Lately I have encountered many people, young and old, from many walks of life, who are talking about, reading about and writing about the quest to find their purpose. This isn’t a new pursuit; since the earliest human civilizations people have spent considerable energy focused on finding the “meaning of life” and trying to answer the personal questions “why am I here?” and “what is my purpose?” Noble questions to be sure – worth reflection, contemplation and action. However, I have also observed the angst, strain and worry many people experience when they seek purpose and do not quickly find a clear and definitive answer. I reflected on similar questions in my own life after leaving a 30-year career to transition to independent work as a coach and mentor. My new line of work brings me into contact with many who “seek purpose.” In my experience I see that a lack of clarity and seeds of self-doubt can be excruciating for some people who wish to “know” their purpose and life vision. It is not uncommon to hear the worries “How do I know it’s the ‘right’ purpose?” “How do I follow a path that isn’t yet clear?” “How do I put my ideas into action?” “What are my deepest gifts, truest values and greatest desires?” Wow! No wonder the pursuit of purpose is overwhelming!
I came to a comforting revelation about purpose after listening to a talk by Sadhguru (on the amazing free app Insight Timer). He made a suggestion that first sounded controversial and somewhat disheartening to me – “what if you do not have a purpose?” Gasp! How can we not have a purpose when so many people are searching so hard for one? Is he implying a meaninglessness or an emptiness to life? On the contrary, perhaps if we have no singular purpose in life, then we can just live. He asserted the purpose of life is simply to live – as fully and totally as we can. What if we seek to deeply explore and connect with all of what life offers, in its entirety? Surely that would take a long time to accomplish! (Maybe thousands of years…) Just do that for a while he suggests – there is so much to learn, so many people to connect with, so much to pay attention to, so many ways we can serve – that will keep us busy for quite some time! He also asked a pointed question: “If you knew your purpose and you fulfilled it, after that, what would you do?” The natural answer – get another purpose. And if you fulfill that, then what? Of course, get another!
The search for purpose seems instinctive and central to living a fully human life, yet the search can create stress, anxiety and self-doubt that surely is NOT part of our purpose. Because of the suffering this search might create, if you are seeking purpose and feeling unclear, I encourage you to ask a slightly different question. Ask instead “what is my purpose right now?” You do not need a crystal clear, life-long vision. (If you have one, rock on!) You can find meaning and take action on a vision and purpose for now. Engage deeply in what is drawing you at this time in your life. If you are starting a new career (first, second or third), developing new relationships and connecting with a new community, studying and learning more about the world, learning more about yourself, or exploring your artistic creativity, just engage deeply and in a way that feels connected and meaningful right now. You will discover your life as you live it and your purpose will evolve as you grow.
I predict that with this approach – actively pursuing a series of meaningful “momentary” purposes that engage us in the fullness of life, connect us with others, allow us to contribute what we can in the moment, and give us chances to observe the wonders of the world, we will find those experiences that resonate, that we are drawn to invest energy in and that tap our best self. Then one day, sooner or later, we will be able to look back at the breadcrumbs of our lives and realize that indeed we lived an engaged and purposeful life!
So, for now, take a deep breath, smile, think about what is giving you positive energy today, what is calling your heart to explore, and decide on your purpose for now. And if you fulfill this purpose, you can get another one!
Kristen Fragnoli, April 2018