Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but more and more people are asking with a sense of urgency, “What is my life’s purpose?” Asked with sincerity, I hear it from people from all walks of life and different beliefs and cultures. People want to know that their life is meaningful. They want to live a life that has a positive effect on others and one that leaves their unique imprint on the world.

It’s a challenging question to answer. On the Internet you can find a program that will “easily and quickly” let you discover your life’s purpose in 30 minutes. Another site promises you’ll find it in 20 minutes and suggests that you ask yourself, “What is my true purpose in life?” Then write out whatever pops into your head. Keep asking and writing until one answer makes you cry. Crying tells you it’s your purpose. Gotta love the Internet, but who am I to fault it if it actually works for someone?

The most practical answer I found was from Deepak Chopra, author and teacher of mind/body spiritual healing. He suggests 1) seek the highest within you, 2) find your unique talent or gift, and 3) determine how you can help others with it. I love the simplicity. At a conscious level, you make a choice to use your creative expression to serve humanity.

Yet there are other ways people live out their purpose that are just as meaningful, but often go unnoticed.

Years ago as I was leaving a doctor’s office with a friend, we noticed a young woman possibly in her 30s in a wheelchair. Her body was awkwardly curved with little mobility; her eyes possessed a vacant stare that seemed detached from this world. Sitting beside her were her parents. I doubt if that dear woman even thinks of her purpose, but I have no doubt she is fulfilling it. Perhaps she is teaching patience or compassion to her parents.

One’s purpose can be discovered and played out in a multitude of ways. Unexpected tragedy can lead a person to a clear and focused purpose. Pain often serves as an uncomfortable way of waking us up. We can then extract the good from the experience or stay stuck in the drama. It’s our choice. Many charitable organizations have emerged out of a person’s struggle with a disease, disability or hardship. They see a problem and make it their purpose to provide solutions for others.

Self-growth or “personal earthquakes” often jolt us out of complacency and self-focus into a more humanitarian approach to life. Difficult people can be our greatest teachers.

I happen to be a “talent pusher.” I help people unearth and honor their natural gifts. If they remained buried, people often suffer from depression or even addiction — trying to fill the void caused by not expressing their truth. However, when expressed and used wisely, the entire world benefits.

Then there are those with good intentions only. I remember an attorney who couldn’t wait until retirement. He excitedly spoke of how he was going to read to the elderly. After retirement, year after year, he would say that “someday” he was going to visit assisted senior living facilities.

But as you and I both know, “someday” doesn’t exist. It’s an imaginary myth, but the land of NOW does.

Wherever you are right now, you can find meaning and purpose in your life. Honest self-expression is the key to discovering your life purpose. Being true to yourself and living out your intentions is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and others.

Susan Ann Darley is a creativity coach and business writer. Click here for more information, or contact her at or 805.845.3036. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.