They are some of the most burning questions in life: “What is my purpose?” and “How do I find real meaning?”
These questions are both the most central to finding true happiness, fulfillment, and flourishing, and the most difficult to answer. There are no surefire handbooks that infallibly lead you to your true vocation in three easy steps; there are no blog posts that can explain the entire meaning of life. Rather it’s a lifelong process of searching and refining; the answers you find now will change over time, as study and life experience broaden your perspective.
Fortunately, while easy answers to finding meaning and purpose can’t be served up on a silver platter, guideposts exist which can point your search in the right direction. You’ll find five such thought-stimulating guideposts below — episodes of the AoM podcast with guests who offer particularly good guidance on finding your calling and living with a greater sense of significance. Check out our podcast archives for even more episodes on the subject, and to listen to shows on a wide variety of other topics; sometimes, it’s not when we’re pondering meaning and purpose directly, but rather thinking about something seemingly unrelated, that we get an insight that connects life’s big dots.
What are you meant to do with your life? Guidance on this question can come from many sources; psychotherapist and yoga teacher Stephen Cope says that one of the best is the Bhagavad Gita. In this episode he unpacks how this ancient scripture can point you towards your true calling. This includes exploring the three areas of your life that can clue you in to your life’s purpose, and why that purpose may be small and quiet rather than big and splashy.
Befitting its name, the existentialist branch of philosophy wrestles with the question of our very existence. What does it mean to be a free and individual human being? What makes this messy life worth it? In this interview, Professor Gordon Marino helps unpack those questions, bringing insight not only as a scholar but also as a football and boxing coach. After listening you’ll be better equipped to survive the setbacks, emotions, and general angst that comes with personhood.
What if searching for happiness actually results in unhappiness, and to get happiness we need to be looking for something else? This interview with Emily Esfahani Smith gets into the difference between happiness and meaning, the three pillars of a meaningful life (and how we can experience them), and whether meaning requires a spiritual or faith tradition. You’ll come away from this interview looking differently at not only your life as a whole, but also at the makeup of how you spend your days.
Do you sometimes feel that from an outside perspective you seem to be doing okay, but inwardly you feel kind of empty? This is because, as David Brooks argues, you’re stuck on life’s “first mountain.” The climb up this first mountain is focused on you: getting a college degree, starting a career, falling in love, buying a home, and making your mark on the world. Those are good things, and necessary even, but eventually start to feel unfulfilling on their own. That’s when we discover there’s a second mountain to ascend — a path of selflessness, relationships, and being more generative. In this episode, you’ll get a bead on pursuing this moral quest.
You might think that your calling is the same thing as your career or vocation. My guest in this episode, Gregg Levoy, says that’s not necessarily the case. Callings — emotional, psychological, and spiritual nudges — can be big or small, and might involve a job change, or something as simple as reaching out to a friend. Gregg walks us through how to better attune yourself to their signals, how to discern if something you think is a calling actually is or not, and how to respond if the answer is affirmative.