“Our obligation is to give meaning to life, and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.” ~Elie Wiesel
After surveying 3,000 people, psychologist Cynthia Kersey discovered that 94 percent had no clue as to their purpose in life—94 percent!
As painful as this statistic is, it’s even more painful in light of how relatively simple it is to discover a worthy and fulfilling life purpose.
For most of us, a meaningful purpose lurks just beneath the surface of conscious awareness and can be discovered in a few minutes.
This is the easy part. What happens after you discover your life purpose is the plague of humanity.
I discovered my life purpose in high school psychology class at age seventeen. A local therapist visited our class and asked us to sit on the floor in a large circle. We cleared out the desks and sat. Then he said the following:
“You’re trapped in a cave with the rest of this class. Only a few of you will make it out alive before the cave collapses. A few at the front of the line will make it. Those in the rear will be crushed. Now, as we go around the circle, I want each of you to explain to the class why you need to get out alive. Tell us why you should be at the front of the line.”
One of my classmates raised her hand. “What if we don’t want to be at the front of the line?” she asked.
“Then say so, if you really feel that way,” the therapist conceded. (Therapists can be such pushovers.)
I was on the opposite side of the room and listened, one by one, as more than twenty kids declined the opportunity to state what they wanted to live for and merely said, “I’ll just be at the back of the line.”
On my turn, I took the risk and said, “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for someone else not getting to live, but since you asked why I need to get out alive, I’ll answer your question.
I want to live and make something of my life. I am being raised by a single mother who has made sacrifices to see that I get an education and stay out of trouble. I don’t want to let my mother down. I feel I owe it to her to make the most of myself. If I can do something really great in life, it will make her sacrifice worthwhile.”
I caught the nod of respect from the therapist and noticed a few of the girls in the class looking misty-eyed and—right there—I knew my purpose. I knew that if I could help people discover something great within themselves, like I had just discovered, I’d live a meaningful life!
That was easy compared to what came next.
I fought it. I failed out of college the first time around. I passed on great opportunities to advance my education and career by telling myself, “You can’t do it. You are not worthy. You’re a fake.”
I looked for shortcuts. I refused to cooperate with my supervisors because, even though I was plagued with self-doubt, I still thought they were stupid.
If you looked at my life, you’d wonder just how I was manifesting any purpose that had to do with helping myself and others grow.
One step forward, two steps back! That was me.
Later, when I did find opportunities to advance my career by teaching workshops, I made it horrendously difficult. I demanded perfection of myself at every performance, which created unbearable anxiety.
I often walked to the front of a lecture room just knowing I would have a full-blown panic attack and be carted out on a stretcher and never be invited to speak anywhere again.
I just couldn’t give myself a break. My purpose in life not only lacked fulfillment, but also became a source of personal torment.
I know what it is like to fight your purpose in life. I’ve been there. In fact, I now believe that most people who are not living a life of purpose are sabotaging their efforts as I was.
Many people give up on their purpose because of all the perceived trouble that comes with making it real.
My parents won’t approve.
It is too difficult.
I can’t do it.
It’s not realistic.
I won’t fit in with my friends anymore.
Where I come from people don’t do that.
I’ll never be able to pay the bills.
I am sure I will fail in the end and be right back where I started.
It’s just not worth it.
It’s too late.
I am comfortable where I am.
And so the story goes. We resist a more meaningful life because we get in our own way. This is the saddest story ever told!
Worse, so many have written off their purpose to such a degree that they don’t know where to begin to find it.
It is right under your nose.
If you’ll take a few minutes to do the following experiment, you are very likely to discover something wonderful that might serve as a purpose for your life.
Take a few minutes alone to simply breathe and think. When you are relaxed, ask yourself some simple insight questions per the following examples.
When you’ve gotten greater insight as a result of the questions, ask yourself how the insights apply to a potential life purpose. This is the application question mentioned below.
What do I love?
Why do I love this?
What talents has the universe given me?
Why are these talents important?
What are my dreams?
Why are these dreams important?
When and where have I found joy in my life?
Why did I find joy in that?
What have I always found meaningful?
Why is this so meaningful to me?
Write down the answers to the insight questions that appeal to you. Remember, this is just you. Imagine for a moment that nobody else in the world matters. No one has any say here but you.
As you are writing, notice how you are feeling. Which particular words cause you to surge with positive energy? These words are a major clue as to your purpose in life.
While in that positive state, ask yourself the application question.
How might the answers to any of the above be part of your life purpose?
For example, imagine you are writing about a particularly meaningful experience that came to mind as a result of an insight question. Let’s say you remembered when you were meditating and felt a deep connection to the universe.
You asked yourself, “Why was this so meaningful to me?”
The answer came, “Because that is what life is all about—connection.”
Next, you asked the question, “How might connection be part of my life purpose?”
So many ideas might flow from there:
Your purpose may be to simply stay connected! Whatever you do in life, you remain open to the possible connections to others and beyond.
It may be that you feel a desire to help others connect to the universe—a great life purpose.
Perhaps your purpose is to help children experience greater connection.
The possibilities are limitless! If you center your life around staying connected and helping others to do so, you will surely experience the fulfillment that comes with a clear life purpose.
How can you make your purpose real? There are a million ways. The better question is how are you likely to get in your own way? How do you subconsciously protest having a purpose? How might you attempt to devalue your purpose?
Learn your purpose. Learn the ways in which you sabotage it. Get out of your own way and follow your heart.
Life can be complicated. Sometimes we convince ourselves that what we want is impossible. This is where education and a compassionate, intelligent outsider’s perspective can be a life purpose saver.
To the life purpose under your nose….