There’s this pervasive idea in our culture that everyone has a life purpose, but most of us aren’t clear on what it is exactly. We may only feel certain that what we’re currently doing isn’t it. Or we may not be doing much of anything at all. We may be in that in-between place where we’re no longer motivated by material pursuits, but we don’t know quite what our spiritual purpose is. We might feel stuck. We might feel lost, even hopeless.
I’ve felt this way a number of times throughout my own life. In fact, I’ve felt this way most of my life. Trying to understand my purpose has often been met with little more than frustration and growing uncertainty. Not knowing what to do with my life has at times been deeply depressing. And when I’m faced with those feelings I tend to seek out purpose in order to soothe them. The thought is, “If I can figure out my purpose, I’ll be happy.” But the more I think about it, the more confused I am, the more uncertain, the more frustrated. In the long run, those feelings don’t fade away. They worsen.
So I’ve learned to take a different approach, to examine those feelings themselves. Why do I feel this way? Is it because I’m not fulfilling my purpose? Is it because I’m not certain what my purpose is? Or could it be that I’m so wrapped up in the idea that I must have a specific purpose? Supposing I don’t? Supposing that none of us have some predetermined specific purpose in life? What if that’s just some silly idea we’ve been sold? Where did this idea come from? And why do we entertain it? Why presume that there is a purpose for our existence at all?
I know that in my own life this belief has placed a great deal of pressure upon me. It’s the spiritual equivalent to societal expectations. Society expects us to conform to certain standards and to fulfill specific roles. We’re all supposed to become cogs in the machine. We’re suppose to fit in and do our part, even if that means totally discarding your own authenticity, your passions, your inspiration and so on. And so we often take on work that we find meaningless, monotonous, and sometimes even humiliating. We compromise so much of ourselves to win the respect and validation of others that we lose all sense of who we are. And we do it because there’s so much pressure to be something other than who we are.
This idea that we have a purpose is often presented in a way that challenges those social standards. What if our purpose is something completely different from what society expects of us. And often so many people who are searching for purpose are the ones deeply dissatisfied with their role in life. But in some sense the search for purpose seems to have it’s own pressure, which is not so different from the pressure of society. If you don’t have a purpose, who are you? What is you’re worth? What is the value of your time and energy? How will you leave your mark on this world? How will you be remembered?
The more I think about what my purpose might be, and how to go about living it, the more pressure I feel. And the more I feel as though I’m not living up to my purpose, whatever that may be, the more I feel like I’m wasting time, the more I feel that I’m lacking in something. This sense that I’m not fulfilling my purpose doesn’t motivate me in the slightest. If anything it seems to dis-empower me. I find myself stuck in a stand still. I find myself overthinking the whole thing, and sinking into depression.
But what if I have no predetermined purpose? What if there is no one specific thing I came here to accomplish? What if I’m creating all of this mental stress over nothing? If there is something I’m meant to do in life, something that is rooted in my heart and soul, shouldn’t it be effortless? Shouldn’t it arise as inspiration? And how can I be inspired if I’m overthinking, if I’m putting all this pressure on myself to figure it all out? Inspiration comes when we’re relaxed, when the mind is calm. So, what if, in this moment the task is not to seek for anything, but to be still, to simply be in the moment, not wanting, not striving, not pursuing, not trying to make sense of anything, but simply being?
When I examine this idea of having to fulfill a specific purpose I find that it’s not much different than the sense of needing to live up to social standards and expectations. Fulfilling some grand purpose offers me a sense of value and validation, not simply in my own eyes but in the eyes of others. And as much as I would want to deny it, I’m concerned with how others perceive me. Why? Why should any of that matter?
I realize that this is the ego wanting recognition, validation, approval and praise. My sense of not feeling fulfilled because I’m not fulfilling some specific purpose is really a sense of feeling small, inadequate, not good enough. And the concern is very much about how others may perceive me. If I had some specific purpose and I was successful in it, others would respect me, praise me, hold me in high regard. And their praise and respect would give me a sense of importance and value.
So my search for purpose is really a search for validation. And the real question is, can I find value in myself without the approval of others, without having to prove myself to anyone, without having to accomplish something in the world? Can I find value simply in being, simply in the essence of who I am, beyond any sort of identification, beyond my achievements, beyond the sense of self?
Why do we presume there is a purpose to life, whether we’re talking bout an individual purpose or the grand purpose of all existence? What if we got rid of this idea and replaced it with opportunity? So instead of asking, “What is my purpose?”, we instead asked, “What opportunity is there in this life?”
When I look at my life I can find so many things to be unsatisfied about. And when I’m searching for purpose, what I’m really doing is trying to escape my situation, trying to escape from the sense of being dissatisfied. But if I ask instead, “What opportunity is there in this situation?”, the opportunity may be to find contentment, not by changing anything, but by surrendering to this moment just as it is.
What I’m really searching for is contentment. But as long as I’m searching for it, I don’t find it, because searching means I’m looking elsewhere. I’m looking into the future. I’m resisting this moment. I have this idea that when everything falls into place, then I’ll be satisfied, then I’ll be content. But if I can’t be content here and now, then when?
Can I be present with my current circumstances, and instead of dwelling on what I find dissatisfying, can I be at peace with what is? Can I be grateful? And if I see that there is something that needs to be done, can I simply do it, without overthinking, without being overwhelmed? Can I let go of the idea of having to fulfill some specific purpose? And can I instead simply allow inspiration and intuition to guide me in the moment? And if the inspiration isn’t there, can I simply be at peace in the moment, not needing to escape, not needing to change anything, but simply to surrender in acceptance of what is?
What if life is not about fulfilling one grand accomplishment, but about all the little things we do, the random acts of kindness, an encouraging word, the willingness to listen? What if the greatest influence we have on someone is done through an act so small and seemingly insignificant that we don’t even realize it’s impact? What if our entire life is a series of opportunities to influence the world through small and seemingly insignificant acts, each of which are unique to the time and place they occur?
What if, what we call our purpose, is ever-changing and evolving from moment to moment according to the situation? Because if we have this idea that there is this one specific thing we’re supposed to do, supposing we do it. Then what?
To feel that one should have a purpose, but not knowing what that purpose is can be deeply depressing. But to let go of the idea entirely that anyone has any specific purpose can be profoundly liberating. It removes all of the pressure. It frees you to live spontaneously, to be fully present in the moment, with no concern for the future. And it’s in the moment that inspiration arises.
Again, I suggest putting away this notion of purpose and replacing it with opportunity. And what is the greatest opportunity in life? To learn from every circumstance, to grow and awaken more and more each moment. And the more we awaken, the more clarity we have in life, so that we don’t have to overthink anything, but we can act in the moment according to our inspiration and intuition.