Do We Find or Create Our Life Purpose?
The purpose of our lives is to give birth to the best which is within us. (Marianne Williamson)
“To me, there is only one form of human depravity — the man without a purpose.” Those are rather harsh words by Ayn Rand. However, I can understand her point. After all, a life without purpose is a life wasted. Kenneth Hildebrand eloquently explains the problem: “Multitudes of people, drifting aimlessly to and fro without a set purpose, deny themselves such fulfillment of their capacities, and the satisfying happiness which attends it. They are not wicked, they are only shallow. They are not mean or vicious; they simply are empty — shake them and they would rattle like gourds. They lack range, depth, and conviction. Without purpose their lives ultimately wander into the morass of dissatisfaction. As we harness our abilities to a steady purpose and undertake the long pull toward its accomplishment, rich compensations reward us. A sense of purpose simplifies life and therefore concentrates our abilities; and concentration adds power.”
The purpose of life, then, is to lead a life of purpose and its meaning is to give life meaning. But what is meant by purpose and meaning? They simply mean the “big picture,” vision, chief aim, or core values that all other goals are subordinate to. For example, our PURPOSE might be to leave the world a better place than the way we found it, or to make everyone we meet happier. Either of these purposes would be noble and achievable. How can we help create a better world or make others happier? Wouldn’t you agree that one way is by refusing to steal, criticize, intimidate, gossip, or argue? Another way would be to treat others with kindness, generosity, honesty, and respect. Our goal should be not merely to be good, but to be good for something. To have value that we offer to the world. Our PURPOSE is the path we follow; it’s a broad paintbrush that colors all areas of our life. When all personal goals (career, family, etc.) are aligned with our PURPOSE, we will be authentic beings with integrity.
Despite the importance of PURPOSE, many of us are still floundering, drifting in an unknown direction. Why’s that? One reason is fear. We’re afraid to state our target because we may miss it. To avoid failure, we avoid having a purpose. But that strategy makes as much sense as an ostrich “hiding” from its enemies by burying its head in the sand. If we don’t stand for something, we may fall for anything. What is the purpose of living if we don’t have something to live for?
Those who lead empty lives sometimes turn to bigotry and hatred for solace. So we need to be careful to choose a PURPOSE that will help us to grow, help our potential unfold, and help us transcend our present limitations. Our potential is staggering. We are co-creators of the universe. The Supreme Being has made us partners in creation. It created the universe. We created music. It created the world. We created the pyramids. It created life. We created language that allows us to reflect on life.
Considering our unique position in the universe, our PURPOSE should be equally unique. It should be bigger than life. Since we are only as strong as our PURPOSE, it should be courageous and uplifting. Buddha offers some advice: “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” Charles Mayes also makes a good point: “Make sure the thing you’re living for is worth dying for.”
After opening this newsletter and scanning this article, what is the first question that comes to your mind? Perhaps it is “What is the point or purpose of the article?” When chatting with friends, we often wonder what point they’re trying to make. Yet, we sometimes neglect the most important point of all; mainly the point of our lives, or our life purpose.
Do We Find or Create Our Life Purpose?
Some people neither search for nor create their purpose. Rather, their purpose is thrust upon them. Almost from birth they are driven to wholeheartedly devote their lives to a personal passion. Mozart is an example. He had no choice in the matter. Life picked him and expressed its grandeur through him.
For most of us, however, our purpose is not immediately understood. That’s because we need to pause and stop acting out of habit. Once we quiet ourselves and ask questions, the answers will appear. Here are examples of questions that can unlock the mystery of our true purpose.
What brings me joy?
- What excites me?
- What special talents do I have?
- How can I contribute to the world?
- What do I feel drawn to?
- If I had unlimited courage, what would I choose to do?
- If I would not fail, what would I choose to do?
- What is tugging at my heartstrings?
- What inspires me?
- What have I been dreaming of doing for a long time?
- What do I prefer to do above all other things?
What would I like to have people say about me at my funeral?
The answer that appears is not an intellectual understanding, but a FEELING. For when we answer our call, we are driven by passion, work with enthusiasm, and spread excitement wherever we go.
To get a better idea how the process works, let’s use an example. Like many others, Tom’s purpose or passion is “to leave the world a better place.”
It’s very simple and probably something you can relate to. But also notice that this simple statement is a bit hazy. It lacks clarity. To bring it into sharper focus, we need to “drill down.” That is, we have to ask another question to probe more deeply. So, we ask, “How will I leave the world a better place?”
The answer, may be “by accepting, recognizing, and inspiring others.” Can you see how this purpose is becoming clearer? But we still need to dig deeper. So, we ask, “How will I accept, recognize, and inspire others? The answer may be: I will join Toastmasters International, write articles, establish a Positive Thinkers Group, and do seminars. Ah, the purpose is growing still clearer, isn’t it?
As you can see, as we drill down more and more deeply, our purpose grows clearer. But there is another important point. The deeper we drill (the more questions we ask), the more enthusiastic we feel. It’s like drilling for oil, but instead of striking “black gold,” we will strike an unlimited supply of PASSION. So, by the end of the process, we will know our purpose, have a road map pointing the way, and passion to drive us and get us over the bumps in the road.
Since we are all unique, even if we share the same purpose, we express it differently. We express it according to our talents and interests. For example, others sharing the purpose “to make the world a better place” may do so by healing the sick, visiting prisoners, working in a hospice, helping children with special needs, helping the homeless, and comforting those who are suffering.
There is a huge difference between a tiny seed and a fragrant orchid or a speckled egg and a bird of paradise. You and I are that tiny seed or speckled egg, for we are not yet what we were meant to be. It is PURPOSE that causes our seed to bloom or our egg to hatch. Our purpose will lead us to a new horizon. And once we get there, yet another horizon will appear in the distance. Our purpose points the way to endless growth, for we can always be better tomorrow than we are today.
A reader asked, “In the past, I’ve have pursued my dreams and experienced success, but it was later followed by a series of catastrophic events that made my dream impossible. Doesn’t that mean we may not be able to live up to our purpose?”
Answer: There are two types of catastrophic events: real and imagined. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between the two. For example, let’s say you are a musical composer and lose your hearing by illness or accident. What is that, a real or an imagined catastrophe? A real catastrophe prevents one’s success while an imaginary one can be overcome. In 1824, when Ludwig van Beethoven conducted the first performance of his glorious “Ode to Joy”, he was completely deaf! When we are driven by passion, the impossible becomes possible.
But what if someone’s purpose is to become a leading violinist, and after considerable success completely loses both arms in an accident? What then? He would simply return to his purpose and drill down deeper. He would ask, “Why do I want to be a leading violinist?” The answer may be “Because I want to share great music with the world and connect with the audience.” This new answer may lead him to become a great composer and teacher, which will allow him to achieve his new dream.”
Our reader also asked “How can poor people in a third world country ever have a chance to follow their dreams if they are financially, geographically, religiously and racially not able to?”
Answer: This question is based on a false premise. Poverty, natural disasters, and handicaps of all kinds do not prevent people from reaching their dreams. Sufficient passion will overcome any hurdle. Every country, no matter how poor, has its share of great men and women. Heroes dwell in the midst of squalor and leaders rise like phoenixes from smoldering rubble. The barriers to success don’t lie outside of us, but within us. That’s why it is so important to dig deeply enough to strike the unlimited power of our passion.
What on earth are you doing for Heaven’s sake?
I’d like to share with you a story. There was a Prince in a distant land. One morning he fetched his bow and arrow as was his custom, mounted his favorite horse, and set off for the forest. After coming to a clearing, he dismounted, tied the reins to a branch, and entered the bushes in search of prey. After a moment, he heard a rustle behind him. When he turned to look, he saw a stag. But before he could draw his bow, the magical stag spoke to him, saying, “What on earth on you doing for Heaven’s sake?”
“I’m hunting,” replied the astonished Prince.
“That’s not what I meant.” said the stag. “Heaven has given you the gift of life. Now that you have received it, what are you doing for Heaven?”
The above is an adaptation of a Sufi story. In it, the magical stag is trying to explain to the Prince that there is more to life than hunting or having fun. We have been given the gift of life for a reason. When we understand that reason, our life becomes infused with purpose and meaning. A Sufi sage, Rumi, has this to add to what has been said by the magical stag:
“One thing must not be forgotten. Forget all else, but remember this, and you’ll have no regrets. Remember and be concerned with everything else, but ignore this one thing, and you’ll have done nothing. It is as if a king has sent you on a mission to a foreign land to perform one specific task for him. If you do a hundred things, but not this appointed task, what have you accomplished? Human beings come into this world for a particular purpose, and if they forget it they will have done nothing at all.”
The story of the magical stag, then, reminds us that from time to time we need to stop what we are doing and ask ourselves, “Is this why I’m here?” Purpose brings more than clarity to our lives, for it also brings power. The Hindu sage Patañjali explains why this is so:
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and your discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
We can tell what a person’s purpose is by noting their actions. The Prince, for instance, was only interested in amusing himself by hunting. He may have kept himself busy, but he was still idle, for as Socrates taught, “They are not only idle who do nothing, but they are idle also who might be better employed.” In other words, although the Prince was spending time, he wasn’t using it in the best possible way. Had he thought like Ben Franklin, he might have acted differently. “The noblest question in the world is,” according to Ben Franklin, “what good may I do in it?”
If you haven’t already discovered your life purpose, all you have to do is ask yourself the same question. Here are other questions that will help you discover your mission or purpose in life. Who do I admire? What type of person do I want to be? What are my unique talents and how can I apply them to improve the world? How can I express the best of myself? How can I contribute to the world? How can I make it a better place?
Your purpose is not your job or any of the roles you play. Rather, your purpose shapes and defines everything you do. Choose your purpose carefully because you are only as noble, only as inspiring, and only as valuable as your purpose. It defines, shapes and creates you. Its importance should be obvious. After all, what’s the purpose of living, if you don’t have something to live for?
One more story before I end. In some far-off land, a woman looked out and saw three strangers standing in front of her hut. She went out to greet the strangers who traveled a great distance. “You must be hungry,” she said, “please come in and we will feed you.”
“Thank you,” said the tallest stranger. “These are my companions Wealth and Success. My name is Love. We thank you for your invitation, but only one of us can enter your home. Please ask your husband which one of us he would like to invite in.”
The woman was puzzled, but didn’t want to offend the strangers, so she agreed. “Husband,” she said as she entered her hut, “the three strangers standing outside are called Wealth, Success, and Love. Only one can be invited for dinner. Who would you like to invite?”
“Well,” said the husband as he scratched his chin, “if we invite Wealth into our home, perhaps our fortune will improve.”
”Yes, but,” said the wife hesitantly, “our daughter is starting school. Perhaps by inviting Success, our daughter will do well in her studies.”
“But Mommy,” her daughter jumped in, “let’s invite Love so our home will always be filled with love.”
“I’m lucky to share my life with two clever women;” said the husband, “especially my daughter who is wise beyond her years. Okay, Sweet One, you are right. Go out and invite Love.”
The wife was bewildered as her daughter led all three strangers into their home. “But you said only one of you could enter…” she said to the strangers quizzically.
“Yes,” said Love. If you were to ask for Wealth or Success, only one could enter. But when you invite Love into your life, Success and Wealth will always follow.”
Why Purpose Is Important
1. Purpose provides meaning and direction to our lives.
2. Passion transforms us from idle dreamers to purpose-driven men and women of action.
3. It provides the power to overcome pain, suffering, and difficulties.
4. It is the key that unlocks our potential.
5. It fills us with enthusiasm that wins us friends and opens many doors of opportunity.
6. It allows us to discover our power and act heroically.
7. It fills our lives with exuberance, excitement, joy, and happiness.
8. Despite the difficult and challenging times we live in, it fills us with hope.
9. It defines you. It explains who and what you are.
10. It challenges us to do what we never dared to and invites us to do what we formally believed to be impossible.
11. Peace. We are at peace when we know our role and contribute to life. Our contribution is a way of thanking life for life.
12. Power. Our purpose will strengthen all of our other goals by binding them with a common purpose. And “To the person with a firm purpose, all men and things are servants.” (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe).
13. Coping. Our purpose will help us overcome challenges and bear pain. “What allows us, as human beings, to psychologically survive life on earth, with all of its pain, drama, and challenges, is a sense of purpose and meaning.” (Barbara De Angelis)
14. Happiness. To travel in life without direction is to be lost and unhappy. To know where you are going is to have meaning and happiness.
15. Self-esteem. When we have a purpose, we have value. When we do good, we feel good, and we are good.
16. Transcendence. William James explains: “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
17. Meaning. Our purpose makes us useful for others and the world, thereby giving our life meaning.
18. Fulfillment. When our lives are directed by purpose, we will be fulfilled.
Tips on Identifying Your Purpose
1. Remember to drill down to clarify, identify, and intensify your purpose.
2. Seek not what is interesting, but what is important; not what fascinates you, but what electrifies you
3. Don’t be afraid to have big dreams, for they are the ones that will excite you. Small dreams are smoldering ashes; big dreams are raging infernos. Reach out for what is yet impossible for you to imagine doing.
4. It’s not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it that counts. It’s not so much HOW busy you are, but WHY you are so busy.
5. As William J. Durant wrote, “To give life a meaning, one must have a purpose larger than self.” Make your purpose larger and grander than yourself; make it something to aspire to.
6. The purpose of life can be as simple as to experience, enjoy, and participate in the beauty of life.
Focus on the contribution you wish to make. Don’t allow excessive interests distract you. “Give me a man who says, ‘This one thing I do,’ and not, ‘These fifty things, I dabble in.’”
Your purpose need not be complicated. It can be as simple as Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love; and then we return home. (Australian Proverb)
“Our chief usefulness to humanity rests on our combining power with high purpose. Power undirected by high purpose spells calamity, and high purpose by itself is utterly useless if the power to put it into effect is lacking.” (Theodore Roosevelt”)
At times you have to surrender to the purpose life thrusts upon you.
“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” (Anais Nin)
A life of purpose is not without effort. But we must ask ourselves, “Which is the better rosebush, that with the fewest thorns or that with the finest roses?” Toil, pain, and sweat are the birthplace of greatness. Let’s not spend time; let’s use it; use it to make a difference. If we make a difference to the world, won’t we also make a difference to ourselves? If the world is happy that we are here, won’t we feel the same way? Perhaps this is why Zig Ziglar offers the following advice: “Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.”
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
In Pursuit of Purposeby Myles Munroe and Ben Kinchlow
by Tim Kelley
by Dan Millman
The Power of the Heart: Finding Your True Purpose in Life by Baptist de Pape
Adam Leipzig: How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes