A few years ago, a friend invited me to attended a yoga retreat called “Finding Your Life Purpose.” I thought wow this is going to be great I’ll have it all figured out after this, right....?
Apparently this ‘finding your purpose’ is all the rage these days. The message is clear: without a life purpose you’re going nowhere, your life is meaningless, and you're unhappy.
During the retreat, we did several activities to keep us searching for what we wanted to do with our life. While I knew I was happy with my life, had great relationships, enjoyed my job, etc... I felt this external obligation to pinpoint one particular thing I must accomplish in life before I died. This didn’t settle well inside me but I went along with the activity anyway. I kept searching, and searching, and searching... nothing.
People in the group began to proclaim their life purpose: a dancer wanted to grace the world with artistic beauty, a doctor wanted to be a spokesperson for autism, and a college student wanted to write stories about strong female characters. Still, I could not articulate one specific life purpose.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have goals or aspirations, quite the opposite actually. I had too many. Truth is, there is an incredible amount of things I want to accomplish in life and some of them aren’t even related. I finally decided I don’t need a life purpose and don’t feel the need to come up with one.
Rather, I choose to find direction in what I value in life. For me, some of those values would include things like, love, learning, health, adventure, authenticity, compassion, fun, justice, and passion. As long as the actions I take and my behaviors are in line with those key values despite obstacles I may cross, I’m confident that I’ll be completely satisfied in life.
The problem I found with attaching to one life purpose is that it’s a specific destination, so if you don’t ever make it there you may end up feeling disappointed. If you put all your self-worth into accomplishing one thing, how will you feel about yourself if unavoidable obstacles prevent you from continuing to achieve it? What if you change your mind and what once interests you no longer does? Are you then a failure?
A purpose is a structured way of defining your self-worth and keeps your mind pondering the future. In perspective, it is very much an Americanized and individualistic way of thinking, to always be striving for more, bigger, and better. Eastern cultures teach more collective traditions by putting other’s needs above personal interests and to live in the moment without judgement.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a purpose, I respect those who've found theirs. Having a purpose identifies a need or feeling that we’re longing for. If you can tap into what that need is, underneath that you’ll find what’s important to you: your values. Values are less specific but define who we are and what we want our lives to stand for. They are more of a direction rather than a destination and can help you prioritize. Consider what makes you smile, what warms your soul, what makes you laugh, cry, and love. Those are the things we should live for and seek in our daily life.
So if you haven’t discovered your life purpose yet, stop beating yourself up! You may never find it. Let go of the struggle to define your worth in a tangible accomplishment and find it in being true to your values. Appreciate what comes your way in life; your interests will spark out of love and compassion for yourself and those around you.
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