Purpose is, by definition, the reason something exists. This means that my purpose in life is the reason I exist and your purpose in life is the reason you exist. I find that pretty daunting. I mean, some days simply existing can feel like work enough, let alone existing with purpose, don’t you think?
Yet we continue to seek out meaning.
In How to Find Your Purpose in Life (Greater Good Magazine), Jeremy Adam Smith writes, “a sense of purpose appears to have evolved in humans so that we can accomplish big things together…It helps both individuals and the species to survive.”
So, on the one hand, it’s a highly personal pursuit. On the other, it’s all about community. (Hold that thought; I’ll come back to it in a minute.)
These days, there’s a whole lot of searching going on.
Says Adi Gaskell in The Modern Hunt for Purpose (Forbes): “The hunt for purpose is very much the modern condition.” Case in point, the search term “how to find your purpose” churns out 2,150,000,000 results in Google.
I’ve definitely done my fair share of searching although I didn’t do much of it when my daughter was young. Nurturing her felt like plenty purpose enough. But the more independent she became, the more redundant and lost I felt.
When I hit 50, my quest was full-on. I needed to figure out my purpose in life so that I could get busy fulfilling it. You know — do that thing I needed to do in order to be a good human being; to justify the space I take up and the oxygen I breathe.
(Dang it, I want people to say nice things about me when I’m gone.)
I’d look at the contributions others were making to society. “Amanda volunteers at a soup kitchen. That would be a nice thing to do,” I’d think, half-heartedly, because the truth was I really didn’t want to volunteer in a soup kitchen — which brings us back to that thought I asked you to hold.
Purpose serves individuals, as well as community.
When I was searching for my purpose, I was fixated on what my contribution to society should (yes, should) be. I didn’t give much thought to finding a purpose that served me as an individual. (Surely that would be selfish.)
As a result, everything I came up with felt unnatural; less purpose and more obligation. My search was going nowhere. Meanwhile, my personal growth journey was in full swing.
Not long before my search for purpose began, I realized I needed to adopt a healthier outlook in life. I’d grown tired of living with my cup half empty, so I chose to see the good as much as I could and when I couldn’t, I turned to people, books, and practices for help.
Over far more time than the succinct paragraph above suggests, a happier, more confident me emerged. I became so passionate about the power of positivity that I found myself not only wanting to talk about it but also wanting to write about it.
Slowly but surely, I started to sense the contribution I was making. People started to remark on my positive attitude. “That’s a great way to look at it,” they’d say.
I had found my purpose.
My purpose in life isn’t about doing. It’s about being.
That’s where I’d gone wrong. I’d focused on what I thought I should be doing. Only when I shifted that focus to who I wanted to be did my purpose present itself.
Says social scientist Nicholas Lore:
“A purpose is an ongoing commitment to a principle that becomes who you are. It is not a belief or a goal to be achieved, but a place to come from. It is not what you do, but who you are being.”
Every day, I consciously strive to come from a place of positivity. Positive is who I am being, and in so being, positivity is what I put out into the world. Spreading positivity is my purpose.
Compared to volunteering in a soup kitchen, protesting climate change, or working to end world hunger, my purpose is neither grand nor impressive. But it is mine to be and mine to share and I do believe that I can help make the world slightly better and slightly brighter by sharing it.
What place are you coming from?
Who are you being? And in so being, what are you contributing to society? How are you already making the world better and brighter, and could that perhaps be the purpose you’ve been searching for?
Viv for today xo
(Originally published February 25, 2020)
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