How many times have you thought about or tried to figure out your life purpose? If you’re anything like me and those I coach, you’ve read books, articles and maybe even taken a course or two in hopes of finding this illusive ‘purpose’. In fact, if you type “finding your purpose” into Amazon, there are 2,053 results on the topic; ranging from discovering your purpose, to finding your calling, to living the life you were born to live.
Each of these avenues might give you insight, knowledge and some great tips on discovering ‘why you’re here’. And who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky few that knew from the very beginning what your calling was. If so, awesome. You won’t need to read any further.
But maybe you’re like the rest of us, and the majority of clients with whom I work, who are still struggling to find ‘it’. Why? Because maybe, we are looking for the wrong thing. Maybe there is no one ‘it.’
I was talking with a client the other day about her values, beliefs, and where she wanted to make a difference. Then, the topic of ‘purpose’ came up. Her energy fizzled. “This is the one that stresses me out!” I asked her why and she talked about her how heavy and significant the idea of finding your life purpose is. It made her feel overwhelmed and worried. She felt if she searched and ‘found’ it, she immediately would start second-guessing herself whether this was the ‘right’ one. She feared that once she discovered her purpose, she would then be committed to that for life with no freedom or flexibility to explore other options.
She’s right. Saying you need to find your one true purpose in life is heavy. It Implies there is one single, important thing you are looking for. It implies there is one, and ONLY one thing. It implies if we do not find that thing, we will wander through life aimlessly, never feeling a sense of fulfilment. And it implies, as my client feared, if you do find it, that you’ll be stuck and trapped on that train for life, with no freedom to shift or move.
No wonder it’s scary when people talk about purpose!
The definition of purpose is this: the reason for which something is done or created OR for which something exists. I think if we focus on the first part (the reason for which something is done or created) as opposed to the second part (the reason which something exists), we will have less stress, pressure and fear about purpose as a whole.
We are here on this journey called life. And our path does not lead us to one single destination or purpose. On the contrary, the path is our purpose. They say happiness is a journey, not a destination, the same is true for purpose.
The solution, therefore, to finding your purpose is to live each day with purpose on purpose – not for a single purpose.
See the distinction? Having a life’s purpose implies there is one single thing you are here for. Living with purpose, on purpose is about living each day with intention and a clear understanding of your deeper motivation and what’s important to you. This might change and evolve as you change and evolve. In most cases it will change over time! And it probably should!!
Our lives have different stages, seasons and passages that give rise to different purposes at different times. In fact, our own level of psychological development will influence what purpose means to us at any given point in time. For example, when you’re in your early twenties, or just setting out into your first career, your purpose may revolve around how you make your mark, establish your place in the world and how you’re going to succeed or ‘win’. This is natural for this stage. This might be very different than when you’re in your late forties and early fifties and looking to change your career so you can engage in your ‘life’s work’. Likewise, when you’re single, your purpose and how it plays out will be very different than when you are in a relationship or a parent, with different priorities and a different world-view.
What gave you meaning at one point in your life, may not give you meaning today. We are here to evolve and grow so your purpose will evolve and grow. The path is going to unfold for you as you move forward. Each day is a stepping stone in the path. As George Bernard Shaw said, Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
Let’s take a look at the evolution of my purpose. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to ‘help people’. At one point, I wanted to be a nurse, but couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so that was out the window. My next thought was working for a non-profit out of college. That didn’t happen. I did a course on Purpose and came up with this: “to help people realize something significant”. At the time, this meant a coaching and consulting job, where I was helping people gain insight into what they needed in order to be at their best and learning about their talents and vulnerabilities. It was fantastic, and I loved it. I thought this was ‘it’. And it was, until it wasn’t.
As I evolved, I felt like I wanted something more…or maybe I just wanted something different. So, I did some thinking and decided my new purpose was “helping people build their confidence and self-esteem”. This landed me a job working with kids and education. I loved it. I loved working with kids and I love the difference I was able to make. But again, I grew and evolved my way out of that job.
Where am I now? “Helping people be happier, more successful and fulfilled”. This came from too many coaching calls when I realized the enormous percentage of us who are unhappy, disengaged, stressed out and overwhelmed.
Sure, as you look at my path, there’s a clear theme of ‘helping and service’, but my purpose – the reason for which I did something, and the way that I did it – has expanded and deepened along the way.
If at any point in time, I had locked myself into ONE of these purposes, or felt like I had to ‘stick’ with one and only one, I think my excitement and passion about life would have suffered tremendously. Giving myself the freedom to rethink my purpose based on my stage and time in life, was freeing and allowed me to move forward.
So, if you want to find your purpose, maybe stop looking for one thing and start living each day with conscious intention and an understanding of what’s important to you right now.
When thinking about living each day on purpose, with purpose, here are some things to consider:
Ask yourself these questions and see what bubbles up for you. What do you feel called to or drawn to now? What is real for you at this stage or point in your life?
Living each day with purpose, on purpose might include one or two, or several of these things. And as you examine them, you might see an underlying theme of; making a difference, helping people, or changing some aspect of the world that’s important to you.
I encourage you to take a moment, right now and think about what it would be like to live each day with purpose, on purpose. What would that look like, feel like or sound like for you?
By identifying these things, and using each day as a stepping stone along your path of life, you will be living a life of purpose on purpose – even without ‘the’ purpose.