Having recently said goodbye and good luck to our third child, my wife and I were enjoying an unhurried and quietly peaceful life. I had converted one of the bedrooms to an office and had been engaging in my online work life without a worry in the world. This was not the case for my wife it seems, as I was soon to find out. I hadn’t seen her for several hours and the silence was deafening, so I went in search of her.
I found her in the storage room, which was nothing more than another empty bedroom, vacated by our second daughter a few years ago. She had all her camera equipment spread out before her and was carefully dusting and testing each piece. “Getting ready to sell it?” I asked.
My wife’s reply caught me a little off guard. “You know, I loved photography before I started working full time and raising the kids. I’ve been feeling a bit lost lately and I thought that I might get back into it. This might sound strange, but I would love to create a photo book on our local conservation issues to raise community awareness of the plight of our waterways and the fauna that depends on it. I think it would give me a real sense of purpose now that all the kids have left.”
It is not uncommon to feel the need to have a Purpose to our lives, something that brings meaning beyond the day to day activity of living. One of the common myths in relation to Life Purpose is that we are looking for a single thing and that it is something we must find, as if it is lost or hidden. This is simply not true. We are not limited to a single purpose to lead a life of fulfillment and satisfaction.
One path to the discovery of our Life Purpose begins by identifying our ‘areas of focus’; those parts of our lives that our interests are drawn to. These areas of focus are uncovered through an exploration of our talents, skills, and passions, both present and past. This journey sometimes begins by re-igniting interests from years ago that were pushed aside so we could be ‘responsible’ adults. When we have identified these ‘areas of focus’ we can see the threads that create one or more purposes. Creating a single purpose statement to represent our entire life would necessitate an incredibly vague statement, one that we would be unlikely to be able to fulfil consistently throughout our life. There is more value in developing purposes for each area or role in life, allowing us to think about what each means to us and how we can live our purpose, no matter the season of life we are in.
The Process of Purpose Discovery
Life Purpose discovery connects you to the things you enjoy and find meaningful. It highlights your natural talents, passion, and curiosity. It surpasses ego and approval needs as it expresses your core life values and facilitates contribution to others. It is vital that we sort out our own inner truth from socially inherited ideas about what is important.
One obstacle that many people face in this process is the effect of the constraints of their childhood conditioning. The effect of conditioning can be expressed several ways, for example, through low self-confidence or low self-esteem and subsequently a belief that they shouldn’t aspire to achieve the goals and dreams they hold inside or that they simply can’t achieve the goals and dreams they aspire to. This can be overcome, however!
Without doubt, the family is the primary influence on most children, especially in the early years. Parents or other caregivers, siblings, both older and younger; as well as extended family models, including aunts and uncles and grandparents; all contribute to the conditioning that will influence the direction of your life. Later, we are influenced by friends, teachers, spiritual leaders, and work colleagues to name but a few. All these influencers contribute to our overall worldview and consequently the purposes we see in our lives. These influencers exert an empowering or limiting effect on our thinking and beliefs and consequently the purpose(s) we imagine for ourselves. Understanding the roles we have learned, guides us towards understanding the internally and externally imposed boundaries related to thinking, behaving and goal setting.
How Past, Present, Future contribute to Purpose
Life Purpose discovery also explores our interests, skills, talents, passions. Well-meaning but misguided information abounds with regards to Life Purpose. Find your passion and follow it to your purpose is the message of many self-development programs. Passion, however, is not something that you have to find, it is something that is developed. Often passion starts as a faint interest in something and with continued participation, it grows. The initial exposure to something, triggers a desire to ‘look into it further’. Sometimes the interest fades quickly and at other times you will feel compelled to experience it repeatedly. Possessing talents, skills or even passion is not necessarily a precursor to purpose. Just because you can do something easily and well does not mean this is your Life Purpose.
Nor does having passion for something automatically mean you will have skills or talents in that area; or guarantee success. Regardless of the things you are passionate about, you need to develop the skills to become more proficient in the execution of the chosen activity. Determining our talents requires us to try things, at least once, but more likely many times before we see what we have a flair for.
Bringing It Together to Determine Purpose
Combining Passion, Skills and Talents can bring success, but does this mean you will also find Purpose? For example, as a parent your Life’s Purpose may be to take care of the children no matter what. In the role of spouse, your Life Purpose may be to be the most helping and supportive partner you can be. Then of course, there are your individual goals. If you could only choose one, you could be conflicted when each person’s needs arise. Additionally, the goals in each area of life may be vastly different, therefore needing flexibility to live out purpose in each area. If you were to develop one unifying Life Purpose, it would end up being an abstract, vague concept and impossible to achieve.
Creating multiple statements of purpose allows you to notice what is working and not working in each area of your life. If you create a single overall statement of purpose you will not understand when you are not able to live out that purpose because of areas that were not considered when determining the one statement.
Of course, none of this Life Purpose discovery work will be of any value unless you take action. Once you have alignment with your core and clear sense of purpose, you must start living your life in a manner that brings the rewards you deserve. Think and behave every day in a way that demonstrates your Purpose.