One of the assignments I’ve given my masters level class in Leadership is to create a personal development plan. I’ve encouraged them to ground the document in their “purpose,” which I define as their essential self and their reason for being.

Reading over their first drafts, I realized each one began not with purpose, but with job. It’s a natural tendency; from the time we’re about three years old, we’re asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” not “Who are you REALLY, kid?”

The truth is, from the time we pop into this world, the entire place seems consumed with how we will fit in and be productive, and not a bit interested in who we are, what brings us joy, and how we might best shine our light into the world.

Confronted with finding purpose, most people describe either their current job (many would call these folks the lucky ones) or some “dream” job. However, most people don’t get close to describing their purpose.

Given that you might never have thought of this, how should you go about identifying your purpose?

What I’ve done with my students, my clients, and myself is to consider what you can’t help but be. Sounds a little weird at first, maybe, but for most of us there is some particular thing that we simply can’t help being. For me, it’s getting things done. I can’t help but take purposeful action to create order out of chaos and get people rallied and moving toward a goal. I feel a bit like a shark at times: if I’m not moving forward, I can’t breathe. (It’s a good moment to note that while we each have a purpose, it isn’t usually pretty in every way. Sometimes purpose can be difficult for us or annoying to others. I plead the fifth, of course!).

Still stuck? Most of us can find clues from our past. Think about what you used to love doing as a child. What and how did you play before the world insisted you become productive and do things that mattered to it, and not to you?

If you’re still confused, don’t fear. The people around you might not be used to thinking of your purpose, but they probably have some observations that can help. Ask them to describe you in five words or less, and see what they come up with. Does any of that resonate?

While it might take some digging and time, no doubt you’ll be able to figure out who you are at the heart of your being. Once you do, you’ll be well-poised to shine the light of your essential self into the world.