5 Misconceptions about Finding Direction In Your Life (At Work and Beyond)

20 Jun ‘23
3 min
Finding purpose
Lisanne van Marrewijk
Reviewed by psychologist Lili Thoelen

Many people look for meaning in life. A kind of meaning that lights a fire in you, gets you out of bed, and makes you live with purpose. This is logical: understanding your values gives direction to your life and a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfilment.


Here are some misconceptions that keep us from pursuing our values and finding more direction in our lives. 


1. Once you know what you want, you can stop exploring what matters to you the most


Knowing what you care about and what your values are will not become evident in one conversation with a psychologist or during one morning of deep reflection. As psychologist Jasmijn Eerenberg told us: “It’s a real-life investigation.” 


Finding your values needs time to land and take shape. Besides, your course of action typically ebbs and flows throughout your life. Perhaps five years ago you wanted to build a life abroad, but now, you may feel happier to stay closer to home. Perhaps when you were younger, you placed the most importance on your career, but now your values have shifted to valuing spending more time with your family. 


Through the experiences you gain and the people you get to know over time, your perception of the future and your values change. The aspects of life that you are most focused on now will transform over time, and your path may be completely different in five years. Taking the time to regularly reflect on your shifting priorities is essential.


💡 Want to find more direction in your life? Use the tips in this article: A psychologist explains: how to find (more) meaning?



2. When you live by your values, staying motivated becomes easier


As humans, we often have a tendency to exaggerate the situations and expectations in our lives. For instance, we may idealise living by our values, and think that, if we do this, every day will be perfect. While living by your values will certainly help with daily motivation, there will always be days when you just don’t feel like doing the task at hand or have the mental strength for it. Our motivation tends to vary day by day, so if you don’t feel motivated every day, don’t beat yourself up for it. 


More factors determine your motivation than the values you aspire to. Some factors are personal (like your confidence and skills), others are environmental (think of the people around you or an overflowing to-do list) and sometimes you’re just tired.


Values give direction to your life, even when it is challenging. So even if you pursue your values, you can be unmotivated. What can you do then? Be compassionate and patient with yourself. Remember, motivation is fluid; it will come back.


3. Finding your values takes time and effort


At this point, you may be thinking that discovering your values takes a whole lot of time and effort. After all, the direction you take in life is a major decision, so surely it takes up all your time and effort, right?


This is not necessarily true. You can make exploring your values as small or large as you want. It does not have to consume a big chunk of your time. What is true is that it is a process, something you want to frequently reflect on and observe (see misconception 1).


Some people reflect on their values at big life milestones to give them more direction. Others like to regularly check whether their lives align with their values. Whatever your approach may be, ask yourself from time to time what is important to you, to help you stay your course.


4. You need to redirect your life to discover what you want


Taking direction in your life doesn’t mean you must do everything radically differently. You may subconsciously already be living by your values more than you thought. Besides, it helps to start taking small steps that move you towards your values. It is precisely those small steps that ultimately bring about a significant change.


Reassessing your values doesn’t always mean something as significant as changing jobs. If you notice that your values’ trajectory doesn’t fit your office job, you can also express your value outside of work by going on adventures at the weekend or in the evenings after work.


Or suppose you value your health, but you find it challenging to exercise and eat healthily on a regular basis. Just because you can’t pursue your value as much, doesn’t mean you should abandon everything. Instead, focus on incorporating small steps so that you can work towards a healthy lifestyle that aligns with your values.


It is also important to note that your values may also differ per area of life. Perhaps you find completely different values important at work (innovation, creativity, and quality) than at home (stability, family life, and comfort). 


5. You need to know what you want in life


Knowing what direction you want to take in life helps you make more informed choices and ultimately lead a more satisfying life. This is great, but if you still don’t know what you want, please don’t worry. It’s okay if you have no idea what you want from life, because there’s always time to work on your path.


Every person is different and so are you. What works for someone else may not work for you. Maybe at a later stage, the need will arise to live more in line with your values. And then, at least, you will know where to start.


💡 Also interesting: How do you balance your personal values with the expectations of others?

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