March 12, 2015

An Open Letter to Those Who are Seeking Their Life Purpose.

 Army nurse in service

What am I meant to be doing with my life? What is my true calling?

Are these questions taunting you? They have been taunting me for a long time.

We are not alone in seeking these answers—so not alone, in fact, that there is almost a mini-industry around the topic emerging from the wider self-help business. There’s a wealth of articles, books and programs out there promising to help us figure out the answer to this seemingly all-important question. The answer that will—finally—bring true meaning to our lives.

I became a little obsessed with this idea and have been looking for my own life purpose through my work. And drawing the conclusion that if my work isn’t making a “meaningful” contribution to society and making my heart sing at the same time, then I’m not truly living a purposeful life.

In seeking the answer I have considered various options; I am still considering various options. I don’t yet have any definitive answers. And, to tell you the truth, I am weary of wondering what the definitive answer might be. This quest has been going on for far too long now. It would seem to be an unsolvable riddle and I’m becoming less and less concerned about the supposed solution. In fact, I’m giving myself permission to drop the question altogether.

What I’m quietly coming to realise, is that the answer doesn’t matter all that much. Because the true value of our lives comes from how we live them—how we do what we do, rather than what we actually do.

We give meaning and purpose to our own existence. And we get to decide how we do that.

Even if that “deep and meaningful” insight does arise, it arises from within ourselves—not from an outside force. For some people the insight may feel dramatically external, but that is an illusion. If we come to know that we are meant to do a certain thing, that knowing sits inside us. We have merely started paying attention to it.

This new insight is but a thought that we now empower by labelling it as a belief: “This is my life purpose.”

But that thought can arise quietly and uneventfully too. So quietly that maybe we don’t pay it enough attention. Just because it’s not jumping up and down and waving flags at us, doesn’t mean it’s not the right answer.

What transforms the thought, “This is something I feel drawn to,” to perceiving this thing as our life purpose is the choice to either give it credence or dismiss it as folly.

We can simply decide that “working with animals” or “being the best godamn parent I can possibly be” is our life’s purpose. Just decide—and by honouring that choice through our everyday actions, it becomes so.

Waiting until we have a more dramatic Aha! moment isn’t necessary. It just delays our sense of living a meaningful and purposeful life; it delays our recognition of the value we intrinsically offer.

Our lives are already purposeful. They just are.

Our sense of how purposeful they are is a matter of perspective.

And nothing is permanent. At any point in time we can choose a new purpose for our lives and it won’t negate the value of how we’ve lived up to now.

I’m not castigating the Big Calling. Without a doubt, some people are called to serve in a greater way than most and the world needs those people. All I’m saying is that if you don’t feel that calling—or if you do feel it, but still don’t know what it is—that is okay.

Maybe we don’t have one overarching, all-consuming purpose for our lives. And maybe we do, but it might not be expressed through the way in which we earn a living.

Instead of interpreting purpose as the reason why something exists, there is another option: “purpose” can also mean “intent”—a desired result. Attach this concept to our life and “What am I meant to be doing with my life?” morphs into “What do I intend my life to stand for?”

I like this question so much better. Instead of discovering the purpose some force outside of ourselves has in mind for us, we get to choose the purpose we wish to serve in the world. There are no rules around how we do that. Whenever we feel drawn to do something that, as a natural consequence, helps another being (not necessarily human) in any way, then we have done something of worth. Of purpose.

And we can do little things every day.

Every single day is an opportunity to live a purposeful life. Until such time (if ever) as you feel wholly drawn to a particular task, your purpose lies in how you do whatever you choose to do for now.

So here’s my new approach to this matter: just do something today that is of benefit to another. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture; it can be one small act of kindness.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~ Leo Buscaglia

For all any of us knows, today may be our last day living this life. Does that mean it’s too late to fulfil our purpose? When all we ever know for sure is that we’ve been granted today, then today is all we really need to worry about. Instead of agonising over what our true calling is, all we need do is something— anything—that is of benefit to someone, somewhere.

That is purposeful enough.


Relephant Read:

What’s my Life’s Purpose?


Author: Hilda Carroll

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo via Army Medicine/Flickr

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