So many people speak to me of needing to find their purpose, like a mythical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
It’s commonly held that we need to have a huge purpose to make life worth living, and wow, isn’t that overwhelming! If we’re not driven by searching for the cure to cancer, or colonising Mars, does this mean only some people have a purpose and the rest of us are doomed to wander our lives in a purpose-free fog? The pressure to find our purpose becomes another pain point – another signpost of failure and dissatisfaction.
And yet I know why. Something powerful is available when we anchor our life to an overarching principle that’s meaningful, and we feel adrift when we don’t have it.
But being in touch with a purpose that lights you up doesn’t have to be hard or difficult. Often it is hiding in plain sight.
So let’s dive into purpose, and get some freedom and power around it.
- A purpose can be seen as the thread that winds through your life. You can see it when you look back through the many different things you’ve been involved with. It can be a value or principle around which you orient your life.
- Purpose is contextual. It is not what you do. Let me repeat this – purpose is not what you do! You don’t have to change your job or create your work around your purpose! I mean, you can if you want, but you don’t have to. You can be a train driver and be living your purpose, because its not about your job.
- A purpose is rarely accomplished. That’s because its about being and not doing. And I think this is where we get tripped up. Purpose is not a place you have to get to, or strive for. It’s not a task. It’s an unfoldment with many iterations. It’s a space which allows fulfilment to show up.
- That said, purpose is revealed through engaging in life. In doing so, you find the stuff you like/don’t like, are moved by/indifferent to, are curious about/leaves you cold, your sweet spot/sour taste.
- A purpose has many diverse expressions and it manifests in various ways. It is the anchor around which different activities get expressed.
- To have a purpose, you don’t need evidence, or a history of accomplishment to make it so. It just is.
So what does this mean in real terms?
It might surprise those who know me that my purpose isn’t around ending hunger. Many people thought (and even I did initially) that it was, because of long commitment to The Hunger Project which started when I was in Ethiopia in 1992. I was there at the end of a devastating famine and saw things that really should not be. I came home activated by the issue and the people, and many thought me lucky to have found my purpose so clearly and so young.
But actually ending hunger isn’t my purpose. I realised my purpose is about the empowerment and uplifting of humanity. I long to inspire new possibilities for us to lead and live differently. I am deeply moved by our potential – and our vulnerabilities. And in spite of the huge and difficult challenges we face, I stand for us! I know we are capable of so much more than we think we are. We can become better humans, and living this gives me purpose.
How my purpose looks has many different faces. It frames how I show up across my whole life. When I get involved in something, this is the piece I bring because it speaks to my purpose, and if I can’t, then that’s not the project for me. It was there when I was involved in the peace movement, in politics, in global issues, in the leadership work I do, how I’ve designed my life, and in what I give energy to. It’s the thread that binds it all.
So to look for your purpose, consider not what your job is, but what hasmoved and excited you. What does your life naturally bend towards? What is the silver thread you can trace through your interests and big experiences?
And if you’re feeling flat around this let me know.
Sometimes we lose sight of the piece that is ours to bring and express in the world. Or sometimes we’re in a lull between the different expressions. I know that’s been true for me and it’s uncomfortable. You think you have lost your way, and with seemingly no purpose, you have no compass.
During these times, maybe its not the purpose you are seeking, but the most enriching, and powerful expression of it in your life.