My Purpose in Life is?

Is there just one purpose for our lives? And where does this idea come from in the first place?

Here is a partial answer. We have,

1.  Some stellar talent or ability that others view as our great contribution to life. My hair stylist told me last week that she was born to do hair. She was emphasizing that she loved her job, was naturally good at it, and, at a deeper level, that it gave meaning to her life. It is quite easy then to say that this was her purpose in life. Maybe people have told you, “You are a born artist” or “You are destined to become a CEO”

2.  A drive to find meaning for our lives. As humans we attempt to ferret out meaning in just about everything we do. Usually we hone in on a career or a compelling passion to express ourselves. We look for one focus to help us make a good choice and define our purpose.

But do we, like my hairstylist born to do hair, view our purpose as one thing? Just as the acorn is destined to become an oak, do the seeds of our calling clearly emerge as one thing?

Here are some problems and challenges about viewing our lives through the prism of one fixed purpose.

1.   We risk becoming reductionistic.

We live in a shrink it down culture. We reduce complex issues to their simplest terms in order to wrap our minds around them. So we hear people saying, “Oh you are an introvert or a depressive or born to be an artist”. As if one adjective, personality category, or professional identity can capture the essence of a person. We are far more complex than that.

How can we reduce the wonders of the universe to one star or even galaxy? How can we boil down a person’s achievement or personal skills or passion to one manifestation of the self? Such reductionism violates the mystery of our person and makes our life’s journey too simplistic.

2.   We can never predict the future.

When I was in my 20’s I would never have dreamed up the configuration of my present life. I was a boy living in a backwater small town in a country then called Rhodesia, limited by my cultural and religious heritage. Breaking frame and immigrating to the USA, training to be a psychologist, leaving the religious heritage of my childhood, having a child who was disabled, marrying Kris, having a global consulting business, embracing new friends, and moving to Mexico have influenced my evolution in ways I would never have dreamed possible. Was this what I would have predicted for myself in late middle age? In no way, shape, or form.

As with any journey we can plan on and imagine our destination. However, all the guidebooks can never prepare us for the surprises and challenges that we will actually experience when we are there. And so,

3.  We cannot reduce the journey of a life to one goal.

The other day I met a staff person at the FedEx store that had an obvious passion for design. In fact I mentioned to her “You have the design gene in you.” She agreed with me and mentioned that she had been enrolled in a school of design but had to drop out for unstated reasons. Will she ever go back to that path? I don’t know. However, does that mean it’s the end of the line for her finding a calling in the years ahead? Who knows where the stream of her life will flow? She was obviously a multi-talented person. A whole journey lies ahead of her full of mystery and adventure.

So too you may have imagined one goal for your career and relationships. You invested all your energy and hopes into that quest. But life happened and you were knocked off course. So is that it for you? No more options? Well if you were destined to do or be one thing you are out of luck. You are then destined to live on the bench and never get back in the game.

The truth is that there are many options for our lives as we position ourselves to open up to new possibilities. But we only discover this truth when,

So if the notion of “one thing for our lives” is unworkable here are some preliminary ideas on how we can experience a sense of purpose in life.

How to Experience a Sense of Purpose

1.  Remain flexible and learn to improvise. Surrender the illusion of control.

2.  Realize that there is more to you than you can begin to realize.

3.  Develop a sense that you are attached to something larger than yourself especially by serving the common good.

4.  Demonstrate kindness to others and the self on a daily basis.

5.  Listen to and live according to the prompting and poetry of the soul.

6.  Embrace the adventure of life in whatever way it presents itself to us.

7.  Be as fully present as we can be with others and ourselves.

How would you describe your purpose?

This posting was made after reading the excellent article by Daniel Gulati “Diversify Your Dreams” in a recent blog on the Harvard Business Review

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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10 Responses to My Purpose in Life is?

  1. Meredith Moraine says:

    Another thoughtful and thought-provoking article! Thanks so much for this continuing exploration of the deeper waters of human experience.

    • cedricj says:

      This is a topic that engages all thoughtful people like yourself that grab the adventure of life with both hands and with all the powers of your mind. In my books Meredith you are living that purpose right now. Cedric

  2. Janice Hill says:

    Despite being “retired”, I still wonder what I want to be when I “grow up”.
    I am still “diversifying my dreams”. Mahalo for sharing your wise insights.

  3. This is such a beautiful and true expression of the yearning we all have for knowing ourselves, for being “settled” and appreciated for our talents. I love what you write about being in a reductionist world/society. I hope I never stop being immersed in the adventure of life and learning more about what it truly means to be settled in the process of growth. Thank you.

    • cedricj says:

      Carolyn, No matter where we are on the journey of life we wrestle with this question of purpose. Sometimes I think the wrestling is the purpose itself. I am so grateful to have friends like yourself that read and comment on my blog. Thanks for weighing in. Cedric

  4. Fred Karsner says:

    Another wonderful article! Thanks so much for exploring the underbelly of what we all seek “My purpose in life is?”… Are we every supposed to be satisfied? I think Joseph Campbell said it best ” People say that what we are all seeking is meaning for life. I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive”… I think we are supposed to never feel satisfied otherwise who know what could have been… like the movie It’s a Wonderful Life where he wishes he had never been born, and the Angel shows him what the town would have been like if he had never existed… Being satisfied compliance may cause you to never to explore desire or even reach your purpose in life…so its healthy to always keep that sense of wonder…

    • cedricj says:

      Fred, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to comment on my blog posting. I love the Joseph Campbell quote. The moment by moment quest to feel alive is really the journey of a lifetime. Another compelling voice on the issue of purpose is that of Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning”

  5. Bowdy Ragas says:

    this article just moves me in ways i cannot explain! well done with the whole insight!

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