For a long time I thought my purpose in life was to write.
So imagine the panic when after a zillion years working as a writer, I began to hate it.
All washed out at 30. If I couldn’t write, what would I do? What was my purpose?
Truth is, my purpose isn’t dependent on the writing. Or the parenting, or anything else I do. My purpose, as I know now after years of study and reflection, is to inspire and teach and support people to live better lives, and that can happen in a bunch of different ways.
What is Purpose?
Purpose is sometimes described as the thing we are meant to do, the focus of our life, the values and goals that define us and motivate our behavior. It is an expression of our desires and talents and authenticity.
It’s a big deal according to Patrick Hill, of Carleton University, because purpose not only influences the quality of our lives and how we contribute to others, but it also helps us live longer. With data from more than 6,000 participants over a 14-year period those who had the strongest sense of purpose in life, lived the longest. Other research shows that people with a clear purpose also tend to be more resilient and have greater meaning in life which promotes well-being.
Purpose is good for our bodies and our souls.
Purpose is Vast and it is Within You
Yet, how we think about purpose is often too narrow. We think there is one thing, one right way to do it and if we aren’t clear on our modus operandi, if we don’t know what our purpose is, we freak out. We feel scared, unfulfilled. Lame.
But don’t worry. You got this. You are expressing your purpose right now even if you can’t define it. It is within you, it seeps out of you all the time. What we need to do is back up and start uncovering the purpose we are already living.
In my case, I was so tied to the notion that writing was my sole purpose in life, that I never stopped to look beyond. The writing was simply a way to express my purpose. It wasn’t my purpose at all.
My purpose, as I think about it today, is to inspire, guide, support people to live better lives. I feel most connected to my work and my family and my friends, most grounded in myself, when I’m doing this.
So, when I was writing marketing materials, I wasn’t all that close to my purpose (though I didn’t know any of this at the time) and it felt icky. I blamed the writing. Yet, when I began writing about psychology and personal development and other stuff that moved me back into that purposeful space, I was passionate again.
I still write, but the expression of my purpose is broader now. I also parent a daughter – and my purpose to inspire and guide and support abounds in that role. I’m a speaker who strives to inspire and guide audiences so my purpose shows up there too. And I’m a wife and a friend and in the quiet moments when I’m hanging with my tribe sharing the moments of our lives, I’m on purpose too – I hope to support and encourage my friends and reflect their magnificence.
You see how this works? We get caught up in the thing we are doing and we think that’s our purpose. So when we change spouses or lose jobs, or when our kids grow up and move out and no longer need round-the-clock parenting we feel bereft, as though our purpose in life is over, gone.
Purpose is Not Limited
But that is not it. Purpose is not finite. It is not contained by a single duty or job description or activity. It is not limited by a single expression. It is vast like the universe and the oceans, it is as expansive as we are. And it is revealed by passion.
While your purpose will probably remain the same throughout your lifetime, how you express it will flex and shift and change dozens of times. Make room for that expansion, be open to it, don’t judge it. Stay close to your purpose and you’ll feel healthier and more engaged in life no matter how it shows up.
In Wednesday’s post, I’ll offer some quick tips for getting clear about your purpose and finding the means of expression that help you stay on track.
Image by Erin Cairney White
Erin Cairney White uses mixed media – acrylic paints, gelatos and a variety of papers, inks and stamps to create her work from her Snohomish, Washington studio. She is a wife and mother of four who also teaches art classes and works with educators in the Snohomish School District to support special needs students. When she is not creating, or working with kids, Cairney White and her husband raise pygmy goats. Her original artwork is available through the little details company.