Type “What should I do…” into Google, and there’s a decent chance it’ll finish your sentence “with my life.”
If you’re feeling a bit lost or have no clear sense of what you’re here to do, you’re not alone. Millions are right there with you, searching for an answer to the same question, yet never quite finding it.
The perpetual disconnect shows up in our personal and professional lives as anxiety, futility, disengagement, malaise, and manifests in many other physical and emotional ways. Our focus is scattered, we know we’re not performing anywhere near our potential, and there’s this nagging lack of purpose and possibility that feels like a perpetual drag on our systems. Maybe you’ve felt some or all of that.
We know we’re “meant” for so much more — yet often have no idea what that looks like, let alone how to live it.
We keep searching for a way out, a different job, industry, or lifestyle. But that’s not the answer. While circumstance is part of the equation, the bigger switch that often needs to be flipped is one of self-discovery.
We can’t know where to steer our lives until we better understand what makes us come alive, and what empties us out. It all starts with one central question:
“What am I here to do?”
To put it another way, what is my unique contribution? To my life. To the lives of those around me. To society. Whether it’s the thing I get paid to do, or the thing, once discovered, I can’t not do, simply because it’s the air that breathes me.
For more than two decades, I’ve immersed myself in the study of human potential, collaborating with and studying everyone from academic researchers to leading voices in a wide array of fields. All the while, I’ve been on a quest to discover what allows people to find or create work that makes them come alive and maximizes their potential.
Working with my team over the last five years, we began to focus more intensely on this state that I call “being Sparked,” especially in the context of work.
I’ve come to realize that being Sparked exists at the sweet spot between five domains:
Purpose. Knowing you’re moving toward something you believe in.
Engagement. Excitement, energy, and enthusiasm for the pursuit of that something.
Meaningfulness. The feeling that what you do and who you are matters.
Expressed potential. The sensation of being fully you and not having to hide, bringing all of your potential to the experience, and leaving nothing untapped.
Flow. The blissful experience of getting lost in an activity, losing time, and becoming absorbed in the task.
Early in life, it turns out, we begin to exhibit a certain unique imprint or affinity—an intrinsic impulse—for work that makes us come alive. I call these imprints – “Sparketypes®.
For most people, discovering your Sparketype is like meeting your true self. There is an immediate, intuitive knowing — an undeniable truth that explains so many past choices and outcomes. It empowers you to not only understand who you are and why you do what you do, but also how you contribute to the world on a very different, more intentional, and fulfilling level.
You don’t have to buy into any one origin story, catchphrase, or set of beliefs to experience the self-evident, sustained nature and guiding influence of your Sparketype. You just have to dis- cover yours, then weave it into the way you live and give. The feeling it gives back to you, the way those around you begin to respond when you live, play, and work from this place, will be all the validation, all the proof you need.
Now, of course, a few questions immediately arise.
How many Sparketypes are there?
The quick answer is ten. Funny enough, we began with a slightly larger number, 7.8 billion, the number of people in the world. We’re each unique, so there must also be 7.8 billion unique imprints. We cannot be distilled, right? Not so fast.
Your Sparketype is a bit like your DNA. On the surface, it may express itself in billions of unique, gloriously-you-and- only-you ways. But when you start to peel each person’s purpose, engagement, meaning, expression, and flow onion, billions of valid, surface-level, time-limited, circumstance-driven expressions reduce down to a remarkably small set of source code level elements or imprints. This leaves us with ten distinct DNA-level drivers: the Sparketypes.
We all have a Sparketype “Profile” comprised of three core elements.
We’re all a blend of a number of different Sparketypes, but every person has a distinct Sparketype Profile that is made up of three key components.These represent your strongest impulses at both ends of the spectrum, the work that fills you up, as well as empties you out.
Your Primary Sparketype.
Think of your Primary Sparketype as the thing that generates the strongest impulse to exert effort for no other reason than the fact that it makes you feel alive. It is the underlying driver or source-fuel for the work that gives you the readiest access to flow, energizes and excites you, gives you a sense of meaning and purpose, and allows you to feel like you’re expressing your fullest self and potential. Expressed in a healthy and constructive way, it’s a big part of any number of jobs, experiences, hobbies, passions, and devotions that make you come alive, even when the work is hard.
Your Shadow Sparketype
Your Shadow Sparketype is also a big part of you, sometimes even a close second behind your Primary. It is not, however, your strongest impulse. It’s easy to think of your Shadow Sparketype as your “runner-up” Sparketype. And, it may be a very close second. But, while there is a lot of truth to that, a much more nuanced and important-to-understand relationship almost always exists between your Primary and your Shadow. Your Shadow Sparketype most often reveals the work that you may well enjoy and have developed a high level of skill around — but, when you’re really being honest, it is also the work you do largely in service of doing the work of your Primary Sparketype better. Think of it as your Primary Sparketype amplifier.
Your Anti Sparketype
Your Anti Sparketype is the type of work that is the heaviest lift for you. It takes the most out of you, and requires the greatest amount of recovery even if, objectively, it’s not that hard. There’s just something about it that leaves you empty, as opposed to making you come alive.
Your Primary and Shadow are your inner collaborators.
I am a Maker Primary with a Scientist Shadow. This is a common pairing. (As is the reverse.) My main impulse, the thing that fills me up even when it’s really hard, is making things. At any given time, outward expressions of this could find me building a guitar, writing a book, or even launching a company.
With every quest to create, at many points along the way, I find myself drawing upon my Scientist Shadow Sparketype to help me make whatever I’m working on better. There are al- ways hard questions to be answered, puzzles to be solved, tools, systems, and more to be designed. The act of creation is often constrained by limitations in tools, processes, tech, resources, and so much more. Figuring these things out along the way is largely the work of the Scientist, who is driven by the pursuit of answers to burning questions, solving problems, and figuring out puzzles.
Over the years, I’ve become very good at the work of my Scientist Shadow. It’s not so much that I’ve wanted to, it’s that I had to in order to be a better Maker. I tap my problem-solving impulse in the quest to make better tools, processes, and experiences that help people come alive. This is especially true for solitary pursuits or in the early days of bootstrapped startups where I’ve had to play all roles because I didn’t have the money to bring in a team yet. At the end of the day, while it’s satisfying to solve problems and find answers, that process is not my reason for being. For me, it’s largely in service of my fierce yearning to create, to make ideas manifest. It’s not about the answer to the question, it’s about what that answer allows me to make.
How can I validate this? Pretty simple, actually. The moment I’ve figured out enough of a solution to let me make better things, I turn back to the process of making. I’m done being a Scientist and entirely back into the all-consuming generative space of creation.
Your Anti Sparketype is your work “lead weight.”
Discovering your Primary and Shadow Sparketypes and how they work together is key, but understanding your Anti Sparketype is equally important. When you know your full profile, all three elements, it helps you decide not only what to run toward, but also what to run from. Even if it’s work you have to do for your job, at least you’ll better understand why it takes so much effort and leaves you so empty, and can better prepare yourself for the task, allocate space for recovery, and find ways to delegate or minimize it whenever and wherever possible.
How do you discover your Sparketype?
This is where things get even more interesting. Some people stumble upon their Sparketype on their own.This tends to happen in one of two ways.
- Through fortune, they just happen to be exposed to something that sparks them early in life, then have the rare depth of self-awareness, guidance, and commitment to self-inquiry that allows them to understand what was revealed to them.
- They embrace a process of deliberate experimentation, trying on different types of work, taking notes, then zeroing in on the types of things that give them that feeling of coming alive. This approach often unfolds over a period of decades.
These individuals and experiences are incredibly rare. Many people understand that a certain type of activity or job makes them feel a certain way, but they don’t know why, and can’t easily reproduce that feeling in pursuits, jobs, organizations, or industries. This may be you, and if it is, you’re in the right place.
Even more often, people have no real sense at all for the type of work that makes them come alive. No clear understanding of what that deeper impulse is that might allow them to feel — to know — they’re doing the work they’re here to do. No sense of how to discover that DNA-level driver of effort that lights them up, and keeps them sparked for life.
That’s why we created The Sparketype Assessment®
Realizing this huge gap in awareness, we set out to develop a tool — the Sparketype Assessment — that would allow anyone, anywhere, to rapidly discover their Sparketype. While it took more than a year to develop (and that grew out of decades of prior investigation, collaboration, and integration), this online assessment can be completed in a matter of minutes.
Since launching the platform, more than 750,000 individuals and organizations have tapped the power of the Sparketype Assessment. The wisdom accumulated and massive data-set (more than 37-million data-points!) has revealed powerful insights not just for individuals, but also for organizations, leaders, and beyond.
Now it’s your turn.
Life changes when you know how to tap into the thing that you’re meant for, the thing that lights you up more than anything else.
If you haven’t already, take the free Sparketype Assessment here, and let it be your first step in a process of discovery, awakening, liberation, connection, and impact — and watch yourself come alive in a way you’ve likely never experienced before!
(This is an adapted excerpt from Sparked, by Jonathan Fields, HarperCollins Leadership, 2021.)