 3 promoter contacts.

Doug Hall says, “Don’t make excuses. Make things happen. Make changes. Then make history.”

The Final Thing

When we reach a roadblock it is essential to do something – not to do nothing and hope for the best. By putting in the work (in one or more of the areas identified above) you can shift that block and come closer to what your life’s purpose is – or at least be on the road to it. Don’t be afraid to reassess constantly.

Talk to people, look within and around you, and most importantly – believe in yourself, but do the work.