Libraries and bookstores have always been places of solace for me. These are the places I would run to when I was looking for a moment of peace from my life. Surrounded by books, I could get lost in whatever world I wanted. A place of ideas where I could be myself, free of judgment, with a warm cup of overpriced legal stimulants in my hand.
But increasingly, those places of solace became places of stress. More and more, I’d walk into a library or a bookstore, and be hit in the face with a huge display at the front door asking, “What’s Your Purpose?”, and then offering me a table laden with books to help me find the answer.
We live in a world saturated with the idea that a life worth living is a life that is purpose-driven.
Your purpose will wake you up in the morning and let you sleep soundly every night. It will inform your decisions and will give a richness and meaning to your life that will be missing without it.
We are taught that our purpose cannot be vague. It can’t be “My purpose is to help people” or “My purpose is to be kind” or “My purpose is to bring joy to others.” We need to know exactly how we will do as much while earning enough money to feed ourselves. Your purpose has to be precise. It must be a plan for fulfillment. And it must be what you do for as long as you live, or so we’re led to believe.
Except, what if you can’t decide what it is? What if the idea of finding your purpose actually just leads you into a navel-gazing spiral and the quest itself makes you feel inadequate? What if the idea of finding your purpose to make yourself happy is actually doing just the opposite?
Look, the idea of a life of purpose sounds great. I get it. I’ve spent many hours of my life thinking about what my purpose is, how it manifests, and what I should do to live it and fulfill it. And all that thinking didn’t lead to many answers, only a lot of questions. What is my purpose? Is it to be a good person? A good mom? To raise a good child? Is it to help people? Is it to open people’s eyes to the injustices of the world? To right those wrongs committed against helpless citizens of humanity? Is it to lead people in an effort to save our planet? I mean, what IS it? How does one even define such a thing?
Personally, I’ve found all the talk of purpose very stressful and, at times, demoralizing. And if there is one thing I’m sure my purpose is not supposed to do, is stress me out about what it should be.
So I decided that I do not accept it. I reject the idea that not having an articulated purpose means that I’m floundering in my life. I reject that not having my purpose defined means that my life has no direction. I reject that the life I am creating is not beneficial, and in service to others because my purpose is not fixed or easily explained in a sentence.
Recently, I stopped looking for the purpose of my life and started living my life. I stopped worrying if an endeavor I was undertaking was going to fulfill my life’s ultimate mission. Instead, I focused on whether it made me feel good to do it. Was it worth my time, my money or my interest? Did it hurt anyone else? If the answers to those two questions were Yes and No, then I gave myself permission to go ahead with it, without ruminating over the lifelong consequences of my choices, or if they were going to help carry out my ultimate life plan.
I stopped worrying about my purpose and started thinking about the intention of my actions. I asked myself why I was doing something and decided for myself in each situation what a satisfactory answer was. I found that if the intention was unclear, or steeped in ego or malice, it would feel…icky. No matter how I tried to justify it to myself. What if my purpose was not to make myself feel icky, but rather to be intentional in the way I live my life so that I was feeling good about it? And that intentionality begins by asking the why before I do something or say something or go somewhere. Not “Is this fulfilling a greater mission,” but “Why am I doing this at all?”
Perhaps, finding your purpose has less to do with the purpose itself, but how you define it.
If you have a purpose—capital P— and it’s working for you, then more power to you. For me, ruminating over what I should pursue distracted me from what I actually am.
These things may look different week over week or year over year. But the goal of my life—my purpose—isn’t to drive towards some obtuse set of beliefs I came up with at one point on my journey. It’s to live it well and fully and good, on my own terms.
I give myself permission to not have all the answers, but to go where love leads me, where my intentions align, and where my spirit wanders.
I am a growing and changing being, and what I do in a given situation will change as I change. I believe in giving myself permission. Permission to be wrong. Permission to grow. Permission to change. Permission for my purpose to be different today than it is tomorrow, because tomorrow my priorities may be different, my life may be different, and I may be different.