I was roused from my daydreaming by a sudden and very loud thump on the wall outside of my home office. This first thump was followed quickly by another and then another, it wasn’t going to stop. I rushed outside to see what was trying to break through from the outside.
What I saw was not what I had expected. There was no wrecking team with sledgehammers trying to renovate my house; it was my daughter, throwing a basketball against the wall. She was not just throwing the ball though, she was jumping, weaving and dodging invisible opponents, commentating out loud the entire time, on her apparently outstanding skills with the ball.
Before I could voice my displeasure, my daughter turned to me with the biggest grin I had seen for a long time and shouted to me, “Dad, isn’t it wonderful, my teacher told me the basketball season is starting and I am going to be on the team.” Well, at least the house wasn’t falling down.
“I thought you loved hockey” I said to her as she kept running and dribbling. “Yes, I do, but that was in hockey season, now it’s going to be basketball season.” I had been completely disarmed by a child’s logic and as I turned and walked away, I had forgotten about being annoyed about the disturbance that had brought me out in the first place.
What is a life purpose?
When adults talk about Raison D’etre, Dharma, Ikigai or Life Purpose, it is more often than not, in connection to finding a single path in life. What if, instead of this limiting approach, we embraced the concept of multiple purposes that aligned with the seasons of our life?
A simple Google search will produce millions of perspectives on Life Purpose. Academics, faith leaders, philosophers, life coaches and even blog writers have expressed their views about this contentious concept. There are literally thousands of self-help and personal development books centred on the pursuit of Life’s Purpose.
How tempting it is to believe that purpose is a “thing”! We speak of it as if it were. Have you found your purpose yet? We ask this almost as if we were looking for a misplaced set of keys. Well, it is important to realise that purpose and keys are vastly different kinds of things!
Keys are tangible. We recognize them when we see them. We can pick them up and put them to use. Purpose is a concept. We cannot see it like car keys. We cannot pick it up and put it in our pocket, either. How then, do we recognize purpose? We never see our purpose in life because no one can see a concept in the outside world. Purpose is something we do and we can certainly learn to recognize when we are “purposing.”
Having purpose in our lives will guide our decisions, it will influence our behaviour and shape our goals. For some, purpose is firmly connected to their career and gaining what they need from their work. Others see that purpose lies in their responsibilities to family, friends or through spirituality or religious beliefs. Some people may find their purpose clearly expressed in all these aspects of life.
Purpose will be unique for everyone; what you identify as your path will be different from the path of others. What’s more, your purpose can actually shift and change throughout life in response to the evolving priorities and fluctuations of your own experiences.
Life Purpose, in my definition, integrates three distinct sectors: Values, Focus Areas and Goals. ‘Focus Areas’ describe various parts of life – Work, study, family, friends, health and so on. ‘Goals’ describe what we want to achieve within each of these Focus Areas. For example, “be the best parent I can be, be an outstanding business owner” etc. Goals can also speak to your emotions; “a desire to be confident, feel great satisfaction or have strong self-esteem.” ‘Values’ are the personal qualities you may want to demonstrate consistently in your behaviours. They highlight the sort of person you think you are or want to be.
How can you recognize a purpose?
Purpose: the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. Working from this traditional definition, we would need to know the specific reason we were created in order to be certain of our purpose in life. Once again, we are treating life purpose as if it were a set of keys! Beyond the virtual impossibility of knowing the specific reason you were created, it is also important to note that even concrete items like keys, can be repurposed at any time.
At times it may feel like your life purpose must have slipped between the cushions of your sofa, along with the TV remote but I assure you that your purpose in life is actually lost in a different kind of black hole. What is this purpose-eating black hole, you ask? Language! We lose hope of connecting with the concept of life purpose because we define it so poorly.
Life Purpose is not a single, identifiable thing that is predetermined (like the purpose of a set of keys). It is not merely a concept and is certainly not something that you can only “find” and “put to use” . We can easily be tempted into thinking that there is one, ultimate purpose for our lives. However, the concept of someone having only one purpose is limiting and quite impossible to achieve. Unless of course, it is quite vague and abstract, such as “My life purpose is to be the best person I can be” or “My life purpose is to live freely”. With such a vague statement, we would never be able to fulfil it consistently throughout our life.
There is more value in developing purposes for each focus area or role. This approach allows us to consider how each of these areas impacts our lives and how we can integrate our purpose no matter what. Exploring each focus area, determining our values, passions and expectations allows us to identify the steps we can take to make each area most fulfilling. This concept of multiple purposes provides a context for understanding and blending our lives into a more holistic and authentic way of being, no matter what season of life we are in or what role we are playing.
Committing to a Life of Purpose, on Purpose
Discovering or uncovering your Life Purpose starts with an exploration of the things you enjoy and find meaningful. It should also include careful consideration of your natural talents, passion, and curiosity. When we do connect with our Life Purposes, we understand that we have no problem at all committing to this path, we are beyond our sense of ego and the need for external approval. Our Purpose expresses clearly and consistently our core values and reflects contribution to others, it is not simply self-serving.
The answer to living a fully and deliberate life of purpose is not a secret, it is to reframe our lives as we enter and exit the various seasons we experience, child, adult, partner, parent, worker and so on. In doing this we will find different questions to ask and these in turn will provide new and exciting possibilities for us to engage with.
If there is no single answer to the meaning of life, we are therefore free to create our own answer and embrace the journeys we uncover.