As a coach, I encounter many people, young and old, from many walks of life, who want to talk about finding their Purpose (capital P). That natural inclination is in the spotlight as we navigate the innumerable changes during this time of Covid. Many of us are re-thinking the state our lives and considering what shape we want them to take as we look to create a new way of living on the other side of this.
We are yearning to exert some influence over what is to come. It’s a natural reaction to want to gain some sense of control in an otherwise out-of-control world. We want influence on what our so-called “new normal” will look like.
Of course, this search for purpose and meaning isn’t a new pursuit that has popped up since the pandemic began; even in the earliest civilizations humans spent considerable energy focused on finding the “meaning of life” and trying to answer the big (yet very personal) questions “why am I here?” and “what is my purpose?” Noble questions to be sure – worth reflection, contemplation and action.
Unfortunately, I've observed the angst, strain and worry experienced when you feel the pull to find your purpose, feel the anxiety created by so much uncertainty, and still don’t quickly, “magically” find a clear answer (as many social media posts suggest we should.)
I’ve asked these kinds of questions in my own life; before leaving a 30-year career to transition to independent work as a coach and mentor, I danced with the internal “there is something else out there for me” feeling. My work now connects me with many people “seeking purpose.” I see, and deeply feel, how a lack of clarity and seeds of self-doubt can become excruciating - especially in times when we desperately need to feel that life has a bigger meaning. It’s so common to hear the worries “How do I follow a path that isn’t yet clear?” “How do I know it’s the ‘right’ purpose to pursue?” “How do I put my ideas into action?” “What are my deepest gifts, truest values and greatest desires?” and perhaps most painful of all “What is wrong with me that I don't know how to move forward?”
Wow! No wonder the pursuit of purpose is overwhelming! But… there is hope (there is always hope!) It comes in the form of a mindset shift and a shift of expectations.
I came to a comforting revelation about purpose after listening to a talk by Sadhguru (on the amazing free app Insight Timer - check it out!). He asked a question that sounded controversial and even a little disheartening at first. He asked:
“What if you do not have a lifelong purpose?”
Gasp! No purpose? When so many people are searching so hard for one? Is he implying a meaninglessness or an emptiness to life?
On the contrary, what I came to is this: we can shift our expectations and consider that we don’t need to strive for a singular purpose in life, we can make life our purpose.
If we live and work in ways that feel connected and meaningful based on whatever we are experiencing in this present moment, our purpose will find us!
He asserts: the purpose of life is simply to live – as fully and totally as we can in each moment.
Answer this question: If you knew your purpose and you fulfilled it, after that, what would you do? The natural answer is “get another purpose.” And if you fulfill that, then what? Of course, get another!
Do you see where I’m going with this?...
The search for purpose is instinctive and central to living a fully human life, yet the search can create stress, anxiety and self-doubt. Because of the suffering this search for purpose can create, if you’re feeling lost and unclear, I invite you to ask yourself a slightly different question.
Despite the Instagram quotes stating otherwise, you don’t require a crystal-clear, life-long vision to live a meaningful and joyful life! (If you have one, rock on!) You can find meaning and take action on a vision and purpose for now. What feels meaningful to you in this phase of life? What gives you energy and makes you feel alive and connected? What problem or challenge draws you to work for a solution?
If you cannot change your current circumstances, how can you live them more fully?
Engage deeply in whatever is pulling you at this time in your life... How to do that? Follow your interests, use your strengths, build your relationships. If you are starting a new career (first, second or third), learning new ways to connect in a virtual world, stepping into activism, parenting in a whole new context, studying new topics, learning more about yourself and your family, or exploring your artistic creativity, give attention and energy to the moment you are in (not the past that led you here nor the future you hope to get to or worry about getting to) . Connect and experience the right now. You will discover your life as you live it and your purpose will evolve as you grow. Emily Dickenson told us “Forever is composed of nows.”
I predict that when we use this approach – actively pursuing a series of meaningful “momentary purposes” that engage us in the fullness of life - when we connect with others, contribute what we can in the moment, and observe the wonders of the world (even if our Covid world seems small right now), we will create experiences that resonate. When we follow the nudges of interest, energy and connection, releasing expectations about if this is IT, we tap into internal purpose that grows from our unique place in the world.
Let’s make each day as meaningful as we can, forgive ourselves when all we can muster is “getting through” and then try again. If we do this, one day, sooner or later, we’ll be able to look back at the breadcrumbs of life and realize we did indeed live an engaged and purposeful life!
For now, take a deep breath, smile, think about what gives you positive energy, what’s calling your heart to explore, and follow your purpose for now. And if you fulfill this purpose, you can get always get another one!