Do a search on the Internet for “find your purpose” and you’ll likely get hundreds of thousands of results. Actually 509,000,000 results. I did a search myself.
Are we so lost that we have to look online for tools, tips, resources and experiences around finding our purpose? Where should you be looking for that elusive thing called purpose?
You Already Know
When you were a child you didn’t stop to think about why you should play jump rope or run through puddles or skateboard. It was just something you did because you wanted to, because it felt good, because it was a way to express yourself.
You didn’t wait for someone to tell you the rules; you made them up yourself. And when you were done with your activity, you just stopped. If something else caught your attention you did that. You didn’t wake up each day with a to do list or a strategic plan.
Your days were filled with curiosity and learning, exploring new things and integrating those things that aligned with your joy. You came to know yourself through the activities you engaged in.
Watch children and you’ll see them move from one thing to another like butterflies among sweet flowers. Once they’re full, they move on. We adults, however, are controlled by arbitrary schedules and deadlines. They determine where our attention and energy flow even when we’re aware that it’s not healthy, wise or enjoyable.
More than one purpose
Purpose, how we make meaning, is not static. As we grow it changes. What mattered to you in your twenties is different than what matters in your forties or sixties. To say there is one purpose behind your life is to limit your potential, to cease growing and evolving into the most expansive version of yourself.
No one grows up saying they want to live a small, meaningless and indifferent life.
When you are constantly bombarded by images of the perfect woman, wife, friend, daughter, mother, teacher, entrepreneur, Instagram personality — on and on — you sub-consciously compare yourself to others. This superficial measurement outranks your self-affirmation. You begin to believe what others tell you about how your life should be instead of self-validating your desires and dreams.
The trouble with seeking your purpose is that you’re focused on the external as if purpose existed out there somewhere hidden behind glossy Instagram pictures and stories of successful people doing amazing things.
The dirty little secret behind a search for purpose is that it is driven by a need to be affirmed, accepted, loved, adored and valued. That is why people search “out there” for purpose instead of looking inward.
Five Questions To Discover Your Purpose
1. What is it that you could not stop doing because it would be like not breathing?
I’ve been writing since I was ten. In third grade my teacher told me I couldn’t write. I went home devastated, crying as if my life were over. When I told my mother what the teacher said, she asked one of the wisest questions I’ve ever been asked. She asked, “Do you believe her?” My answer, “no”, came so quickly that my hurt ego never had a chance to interfere. “So what’s the problem? Keep writing,” said my mother. And I did. Not because I cared about my teacher but because I cared about my soul. I could not stop writing because it would be like not breathing.
2. What’s happening when you lose track of time?
Watch great performers, musicians, athletes, and artists at their craft. Look into their eyes and you will see both a vastness and a focus of intention. There are those moments of exquisite presence where the world falls away and all that is left is the deepest part of your soul expressing itself through your art, skill or talent. That vastness is the connection to a universal energy that allows your art to flow. The focus is your intentional channeling of that energy into the activity that involves you completely. What is that for you?
3. What would you do if money or belonging were not an issue at all?
These are the two principal drivers of self-censorship when it comes to going after what you really care about. If you feel that your longing is at odds with making a living you’ll never go after what truly matters to you. Money is the biggest saboteur of dreams. If your approach to money is from a place of scarcity then there will never be enough money to follow your longing. There will always be an excuse NOT to listen to the little voice of longing.
What if you decide to take that courageous step into an unknown future, the one where you’re doing what you know in your heart you’re meant to do? And then people leave you or ostracize you because now you are no longer “one of them”? Our need to belong is so strong that it will keep you from being “different” than others.
Artists are keenly aware of the pain of isolation when they can see the significance of their art and others have not yet understood its value. It requires a strong sense of self and self-worth to step out of the circle of the masses into your own unique orbit around the sun.
4. What if you already knew your purpose?
I’m all for reflection and mindfulness as a means to listen to your inner truth. But it’s not enough.
In other words, get off your butt and do something, anything that has a possibility of engaging your senses and brings you a sense of accomplishment.
Take things on as if they were an experiment, not a decision. Unless you try on new things you’ll never discover the potential of what is possible for you. You may fail at some things and succeed at others but if you don’t act you’ll never get further than your couch.
5. How do you want to be remembered?
You build your legacy the moment you become aware of wanting to make a difference in the world.
Will you be remembered for being the best couch potato ever or will you be remembered for your art, for your kindness or for your creativity?
What do you want to leave behind for the betterment of a person or people or simply for your own sense of meaning?
“Choose what you really want because you’ll need to put 150% into it and you don’t want to put 150% into a compromise.”
Most people don’t like it when I tell them to stop seeking their purpose. Asking, “What is my purpose?” leads you through a maze to nowhere. Stop looking for your purpose out there.
Get to know who you are today and purpose will find you. As you age what you care about will change. That’s how you grow and evolve. You will discover that there are many ways, not just one way, to express yourself authentically.
Ultimately purpose is the result of being authentic and living in harmony with that. Seek self-knowledge and you'll find your purpose.
First published on Thrive Global/Medium
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