Life’s purpose isn’t always immediately clear. It may be time to reevaluate your search.
Over the past three or four years, I’ve pored over countless articles and blog posts about how to pursue your dreams, muster motivation, achieve your goals, reach career milestones… All the while, I’m thinking, Yes! I have what it takes—work ethic, self-motivation, time management, the ability to commit, and even intelligence! All of the important tools—plus several helpful accessories, like support from my spouse and my parents and the encouragement of my friends. I am confident that my “life arsenal” is well stocked—which is why it’s all the more panic-inducing when I feel uncertain about where to direct my skills and drive. I’ve searched in my journals and under the couch cushions, asking to no one in particular, where, oh where, is my purpose?
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I do have “something” that gets me up in morning—several somethings!—and I feel so much mirth in my life. I genuinely enjoy the people around me, I love cooking and yoga and reading, and I feel happy when, through blogging, I can contribute to a conversation that extends beyond my little, happy, corner of the world.
Yet. There’s always a nagging feeling that I’m living my life on the outside of a wall. On the other side of the wall are several of my peers—or so it always seems. They’re all doing something important with their lives and kindly pretending that I am, too. Not all feels lost, however—I know there’s a door just my size somewhere, and I just have to find it. And if I can’t, I’ll just burrow my way under the stone.
Sounding frenetic? I think so, too.
It recently occurred to me that in reaching so hard for Purpose, I’m not really doing myself any favors. I think there are a few things going on—perhaps you can relate.
1. I compare myself to others, whose “purpose” I only understand in vague impressions that are shaped by my own worldview—i.e. my understanding of others may not be anything close to the reality! Deep down, I know that I shouldn’t compare my complex, contradictory questioning, and knotted mind to the imagined minds of others. Many people question their life purpose, so maybe that “wall” I imagine isn’t so hard and fast after all.
2. One of the current narratives permeating the career-o-sphere of my generation—the surprisingly go-getting post-college youngish somethings—is that one’s purpose must be career-oriented. These careers don’t have to be traditional—oh no, even better if you’re the creative entrepreneurial type—just so long as you’re giving your all to something bigger than yourself. That also pays.
But this is just one narrative, as valid as any other. When I slow down my mind, I remember that purpose doesn’t have to be related to career. Maybe employment simply fuels a life-giving hobby. For many (even people my age), other things come before career—and that’s okay!
3. I’m only now starting to learn that purpose doesn’t have to be a single thing. Why not have multiple life purposes? One can have multiple purposes at once or ultimately change purposes over the courses of their life and feel all the more fulfilled for it.
4. I like to think of purpose as this beautiful, solid gem. Something with distinct edges. Something that can be easily spotted. But I think this is an illusion fostered by language, which gives a seemingly tangible quality to amorphous things. When I listen to my father talk about “teaching,” his purpose, that single word stands out as a thing. Teaching cannot be held or even seen in its entirety, though. I’m sure his practice of teaching has evolved and changed around him. Purpose probably can’t feel like something solid, and that shouldn’t make me feel uneasy.
5. Finally, it’s easy to feel that if I just try harder, if I just look harder, I can find that purpose, goshdarnit! Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, however. A recent article in Yoga Journal got me thinking about letting go. What if I surrendered my purpose to find purpose and just absorbed the things around me for a while? Of course, this is easier said than done—even though constantly grasping is an unpleasant feeling, I’m afraid it’s a habit. For this, I know the remedy is mindfulness—recognizing and naming the grasping as it’s happening in order to organically detach myself from it. Is it truly possible? I’m going to bet on it.
Have you ever felt like you were hopelessly on the hunt for life’s purpose? Did letting go help?
Also see: 5 Non-Stressful Ways to Measure Your Career Success
Why You Should Choose Inspiration Over Motivation
How to Deal with Career Anxiety
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Photo: Olu Elatu via Unsplash