Your Personal Philosophy of Life: Finding Your Compass

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "What Color Is Your Parachute?" by Richard N. Bolles. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is a personal philosophy of life? Why is it important and how can you get one?

The personal philosophy of life is your purpose. It can serve as your compass and guide you.

Read more about the need for a personal philosophy of life.

Human Purpose and the Personal Philosophy of Life

The goal of this petal is to figure out the mission or purpose of your life. You’ll consider your spiritual values and moral compass.

The entries on this petal will be a description of what facets of the world you want to improve and some details about those facets. Be specific. An example petal might read: improve the lives of children living in unsafe homes. 

There are two worksheets involved with filling out this petal:

Worksheet #1: Nine Facets of Human Purpose

There are nine facets of human purpose. All of them are worthwhile and important, but you’ll likely be drawn to one in particular.

  1. Beauty. When you’re gone, do you want the world to be more beautiful than it was when you were born? Would you do this through music, flower arranging, or another art form?
  2. Physical health. Do you want to leave behind a legacy of feeding the hungry or contributing to the population’s fitness?
  3. Resources. Are you worried about the world’s consumerism and would prefer to see people being happy for what they have rather than always wanting more? How, specifically?
  4. Morality. Do you want the world to be more honest and fair than it is now? What areas of the world, or which populations, do you want to focus on? 
  5. Love. Do you want the world to be more compassionate? Towards who or what?
  6. Entertainment. Do you want to cheer people up and distract them from their problems? Do you want to make people laugh? What kind of entertainment are you specifically interested in?
  7. Environment. Do you want the earth to be in a better state when you leave than when you arrived? Which particular environmental movements speak to you?
  8. Spirituality. Do you want the world to have more faith and love in God? Which people, and what parts of life?
  9. Knowledge. Do you want the world to know more as a result of your time in it? In what subjects?

Choose the facet that speaks the most to you and write between a paragraph and a one-page essay about it. If you’re struggling with this exercise, move on to worksheet #2. If you know exactly what to write, transfer your essay, or a summary or your essay, to Petal #4.

Worksheet #2: Personal Philosophy of Life

If you have trouble choosing a purpose, ruminate for a while. Eventually, an answer should come to you, even if it takes a year. That answer is can also be more of a personal philosophy of life.

If you’re totally uninterested in choosing a purpose, then approach this petal differently. Write a “Personal Philosophy of Life.” It should be no more than two pages and should address what you think about the meaning of life. Why do humans exist and why do you personally exist? Consider things such as beliefs, free will, happiness, stewardship, values, and so on.

Write a summary of your personal philosophy of life on Petal #4.

God and Your Mission

Your beliefs contribute to who you are and what makes you unique, so it’s important to consider them as you self-assess. The author believes human purpose is inherently related to God⁠—a “mission” is something you feel called to do, and this call comes from God. If you’re not Christian, you can translate the following ideas into whatever’s meaningful for you.

The author has divided finding your mission into three stages:

1. Get to know God. Everyone on the planet shares this mission, but the way in which you pursue it is unique to you. During this stage, keep in mind:

  • Your mission isn’t to do something, it’s to be the kind of person who reflects God’s image. 
  • We have a relationship with God whether we acknowledge it or not because we were created by and will return to him. When we’re born, we forget what came before⁠—you can think of being born into a physical body like getting amnesia and think of religion as remembering what you once knew.
  • Some part of ourselves will want to ignore God. This will be a barrier to achieving our mission.
  • We’re unique and special because God thinks so, not because there’s anything particular about our own being.
  • The physical aspects of our lives, such as interacting with nature, are important, but we also must consider spiritual aspects.

2. Improve the world. Again, everyone on the planet shares this mission, but the way in which you pursue it is unique to you. During this stage, keep in mind:

  • Every time you have a choice, no matter how small, choose the option that improves the world. 
    • For example, if you’re driving in rush hour and someone signals to move into your lane, make space for them instead of cutting them off.
  • Every small decision is part of improving the world. If you only look for big-picture choices, you’ll miss opportunities.
  • Even if you don’t understand the big picture of the mission, follow God’s guidance.
  • God won’t give you any more information about the big picture until you’ve used all the information you already have.
  • The small things aren’t just practice⁠—they’re meaningful and they contribute to a larger mission.

3. Use your talents in a setting you enjoy in order to do things God needs done. During this stage, keep in mind:

  • God gives us free will, so we can choose how to fulfill this stage of our mission.
  • Your achievements don’t have to be public or obvious. In some cases, even you yourself might not know what contributions you’ve made if they don’t take effect until after your death.
  • Whatever you achieve, you and God achieve together. You accomplish nothing alone.
  • Some of us look for specific, direct instructions during this stage of the mission. However, you already have all the information you need⁠—you know what you’re good at and you know what you like doing.
  • Career counseling is actually better at this part of the mission than religion. 
  • You might imagine that when God created your soul, you had a conversation about what your mission was and what talents you needed for it, and you’ve only forgotten because of earthly amnesia.
  • Your mission will probably have something to do with truth, beauty, service, or a combination of all three.
  • Now that you know you have a mission, you don’t need to worry about your lifespan. God will leave you on the earth until you complete your mission or a more important mission comes up elsewhere. Pay attention to your health and death, but don’t worry about either.

If you keep your mission in mind while job searching, you’ll not only end up with a career you like, but you’ll also understand the point of your life.

Your Personal Philosophy of Life: Finding Your Compass

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Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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