A Soul-Searching Strategy
There are always points in life, specifically periods of significant life changes, when we need to go back to the drawing board and figure out who we are and what we stand for. Here's a short list of steps that could be useful in jumpstarting your soul-searching process (along with recommended books for more comprehensive tips and ideas).
First and foremost you need to have a philosophy for life – an overarching set of principles that not only give you meaning but also help guide your decision-making. It can be religious-based (e.g. Christianity), borrowed from schools of philosophies (e.g. Stoicism), or a combination of different schools of thought.
Whatever it is you need a foundation upon which you establish a meaning of life. Without that as a basis you'll be like a ship without an anchor blowing wherever the wind takes you.
For instance I am agnostic so I don't worry too much about why we are here or how we got here but I still appreciate and borrow select passages from certain religious texts because I think they are still applicable to everyday living. I most closely associate with the Stoic school of thought because it is rooted in nature and logic (and the tenets of self-control and overcoming destructive emotions resonates with me).
Once you have a high-level philosophy of life, this needs to be translated into a short set of core values. These are a bit more specific and granular — almost like a set of rules or standards of living. These are the principles that help you make decisions on a daily basis.
My values on a high-level are beauty, simplicity, and creativity. Of course I have more color under each of these but, in general, when faced with difficult decisions I often ask myself whether or not I'd be violating any of these if I go down a particular course of action.
From your unique set of values you can craft a mission or purpose for life. No, don't wait for some miraculous revelation. Determine a mission for your own life.
My purpose is to constantly work on aligning all aspects of my life so they allow for the freedom and flexibility to pursue, without restriction, the simple pleasures that bring me joy, the creative service that allows me to inspire others, and the beauty that makes life worth living.
Now, you need to identify the most important areas of life to work on right now. What seems especially off or out of alignment with your life purpose? We all have a "wheel of life" comprised of key themes like money, education, relationships, health, etc. Ideally you'd want these all to map well into your life's purpose.
But, in reality, they probably don't and it's impossible to improve them all at one time. So rank your themes and then tackle the ones that you believe are most urgent. I assess my themes on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis in an attempt to identify and correct areas that are way off course.
Your values will determine how you choose to improve on your themes. However you will still need a set of tactics (i.e. actionable ideas) that can empower you to make change.
For example, one big idea that I put in place a couple of years ago was to not work a traditional 9-to-5 and be self-employed so I could have the time and space to carry out my purpose.
Sometimes you'll try a tactic that won't work: that doesn't necessarily mean you need to change your values or your philosophy! First, try a few other ideas.
Of course all of the above is much easier said than done but remember that the process itself can be simple. With a process at the very least you've overcome the most difficult step in finding self: knowing what to do, how, and why.
Life-changing Book List