How to Find Your Purpose in Life With Grit

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Grit" by Angela Duckworth. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to know how to find your purpose in life? Can having a purpose lead to having more grit?

Purpose is one of the four major components of grit. But figuring out how to find your purpose in life can be challenging. It’s important that you find your purpose so you have something to work toward.

Keep reading to find out how to find your purpose in life.

How to Find Your Purpose in Life

If you have interest in your work and conduct deliberate practice, you’ll make progress. But ultimately, if you don’t believe your work matters and contributes things of value, you will find it difficult to maintain your work for a long time.

This leads to the third component of grit: purpose. Purpose, as defined here, is “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others.” Think about this when considering how to find your purpose in life.

Grit and Purpose

You need purpose to have grit. But how do you know how to find your purpose in life? Duckworth found that universally, grit paragons extend the benefits of their achievement to a level beyond themselves – other people (like their children or clients) or an abstract concept (society, my country, science). 

Evolutionarily, we may developed a drive for altruism, because a cooperative species thrives more than the individual. Altruism improves grit by both sustaining passion (because your goals are more important) and perseverance (because you fight harder for goals that you care more about).

There is a possible confound here where grittier people may take on jobs that are generally accepted to have more purpose (like being a doctor), making the purpose questions easier to answer. However, across a range of careers, Amy Wrzesniewski has found similar proportions of people who consider their occupations a job, a career, or a calling. Among secretaries and garbage collectors, there are people who find their work purposeful and those who don’t. So how do you find your purpose in life?

Self-Enjoyment vs Helping Others

Gritty people show a greater interest in purpose than non-gritty people. There are at least two large ways of achieving happiness: pleasure (self-centered enjoyment) and purpose (outward-benefiting). People of all grit levels show similar amounts of pleasure in their work, but grittier people tend to feel a greater sense of purpose.

It may seem that self-oriented and other-oriented motivations are on opposite sides of the spectrum, but research has found that they’re independent. You can have neither, and you can have both. You can at once want to be the most successful person, while at the same time helping others. People who have both self-oriented and other-oriented motives tend to be the most productive. 

(Shortform note: do gritty people naturally empathize with people and want to be altruistic? Or can you develop purpose, which in turn makes you grittier? Is this malleable? The book doesn’t address this.)

Jobs vs Careers vs Callings

It’s important to note the difference between jobs and careers when thinking about how to find your purpose in life. Here’s an illustrative story. Three bricklayers are asked, “what are you doing?” 

  • The first says, “I am laying bricks.” 
  • The second says, “I am building a church.” 
  • The third says, “I am building the house of God.”

The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

Defined further, people who have jobs are interested only in the material benefits from work, and don’t receive other rewards from it. The work is not an end in itself. People who have careers have deeper personal investment and enjoy advancement within the organizational structure. 

People who have callings find their work inseparable from their life – the work is personally fulfilling.

(Shortform example: a reporter visited the SpaceX factory floor and asked someone what he was working on. The SpaceX worker replied, “the mission of SpaceX is to make humans a multiplanetary species. To accomplish this, we need to lower the cost of rockets by making them reusable. I work on the guidance system that helps the rocket be reusable.” These employees see their work as closely aligned to the company’s broad, humanity-wide purpose. Surely they feel a strong sense of purpose in their day-to-day work.)

Now that you know how to find your purpose in life, you can consider how to pursue that purpose.

How to Find Your Purpose in Life With Grit

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Angela Duckworth's "Grit" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Grit summary:

  • How your grit can predict your success
  • The 4 components that make up grit
  • Why focusing on talent means you overlook true potential

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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