Have you ever asked yourself what your purpose is in life? When you are on a journey of self-discovery, especially a spiritual one, the question of purpose eventually comes up.
Over the years I have asked myself this question many times, always hoping that eventually a nice clear path will emerge for me to follow. It’s comparable to when you have a really big problem that requires you to make a decision, and you wish someone would just come along and give you an answer and take the decision off your hands. I have had many soul-searching sessions, I’ve taken quizzes and read books and articles, and yet my ‘purpose’ continues to elude me.
So although I do still believe in asking yourself what your purpose in life may be, I have also realised that it’s unhelpful to get too hung up on it for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, we are not defined by one purpose. We are many things in our lives. Even if we do find a purpose that we commit to our whole lives, whether it is a career, a charitable cause, a passion or a hobby, we are more than this. We are a friend, a son or daughter, a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a neighbour, a work colleague. We are an inhabitant of this earth, of this country, of this city or town. Our contributions to the whole are endless, and potentially you or I have done something which has caused the whole world to be a better place. My guess is you’ve heard of the butterfly effect? If not, read about it here.
Maybe your conversation with a woman on the street was the catalyst of chain reactions that lead to a political decision being swayed in a positive direction. In turn this affects the whole country, and therefore the world. We all know it’s possible right?
So I think we can safely assume that if we don’t have a ‘purpose’ we consider worthy of the name, it doesn’t mean our lives are less purposeful. You can’t isolate a cell in your body and say, “This cell is going to be the most important!” Each cell may have a different role to play in the whole, but each one is important and works together with the other cells for the benefit of the whole body.
The second reason follows on a little from the first point of not having just one purpose. Our lives don’t suddenly begin if and when we have found something big to contribute with. Our lives begin in earnest when we are born, and every single day – every single moment is as important as the next, whether we feel it has importance or not, until the day we die.
But let’s just look at this from a different angle. Let’s just for a moment play with the idea that you are destined to be the one who will make an incredible invention, or create a new health paradigm that will change millions of people’s lives, or maybe you will be one of the most influential politicians in the world. Maybe your contribution will be incredible, and people will look up to you for inspiration and guidance.
So what do you think your future influential self would say to the present you? Would it be, “Sit down and have a very hard think about what your purpose in life is, and then you will get to where I am.” Maybe in some instances this might be the case, however I think the most likely words of advice would be, “Do what comes next. And do it with love.” After all, we don’t often know the journey a certain path will take us on, and we don’t know where it will lead to. In fact some things might scare us off if we knew! Taking the next step just means listening to what is calling to you, and taking a step towards it. Charles Dickens had no idea in his early years that he would one day become one of the most acclaimed authors in history. Maybe the certain knowledge that he would be an author for the rest of his life would have prevented him from creating what he did. Knowing our future by knowing our purpose would in many cases be counterproductive, as we haven’t completed the steps necessary to get to that point.
The third reason for not getting hung up on the pursuit of finding your purpose, is that to have a purpose clearly defined before we are ready takes away the pleasure of learning, discovering, creating, and working towards a goal. True creativity in our decision making processes needs to be as free and unrestricted as possible, to let what wants to come through flow naturally. This in my view is a really important factor of our human experience. Just as a child doesn’t have big meaningful thoughts about whether they should play ball in the backyard, we shouldn’t over-think what brings us joy and what piques our interest. We always get told to live in the now, so do what feels good now. Yes I know we all need to do things that we don’t enjoy as much, but in the times when you don’t have to do the necessary tasks of life, do what is calling to you! Take the time to listen to what is calling to you. For me at the moment it’s hiking. For my logical thinking brain it has nothing to do with working towards a purpose, however it’s giving me so much energy that it has invigorated everything I do. Even the shitty things! Forget about the bigger picture, and focus instead on the smaller picture of today – which is what really matters anyway.
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