I’ve been flirting with finding my purpose for many years. I say flirting intentionally, because looking back, I know I was not serious enough about it. I wasn’t willing to do the work. I wanted to pretend that I was doing the work by reading, thinking and philosophizing about purpose – a lot. It was useful, but it was also a stall tactic.
The Four Desires by Rob Stryker was the first book that got me thinking about purpose, and one I will probably go back and read again. There is also Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles, The Passion Test, Living Forward, and The Desire Map to name a few of my favorites. (I have more, if you want to spend a couple of years pretending to find your purpose. Just ask.)
So early this year, I decided enough was enough. It finally hurt bad enough to do something about it. With a new journal in hand, I set off on a remote backpacking trip to be alone with my dog, myself and mother nature, and to write, and write, and write and write some more until I “found” what I was looking for. And found it I did.
It was a moment like I’ve heard others describe… this voice in your head suddenly appears and says something out of the blue. It’s your voice. It’s crystal clear but you are left awestruck wondering where the hell did that thought just come from??? From nowhere and everywhere, my dear. From you.
The rest of this article is for my dear friends, who are struggling to find their purpose. Forty-somethings. Fifty-somethings. Whenever you’ve fallen off the conveyor belt of life (school, marriage, family, career – check) and are wondering, “Now what?” When you’ve realized you need something more substantial than chasing fun things… When you feel a pang deep in your chest and you can’t make it stop… This is for you.
The Challenge of Finding Purpose
The challenge of finding your purpose is your mind. All of these activities are designed to push your ego-thoughts to the side for just long enough that the real you can whisper what it wants. Call it your soul, your higher self, your spirit, the universe, the cosmic field, or God. The words don’t matter. It has something to tell you, but it can’t.
I want you to get comfy with the fact that you will be fighting yourself. There will be resistance and this is part of the path to finding purpose. You have to stick with it – through the resistance, the frustration, the discouragement, the moments where you just don’t know what to write next.
To get started, you must first declare your intention to the universe and God at large. Meditate. Pray. Write. Do whatever feels right for you given your spiritual beliefs. Just state to something bigger than yourself that you want to know your purpose, and ask for help in receiving it. In other words, make the commitment to do the work to the highest power you believe in. Otherwise, it is too easy to unknowingly pretend to do the work. The ego-you does not want you to find your purpose…
The next step for me was to write down my 101 life goals. What is it that I want to be, do or have in my life? It HAS to be 101 or more. And it HAS to be big things.
This exercise is not about writing what you think you can have. It is about giving yourself the permission to dream about what you want. Write the list for the ultimate version of yourself. Write it for a character you would like to play in a movie. Whatever mindset you need to adopt to get outside of your limited perspective, do it.
What you will find is that the first 30 or so are easy… and then it gets hard. When it gets hard is when your ego starts to get quiet and you start to get real ideas. Keep at it… but realize this is just a warmup.
The real work comes next, and this is what I avoided for years.
To get to your purpose, you need to think about the end of your life. What would your romantic partner, children, parents, family, friends, and colleagues have to say about you? What kind of person were you? What did you stand for? What did you accomplish? What impact did you make? What did you leave behind that they value?
You can either write it as your eulogy or you can write a 100th birthday celebration speech given by them. Both freaked me out, honestly, but that is part of the work.
That is really it. Do those two things. Sit with it for as long as it takes and see where you end up. The books mentioned above walk you through what to do next… selecting bits that you’ve written down and making a broad life-purpose statement. Here is where knowing yourself comes in. Broad doesn’t work for me. I need specific, and specific is what I got.
My purpose is to help girls grow into happy and empowered women through outdoor adventure, so they can live big, bold and daring lives that matter. My job is to teach the awareness and skills that I have had to painfully learn by myself to the girls that most need it in their lives. Bam. There it is.
Losing and Finding Purpose
To wrap up my story, after I finished my life planning weekend, I set out to actualize my purpose – and I got lost. Well, that’s my initial interpretation of it, but now I think it was all a part of the bigger plan.
After my life planning/purpose trip, I joined Jack Canfield’s coaching program. My coach Gary and I have been on this adventure for the past three months, working on assignments to bring about my purpose. (Gary and the other coaches are a godsend. Literally.) What was first “helping girls to be empowered in the outdoors” morphed into “helping women in corporate america.” Nothing to do with Gary… Gary isn’t the keeper of my purpose. This was me deciding that I needed to make my purpose “profitable” and that was where it all went pear-shaped.
Two weeks ago, I felt complacent and hit a brick wall. No more passion for my “purpose.” No more desire to move the ball forward. I had a proposal out to a client to coach his workforce and he intended to move forward with it, and I was indifferent.
“What is wrong with me? Here I am, yet again, getting an idea and meeting it with fiery enthusiasm only to get bored of it. Do I need more discipline? Was I wrong about my purpose? Maybe this whole purpose thing is full of crap and I should just be happy with where I am and all the abundance that I have. Maybe I’m not meant to make anything big out of my life.” Those were my thoughts… And they were crushing.
On the one hand, my life was the best it has ever been. The people I work with are amazing. My friendships are blossoming. I’m meeting more and more amazing people by the day. I have a special someone who makes me smile and light up every time I see him or hear from him… What more do I want? But I felt off.
I told Gary I wanted to go back and re-do the purpose exercises… Struggle struggle struggle. We talked about me being motivated by painful situations like my past job, and now that that discomfort is gone, I am no longer motivated. We talked about choosing joy and growth to motivate me rather than letting fear, pain or incentive drive… I told him I didn’t get it. None of it was registering. I was at a complete stand still… Pain. Frustration. It sucked.
Weekly, I call into the coaching resource line to discuss whatever I want with one of the other coaches. This week, I believe his name was John, helped me turn a corner. He told me I haven’t lost my purpose. He urged me to re-read The War of Art (GREAT BOOK) and to just start helping whomever I can, however I can, and let that be enough. Focus on the helping, not achieving a purpose. In other words, try to outsmart your perfectionist ways. Specifically, we talked about volunteering for a women’s battered shelter and I immediately felt better…
Come Monday morning, I read this article in Outside Magazine and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Girls, not women. Outdoors, not corporate america. What was whispered to me months ago was an idea of creating something that completely replaces the old-fashion ways of the girl scouts.
I will tell you that the past two weeks were so painful. To feel that loss after believing I had “figured it out.” But looking back it was a beautiful time. I had some really vulnerable conversations with Brian and he showed me a beautifully patient, kind and supportive side of himself. I shared my ordeal with Patrick and on the tailgate of his truck after letting our dogs run in the river, he shared his spot-on observations about how he saw me.
And now, the energy, motivation and joy I have is simply insane. It’s almost more than I can bear. The fear of being told no, or who are you to be doing something like this, is simply irrelevant compared to the pain of not living in my purpose. In other words, the journey to get here was completely worth it.
How Having A Purpose Has Changed Me
What does it look like on the other side when you are clear about what you are here to do? Well, it looks clear. No more aimlessly wondering… no more chasing distractions. No more feeling off.
I am intentional about how I spend my time. What training do I need? What books should I read next? Who do I need to talk to? What partnerships do I need to form?
When I talk to friends, family, and strangers, I have a topic I want to share with them. They in turn share their thoughts, experiences, connections, resources, and their own dreams and feelings. It is something to bond over and connect me with others.
I am happier. It’s like a giant burden has been lifted off my shoulders. I can just be and do my thing. As I said to Brian, I no longer care about the outcome. I no longer care about where this ends up. I just care about dedicating my time and energy to my purpose. It is its own river. It will take me where it takes me. I just need to intentionally, actively and openly paddle it, come what may.
It gives me a “purpose” for everything I do and lets me choose what is important and what is not.
All this time, I’ve been chasing certainty. Now, I see that certainty was a poor substitute, because what I was really after all along was clarity. Such an amazing realization.