My good friend, Rachel, and I started a podcast recently, and one of my absolute favorite things about the podcast is how it centers around questions that people send in to us anonymously. On our most recent episode, we answered a question that essentially said, “I don’t know what my purpose is. How do you realize you’re where you’re supposed to be?” Rachel did an amazing job uncovering the illusion that we had to be “who we’re supposed to be” to be happy. We discussed how we all have talents and gifts and until we lean into what sets our soul on fire, we’ll feel like something is missing. This person was only 25, but felt lost – like she hadn’t gotten anywhere because she wasn’t using her degree to do what she loved.
Even though we answered this question, I haven’t been able to get the core of it out of my mind – the cry of “What is my purpose?”
It’s a question that begs an answer so essential to our makeup that many of us spend our lives in search of it. In 2002, Rick Warren released a book called The Purpose Driven Life – a Christian book about fulfilling what God placed you on earth to do. The book was on The New York Times Bestseller List for 90 weeks! By 2019, 32 million copies had been sold in more than 85 languages.
In 1946, a psychiatrist and neurologist named Viktor Frankl released a book, Man’s Search for Meaning, chronicling his experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. In the second part of the book, he discusses logotherapy – a theory based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find meaning in life. Frankl was an existentialist and found that even Americans (renowned for being materialistic and greedy) respond to surveys in overwhelming numbers saying our greatest desire is to find meaning and purpose in life. Not money. Not fame. Not love. Meaning. Purpose. Calling.
Philosophers, religious leaders, and royalty have been searching for the meaning of life as far back as life itself. It’s not a new search – a new dilemma – and that should bring us all comfort. Finding our purpose is something that the majority of us have wrestled with at one point or another. Even those who are devoutly religious struggle with this from time to time. If this wasn’t the case, The Purpose Driven Life wouldn’t have been such a hit. The Bible has been opened by countless people throughout history saying, “Just give me a sign. Show me the way. What am I meant to do?”
Well, I’m here to tell you that I don’t have a damn clue. Humans have been searching for purpose for millennia, and I wish I could say that I discovered the rare formula for discovering yours today, but I’d be lying.
BUT before you exit out of this blog, I do have three thoughts on purpose that I feel like might be able to help you, or at least might be able to help shift your thinking.
1. Wherever you are RIGHT NOW contains purpose.
We are finite, and our understanding is less than limited. There are things going on right under our noses that we don’t – we can’t – comprehend. What if the exact place that you’re at right now is the exact place you’re supposed to be? I know that sounds super woo woo and eye roll-y, but stay with me.
What if you’re stuck working a part time job somewhere, totally discouraged because all of the places you’re applying for aren’t calling you back for an interview? WHAT IF the reason you haven’t been called yet is because in just three weeks you’ll meet a customer at your job and make a connection that will lead you to the opportunity of your dreams? OR what if you’re single and want a significant other so bad, but if you met someone right now it would prevent you from meeting the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with? Or what if this very season of your life is preparing you for the book you’re going to write, or the person you’re going to help, or the position you’re going to be hired for? What if you missed it because you were convinced this season had no purpose?
Our lives contain all of these invisible threads that overlap and wind and go over and under and beside and through and around, and we have no possible way of knowing if and when those threads will cross and align in such a way to create something beautiful – something that would not be created if you weren’t right here, right now.
2. Your purpose does not equal your job title.
What if you discovered that your one purpose in life was to be a teacher. That’s your purpose. Once you got hired and signed your contract, that’s a wrap. There would be no more purpose to strive toward. What if you realize 10 years into your career that you’re no longer happy? That you’d rather be a therapist or an accountant? Were those 10 years wasted? Is there anything else to strive toward? Is this all there is?
If your dream job is to be a teacher, then I hope you find purpose in that. BUT. I also hope you find purpose in making someone else smile. I hope you find purpose in your faith. I hope you find purpose in your spouse, your kids, and you’re friends. There is so much more room for fulfillment and joy when we live with purpose, rather than searching for one purpose to rule them all. You are so much more than your job title. Don’t let your career define your purpose.
3. Maybe your purpose isn’t about you.
My friend, Jen, is a therapist and shared this amazing quote on her Facebook page the other day:
“What is my purpose in life?” I asked the void.
“What if I told you that you fulfilled it when you took an extra hour to talk to that kid about his life?” said the voice.
“Or when you paid for that young couple at the restaurant? Or when you saved that dog in traffic? Or when you tied your father’s shoes for him?”
“Your problem is that you equate your purpose with goal-based achievement. The Universe isn’t interested in your achievements… just your heart. When you choose to act out of kindness, compassion, and love, you are already aligned with your true purpose.
No need to look any further!”
Whew!! That’ll preach. I love this so much, because it forces us to look outside of ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I never feel more fulfilled than when I quit thinking about myself for once and actually make an effort to help someone else. What if our purpose is to slowly, slowly move this world in a more kind, gentle, and safe direction? What if our purpose isn’t to climb some financial or social or career ladder, but to help other humans when they slip? This taps into living with purpose. What if we commit to do something kind for one person every day, and then we end up feeling more fulfilled and full of joy than we ever have before? Maybe becoming who you are meant to be, who you are called to be… Maybe it’s not about you.
I hope that you continue to strive for purpose every day of your life. I hope that you find purpose in things that you love to do. I hope that you find purpose in watching the sunset and eating good food and listening to good music. I hope that you find some comfort in knowing that no one has this life thing any more figured out than you do. And I hope that you don’t waste years of your precious life looking for purpose when purpose is all around you.
Our podcast, The Creative Brain with Rachel and Haley, can be found on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere you listen to podcasts!