“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
—Gospel of Thomas
One of the ways that people get tied up in knots is over the quest to find their life purpose. There are thousands of books, videos, courses, etc., devoted to helping you find your life purpose, and there is a good reason for this. A sense of purpose in life is extremely important. In fact, next to close, loving relationships, it is one of the most important factors determining our overall happiness in our lives, or really something deeper than happiness, namely joy.
We are wired to want to contribute meaningfully to our communities and our world—thank goodness! Fulfillment in life turns out to be much more important than, say, kicking back in a lawn chair and sipping a mai tai. So, even though in the moment, the mai tai may look more appealing than whatever it is you feel called to do (say, write, paint, act, sculpt, grow vegetables, heal the sick, fly airplanes), in the long run you can only be happy by sharing your gifts in full, heartfelt ways. You know that in your heart. In fact, that knowing gnaws at us to the extent that we aren’t doing what we feel most alive doing.
So, what’s the trouble with life purpose?
Although I use the word “purpose” in describing what we’re up to at Brilliant Playground (“passion, purpose, play”), I’m deeply wary of the word. Purpose is one of those words that can lead us into a great deal of confusion and suffering. (“Soulmate” is another of those words.) This is because a lot of erroneous ideas get attached to the concept, and it becomes a seemingly unattainable, yet vitally necessary, holy grail, without which you are condemned to a life of misery. Not a good place to start from when looking for your life purpose! It’s as if you are waiting for a big neon sign from the heavens to tell you what to do in one simple, clear sentence. In my experience, what we call purpose doesn’t work like that.
1. The first problem with “purpose” is we think it’s singular, as if there is one thing and one thing only you are good at and are here to do.
2. Second, purpose gets equated with career and money. Most people approach finding their life purpose as a quest to find a job description that can be their career and provide them with gobs of money or at least a decent living. Your life purpose might not do that for you and is certainly larger than any job description.
Just look at the life of Vincent Van Gogh. He never sold a painting in his lifetime, lived in poverty, supported by handouts from his brother. Yet he was doing what he loved, living his “purpose,” sharing his gifts, and he is now one of the most beloved painters (and the highest-selling) of all time.
Looking for meaningful work that will provide you with a decent living is a noble, reasonable desire and basic human need. That work, when you find it, will make use of your unique gifts in some way, but your “life purpose” isn’t a job.
3. And finally our focus on “purpose” can make us myopic at best and anguished at worst. We get so focused on finding or living our purpose that we forget to maintain and enjoy all the other vital, rich and wonderful aspects of our lives, such as our physical health, our relationships, our play time, or just savoring a cup of tea right now. We can forget to enjoy the present moment as we are chasing some distant goal.
I have heard some wise teachers say that your purpose is whatever you are doing in this moment. That is true on one level, because you can’t help being you and therefore you are living what you came here to be in that sense. If this understanding helps you stop agonizing about needing to find your purpose, that’s good! You’ll find it more easily from a relaxed stance, and most easily, by simply following what you feel drawn to do, what you enjoy, and being curious and open about the path it leads you on. Your purpose is bound up in your path through life.
But saying that your purpose is whatever you are doing in the moment can also be a cop-out. You’ll know whether it’s a cop-out or the truth for you in the moment by whether you have that nagging feeling that your life lacks deeper meaning or that you aren’t giving all that you truly want to give.
So, how do you discover your life purpose without driving yourself crazy? Stay tuned for my next post in which I’ll share my concept of Unique Brilliance (instead of life purpose) and how you can recognize yours by some key characteristics that are as near to you as your own face.
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If you are feeling lost, stuck, frustrated or unfulfilled in your life,
if you are longing for deeper meaning and contribution,
or more inspiration and creativity,
consider giving yourself the gift and uplift of one-on-one mentoring with me through my Passion Purpose Play Mentoring Program. I think you’ll be very glad you did.