The Big Picture

A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life

Christine B. Whelan

"If young adults could be guided in the right direction for a life journey of meaning and purpose we would be grooming the leaders of tomorrow for a better world. This book is the perfect guide.”—Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing

What am I going to do for the rest of my life?

For young people at a turning point—whether it’s facing the end of high school, college, graduate school, or just a dead-end job—this is a familiar question. Maybe they have the degree they wanted, but don’t know where to start in their job search. Maybe they’re still in the process of choosing a major, and given the range—from “Biochemistry” to “Adventure Education”—are lost in the options. Maybe they’re facing a mountain of debt, but don’t want to get locked into a job they hate.

While other books might give advice on writing resumes or preparing for interviews, they only go so far. Young people want more than just another job—they want a life, and a meaningful one at that.

Enter The Big Picture. Created by the leading authority on self-help research, and reviewed by over six hundred college students, Dr. Christine B. Whelan’s The Big Picture offers a guide to discover one’s talents, dreams, and desires that can then lead a person to not only a fulfilling career, but a fulfilling life. It guides young people to take a step back and look at the “big picture” of who they are, what they want, and why they’re here.

Through quizzes and questionnaires which have been vetted by college students, Whelan guides the reader through “big picture” questions like,

  • What are my talents—and how can I use those to help others and create meaning?
  • How have my life experiences shaped who I am and what I can give?
  • What do I value—and how can I be happy while being true to those values?

Although there are endless books on finding a job, this is the first book that presents research-based and tested material to help young people answer the question, What am I going to do with my life? A great gift for a graduate or a guide for yourself, The Big Picture provides the resources needed to find—and live—a purposeful life. 

For more resources on finding your purpose, visit


Preface / ix

Acknowledgments / xv

Chapter 1: Preproduction: The Time Is Now / 3

Chapter 2: The Experiment That Could Change Your Life / 17

Part One: Character Development

Chapter 3: Carpe Diem / 27

Chapter 4: Identify Your Talents, Strengths, and Skills / 43

Chapter 5: Lose the Shoulds, Find the Values / 65

Part Two: Vision, Purpose, … and … Action!

Chapter 6: Passions in Action / 87

Chapter 7: A Vision for Change / 101

Chapter 8: Building Your Purpose / 115

Chapter 9: Committed to Purpose / 131

Part Three: Bringing Purpose to Life

Chapter 10: Plot Twists / 151

Chapter 11: Your Supporting Cast / 185

Chapter 12: Postproduction / 203

Appendix A: Survey Responses / 215

Appendix B: Blank Movie Reels / 221

References and Recommended Reading / 229

About the Author / 233

For those entering adulthood, purpose is fundamental to health, happiness, and creative work. Christine's guidebook is the finest map of the territory today and an inspiring picture of what purposeful living can be all about—if we dare! Read this book to experience your life in a whole new way!

Richard Leider, international bestselling author of The Power of Purpose, Life Reimagined, Work Reimagined, and Repacking Your Bags.

The Big Picture is a researched, accessible, and practical guide that has everything young people need to figure out what to do with their lives.

Pepper Schwartz, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Washington and author of Finding your Perfect Match

The Big Picture is very relevant and valuable for our youth—and I’m glad to see this initiative. Exercises like these can have a transformative impact on young adults. Indeed, purpose is an area in which we all would benefit from deeper reflection.

Hitendra Wadhwa, professor, Columbia Business School

Whelan’s book is a must-read for those asking “what next?” in college and beyond. Building off her popular classes at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Human Ecology, The Big Picture is a step-by-step guide for identifying what matters to you, and how to make your mark in the world.

Soyeon Shim, PhD, dean of the School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This book isn’t for the “I think I’ll read, scratch my beard, and think” set. It's for doers. It’s for people who want to live fulfilled, purposeful lives. Christine Whelan gives us a book that’s grounded in both science and philosophy. It’s interactive. It’s fun. Most important, it’s wise. I loved it.

Victor J. Strecher, PhD, MPH, professor and director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship, University of Michigan School of Public Health

The Big Picture is the ideal small-steps guide for young adults to reimagine their lives and seek purpose from the start. As the foremost expert in effective self-improvement, Christine Whelan offers a book that spans the generations.

Emilio Pardo, president, Life Reimagined

Rarely have pages in a book felt as comfortable and trustworthy as an old friend, but The Big Picture accomplishes that and more. Across the lifespan, understanding and implementing purpose in our lives is critical but can be daunting . . . not now! The journey to understanding your purpose now and beyond has been broken down into doable exercises and fun steps guaranteed to be a trip worth taking.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH Psychiatrist

No college grad should be without this priceless wisdom. The leading expert on self-help is your guide through interactive exercises, tested advice, and powerful tools to clarify your purpose and navigate next steps. The Big Picture is a research-based, fun way to get past uncertainty, doubt, or nagging from your parents so you can be your best self now.

Rich Feller, PhD, Past-President, National Career Development Association

They say laughter is the best medicine, but I disagree. The real key to lifelong health and happiness is purpose.
As a physician I have seen the power of purpose play out in the lives of people of all ages. As the father of five I know that helping young people understand what matters most is essential to their enjoyment of all that life has to offer. I’d happily prescribe this book to anyone interested in exploring meaning in their lives. Christine Whelan doesn’t preach — she guides. Take this workbook on your journey as you ask what matters and how to make it happen.

Bill Thomas, MD, founder of the Age of Disruption World Tour

Research shows that having a purpose in life is linked to better health and better sleep — so why wait?

Eric Kim, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health

Christine Whelan's The Big Picture should be read and experienced by every high school and college student and recommended by every parent, teacher, and mentor. At a time when so many young people are struggling to find their life's path and purpose, this wise, warm, and witty book will help to light their way forward.

John J. DiIulio Jr., Frederic Fox Leadership Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Midcentury Modern-May 26, 2016

"Finding work with purpose is trending these days. I spend most of my time thinking about those who want it in their encore careers, but it’s exactly what young people want, and they don’t want to wait to find it. They are determined to grab it from the very start of their working lives. Which is why I’m so jazzed about University of Wisconsin professor Christine Whelan’s new book, The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life. It’s the perfect gift for a new graduate—or for any young person stuck on the slow-moving escalator of the early working years.”

Marci Alboher

The Midwest Book Review-June 2016

“Unique, original, data-driven, exceptionally well written, organized and presented, The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life is very highly recommended for community and academic library collections.”

Susan Bethany