Forget Your “Life’s Purpose” and Live Your Life Purposefully by Tama J. Kieves
Sam called me recently for a coaching session to help him find his “life’s purpose.” According to him, he’d taken classes, attended retreats, listened to tapes, talked to counselors, read books, treatises, and tea leaves, channeled and chanted, did his numerology and astrology, researched, and still, like a sly red fox, his “life’s purpose” had swished its tail and escaped him. “I’m almost 50 and I still don’t know what I want to do with my life,” he spat across the phone lines. I felt this sense of meaninglessness crushing down upon him.
And I found myself saying something pretty unusual, given that I’m the queen of helping people find their callings. “Forget your “life’s purpose” and live your life purposefully,” I said. I’ll say it to you, too. Really, if you’ve looked that hard, then stop looking and let something find you.
Finding a calling isn’t like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s more like being a fish and naming the water you swim in. Relax. You already have it. Just start loving what you love. If nothing compels you to leap forward, then leap where you are. Leap into your present life.
Sam was so consumed with the thought that there was some big IT out there that he made himself feel empty and useless. He had good friends, a garden, a cat and an aging mother who loved to send him clippings from her local church bulletin. He was learning to do tai chi and he was helping his neighbor find a job. But none of that counted, he said.
Sam was holding out for the lightning bolt, and nothing we talked about seemed big and grand enough to be a “life’s purpose.” He wanted passion, frenzy, a drum roll, and a comet searing the sky with his full name in stars, complete with middle initial. But life is often fuzzier than that. Your purpose can be simple and pure, and so natural to you, that it sometimes feels ordinary or like water to a fish.
Your purpose can also start out with a small action or gesture. Passion can begin like a trickle of rain before it turns into a raging river.
Searching can also be a way of avoiding making a choice. Yet making choices will help you gain the experience you need with which to make further distinctions and decisions.
Years ago, I was in a relationship and I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t want to commit to it either. I just wasn’t sure he was “the one.” I kept thinking that maybe there was some one more arresting or spellbinding out there. After all, I went to the movies and I knew that everyone else was making love on their kitchen counters and dancing cheek to cheek in mists and moonlight. So I kept doubting my choice–and doubting kept me from making a choice.
Fortunately I found a couples therapist who really loved his wife and wanted others to love their partners just as much. I told him that I was afraid that if I committed to the relationship, I’d miss out on something. He looked me in the eyes, grinned, and said the words that changed my life. “You’re missing out right now,” he said. “You’re with this guy over here, only you’re not experiencing everything this relationship has to give you. You haven’t sat down at the table to have a meal. You’ve just looked at the menu. No wonder you’re still hungry.” Wow, talk about fireworks.
I realized that I had been a ghost in my life, not fully present in anything. I was expecting to be grabbed by something. But that’s not how it works. First we grab, then we’re grabbed.
So here’s my quick take on finding your life’s purpose. If you have something that whispers to or nudges you, by all means run to it as fast as you can. If you’re just beginning your search, keep your mind and heart open. Be aware of the tendency to discount what you love—or tell yourself it’s no big deal and that you could never make a living that way. Take lots of personal space to listen to your soul.
But if you feel as though you’ve been searching for a while and just spinning your wheels, then here’s another spin. Stop looking and start loving. Quit living on the outskirts of your life, and go to town. Appreciate the roses in your garden, the mail person, the fact that your car runs, and the comfort of your favorite chair. Take good care of the people in your life. Practice treating everyone, especially yourself, with reverence and kindness.
Enter your life as though it’s the only one you’ll ever have. The moment you approach anything with care, compassion, connection, and attention, you’re on the road to purpose and passion.