Do you feel like something’s missing in your life? Do you feel like you’ve lost your purpose? Are you unhappy, but not sure why? Now may be the time to look closely at your emotions and motives.
If you’re feeling unsatisfied with your job, you may want to reconsider why you’re working that job and if there’s a better alternative. If you’re considering starting your own business, you may need to take some time to really think about what that decision would mean.
Soul searching is the act of thinking carefully about your feelings and considering your reasons for doing something. Far too often, we focus on getting things done, completing to-do lists, or building short-term goals, forgetting to think deeply about our decisions and why we’re making them.
“Soul searching is a form of self-discovery that will enhance one’s self-awareness,” says Nicole Rankine, PhD, certified personal growth coach. “Having self-awareness means that you have knowledge of yourself and understand your habits, likes, dislikes, the way you view the world, and your needs. You know what you want in life and understand your emotional responses.”
Here are five steps to better soul searching in your life and career:
1. Allocate time for solitude
How often do you really sit alone with your thoughts? When you’re not checking emails, Slacking coworkers, or texting family, are you scrolling through feeds? Checking apps? Take a deliberate break from the screens and carve out time to be with yourself.
Solitude is extremely valuable, but not always accessible, especially if you’re a working parent. In order to do soul searching, you need to be alone. So hire a babysitter or take time off work. Let your loved ones know you need some uninterrupted time to yourself. Drive to a quiet place in your neighborhood. Book an overnight stay at a local hotel. Sign up for a retreat or plan a staycation. Do whatever makes the most logical, affordable sense for you.
Once you schedule this time, be prepared to ask yourself hard questions, to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. It’s not easy, digging deep, but it can help you uncover truths that you may have been ignoring for far too long. Maybe you’re in a relationship that doesn’t serve you. Maybe you’ve outgrown your job, even though you love it. Maybe you feel that urge to return to school. Dedicating time to soul searching will help you concentrate more deliberately, without all of the distractions.
2. Consider your priorities
Use a journal. Think about each area of your life. Consider your relationships, your career, your health, your mental health, your passions, your deepest desires, your dreams, your habits, your lifestyle choices.
Be completely honest with yourself as you answer these questions:
Is this the life you thought you’d be living? Is it better or worse?
Do you have regrets?
What are your strengths?
Are you happy in your close relationships? Why or why not?
If you could do something else, if money wasn’t a factor, what would it be?
What are you most passionate about?
What’s preventing you from doing what you really want to be doing?
What changes would you make, if you could?
Work is important, but it’s not everything. Figure out what your priorities are and then figure out how to build your life around those things. Your top priorities could include your family, your health, your passion for yoga, and your career.
Read more: How to Find Your Work Motivation…and Keep It
3. Find your passion
This isn’t always easy. For some of the lucky ones, passion is discovered in early childhood, when there are no obstacles, no hardships, and no expectations. This is why some people start businesses as teenagers or become young leaders in their chosen field. They know what they want and they dedicate themselves to manifesting their childhood dream.
As a child, you simply imagine the life you want. But as an adult, you start to consider responsibilities, like paying monthly bills, feeding your children, or building a reliable 401(k) plan. There’s nothing wrong with this; in fact, most of us choose practicality over risk. But this doesn’t mean you have to abandon your passions.
If you could do anything, what would you do? If you always wanted to pursue a career in architecture, consider taking an entry-level course at your local community college. If you’ve always wanted to knit a blanket, go out and buy yourself a how-to book. If you’re not sure what would make you happy, or what passion you have, then start trying new things. Sign up for a cycling class. Buy paints. Subscribe to a platform like Skillshare or Master Class and see what sparks an interest.
4. Abandon expectations
We all have obligations, but how many of them do we choose? It’s hard to abandon the expectations of others, but if you’re not happy or satisfied with your life choices, then it’s important to confront that.
When soul searching, you want to look beyond personality assessment results, although those can be helpful, explains Lindsay Preston, multi-certified life and leadership coach. “[Strip] away the layers of messages and experiences that society has programmed into you and [heal] any trauma from those messages and experiences so your soul can come out and shine.”
To work through this, consider the things you do for you as opposed to the things you do for others. Do you wear makeup because you like it or because society insists that you need it? Do you actually want to pursue a career in medicine, or do your parents expect you to? If you’re not sure how to begin peeling back the layers, consult a therapist or life coach, who can offer concrete feedback and guidance.
5. Build a routine
Rankine explains: “Soul searching is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. First, a person must be intentional to commit to the process. Secondly, they have to be willing to do the work it takes to dive deep within themselves.”
To make it a part of your routine, Rankine suggests journaling 15 minutes every night. This can be lengthened or shortened, depending on your schedule. List out meaningful parts of your day, as well as the challenges you encountered.
What did you do well?
What did you do poorly?
What changes do you want to make? How will you make those changes?
Focus on your priorities. Journaling where you’re at, how far you’ve come, and where you’re headed can help you stay motivated and focused. It can also help you make daily changes and behaviors that align with your overarching goals.
How to know when it's time to soul search
“In order to discover your purpose, you must stay true to yourself and never waiver when making decisions that can impact your life tremendously,” Rankine says. “The more soul searches, the more [you] will learn to understand their drives, passions, personalities, habits, [and] values… This is helpful when either making decisions, setting goals, choosing a career, or establishing a romantic relationship.”
If your decisions aren’t aligning with your goals or if your priorities have changed, then you need to take time to think about what you want, what’s preventing you from getting that, and how you plan to make that happen.
“Even if there are areas for improvement, soul searching can help identify them,” Rankine says. “Whether you call it soul searching, self-discovery, or personal growth, it is definitely critical to one’s life.”
Read more: 7 Steps to Rebuild Your Career & Start Over
About our sources
Nicole Rankine, PhD is a certified personal growth coach. She has trained adult and youth leaders both nationally and internationally, including Costa Rica, South Africa, China, and Kenya. She also serves as an Adjunct College Professor and holds a bachelor's and master's degree in biology and a master's degree and PhD in public health, focusing on community health education.
Lindsay Preston is a multi-certified life and leadership coach for women. Her passion is teaching and coaching women how to authentically own their power so they can accomplish their dreams in business. She's certified with the International Coaching Federation, The Gardner Institute, and is a TCU grad with a bachelor's degree in psychology.