This is a guest post by Dr. John Izzo.

Today we’re constantly bombarded with messaging about how we should live. We’re told to work harder, dress better, be fitter, have better relationships, and show more gratitude. So how are we supposed to decide what really matters in life? The answer to having a meaningful life is to unlock and live our purpose.

When we have purpose, it makes us happier, feel more connected and fulfilled and may add years to our lives. I’ll share with you some lessons from my experience where I solidified my purpose by taking a mid-career sabbatical, a journey which greatly inspired my newest book The Purpose Revolution.

What is Purpose?
Purpose is our reason for being, the reason we get up in the morning, and it is more than simply about money and status. We all desire meaning and want to contribute to something good in the world. We want to make a difference in a way that is meaningful to us and connects us to something bigger than ourselves.

The Japanese have a word for having a sense of purpose: ikiagi, which is similar to the French raison d’être, or “reason for being”. In the Japanese tradition, finding your sense of purpose is an honored pursuit that can take years of time.

Many of us find that our core values stay rooted in place, but how we express our purpose can change as we get older and experience new growth. In my first career, I was a Presbyterian Minister out of a desire to serve society and make a difference in the lives of others. Today, I still serve others, but in a different way – I write books and speak to organizations about strengthening their inner commitment to doing what’s right.

I also serve on the Advisory Board of Sustainable Brands, the world’s leading community of purpose driven companies, and I’m proud to work with companies that show leadership around corporate social responsibility.

Go Find Your Purpose

I recently spoke to a large gathering of HR Leaders about why they need to encourage their employees to find purpose, and how to enable them to speak openly about purpose. I told the HR group that the quest for purpose is universal, impacting us all and that “if you can’t sing the song you came into the world to sing in the company or role you are in right now, then you owe it to your life to either find another place to sing your song or to find a way to sing it where you are right now.”

I’ll tell you firsthand why this is true, and why we all need to stop and reflect. Three years ago I was outwardly doing very well. I was giving about eighty talks a year inside large companies and writing books that were selling well. But I felt an inner shift was taking place.

At first, it felt like a series of nagging questions to myself: What should I be doing differently in my work? Am I focusing my efforts on the right issues?  Then, I started to question my purpose. Up to that point, I’d been happy with my accomplishments, but now I felt called to do something different. But what? I badly needed to find out.

My Journey
I decided to take on the task of re-evaluating my purpose. I booked a ten month sabbatical from all paid work in 2015. I purchased plane tickets, stocked my travel bag with notebooks, locked the office door and left. I kept my mind open and had no preconceived ideas about what I would discover, but as it turns out, I had a magical experience.

I walked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage in Northern Spain, and then I lived in a village in the high Andes in Peru. This trip was the perfect awakening I needed. I met wonderful people along the way but I spent most of the time alone in own thoughts. By the end of the journey, my purpose had become clear. I needed to devote the rest of my career to accelerating the shift to a more sustainable world by influencing business leaders and companies to make a big shift for a better world.

Lessons Learned

What emerged from my introspective step back were two new books, The Five Thieves of Happiness and The Purpose Revolution. I also founded a new university-based center which does deep work with leaders on their inner life. More importantly, I came back with a renewed spring in my step from knowing that I was focused on my life’s purpose.

Today, the work I do with companies can be extremely varied. Every client has a unique situation they want to address, so naturally every piece of work I take on can’t be just about accelerating the big shift to sustainability. But because I make the conscious choice to bring my purpose to every talk or consulting assignment, I am able to influence creating a better workplace for the people there. And the ripple effect of having a happier, more engaged workplace is that the employees make positive differences in every aspect of their lives and contribute to a better world.

The same will apply to you sometimes – you will find that living your purpose is about bringing more of your authentic self to what you are already doing, and leveraging that effort to create real positive change. I think of a major law firm I worked with where every person identified his or her own personal purpose. The receptionist identified her purpose as “giving a shot of optimism and positivity to every person I meet all day long.”

The receptionist job was not her ikiagi, but bringing optimism to the world was, so she was able to live her authentic purpose every day in that role. For many of us, finding purpose is sometimes not about changing jobs as much as it is becoming aware of our purpose and how it can be lived right where we are.

The Inquiry Process

Sometimes the only way to find the inner answer we need is to stop asking the question we’ve been asking, and focus on a different question. For me, I needed to stop asking myself how many speeches to give, and to instead ask myself what impact I truly wanted to make in the world. Of course it’s not feasible for everyone to take ten months off, but we can all start asking the inquiry process by asking ourselves the right questions. Here are some exercises from my book The Purpose Revolution to get you started.

Toolbox for Inquiry About Your Life’s Purpose

  • How do you want the world to be different because you are here?
  • What part can you play in making the vision a reality?
  • What do you want your legacy to be?
  • Day to day, what is the impact you want to have on others?
  • If you were to answer in only a few words, what would you say about your life purpose?
  • How could you bring that purpose more fully to your current work?

John Izzo is president of Izzo Associates. His newest book The Purpose Revolution, was released this week. He has spoken to over one million people and advised over 500 companies, including IBM, Qantas, the Mayo Clinic, Verizon, RBC, TELUS, Walmart, DuPont, Humana, Microsoft, and IBM. He is the author or coauthor of six books, including Awakening Corporate Soul. @drjohnizzo