What is your calling? What is the purpose of your life? Why are you alive?
What is the value of your life? What makes life valuable to you?
What is a life well-lived? How do you find meaning in life?
So many questions we ask ourselves. Some of us, we ask them constantly. Almost every day.
«Is this all I am supposed to do? Is this what life is meant to be? Should I be doing something different?
Am I having an existential crisis?»
Then, when the tide goes down a little and we actually have the time to look for an answer, we ask our friends and even our colleagues, those who are passionate and show up every day, «how do you do it?». Some of them share the same tales of not knowing. Some feel sure about their path, but as soothing or inspiring our tell-tales times are, something — if not instantly, a week later –feels missing.
We turn to the internet.
«I’m sure many have wondered before. There must be an answer.»
A million answers come your way. When we get so many, it is as if there were none: there’s no truth, there’s no solution. There’s no certainty. And there are so many instances of experts (in one way or another) telling us to answer some questions (what do you do often? who are you? would you do the same five years in the future?), to look for the answer here or there.
There is a treasure I need to find. It will change my life. It will change how I feel about life. It will make everything better, and I will finally KNOW.
This seems to be the initial emotional state some experts are addressing and expecting. It is quite more common than the other approach, the one I want to focus on. But before I tell you about that one, if you haven’t guessed it yet, let me add something. This approach is not the answer either. Simply, because there is no answer. There is no truth. There is no meaning. BUT, we can come up with one, we can have faith in something, we can ascribe meaning. Awareness and the power to make choices are amazing human traits. And that is why deciding our life purpose is the approach I’m embracing here and laying out.
I’ve personally haven’t been searching for an answer lately. Not outside my brain, anyway. I have been wondering, trying things out, but as it happens, I found inspiration when I wasn’t seeking it and in an unexpected place. I was reading a book about teaching, but this one didn’t limit itself to talking about strategies and techniques. It actually made reference to vital life subjects, among which purpose really stroke me.
I’ll reproduce some words here. I encourage you to bear with me at least these few more lines.
«When you have a high enough calling, it is much easier to commit yourself to doing whatever it takes to accomplish your life’s purpose. You have to decide if what you are doing is worth your complete effort and full attention. If it is, don’t let anything stop you. The word «decide» has an interesting etymology. It means, literally, to cut off. When you truly decide, truly commit, you are cutting off other options. Making a decision about your life’s purpose isn’t something to be done lightly.» – Dave Burgess, Teach like a pirate (2012)
If you can choose something that matters to you enough so that you can commit your life to it, then, that’s your purpose and the thing that can keep you engaged for the rest of your life, every day. We are not machines, we can’t do just one thing and be fine with it. We need change and novelty. But if what you care about is meaningful and broad enough, it will inspire you constantly and it will take you to new places. Or rather, you will take your life to uncharted territory. Of course, if this is the impact of your choice, it is a choice you must make with the consideration it deserves.
Another interesting point made by Burgess comes when discussing this quote (also in the book) by George Bernard Shaw (Man and Superman), in which we are explained the importance of our judgment and our recognition (yours and solely yours) when it comes to our purpose:
«This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy».
This quote, as Burgess comments, is encouraging us to give it our all, but what I find remarkable for the topic of life purpose is the idea that we will find joy in being a force of nature, in devoting ourselves to our chosen purpose and in being active, as opposed to expecting our happiness to come from what the world will do for us.
So, in summary, committing ourselves to a purpose that we feel is greater than ourselves and worthy of said commitment allows us to give it all our attention and put in all the energy that it requires. We can fight, wake up energised and be resilient, because we have found a motivation that is nurtured every day by the joy of working on something we care deeply about.
Go decide your purpose and bear this in mind…
As you, dear reader, have understood by now, the purpose I make reference to here is not just the «why» that will make you successful in the sense of being a millionaire and a celebrity in your chosen career. This purpose we are talking about is the key to motivating yourself into building a life and a persona you will feel proud of and satisfied with, and it will be a defining feature of what makes yourself and your life valuable to you.
Now, to put an end to this reflection, I want to highlight one last thing. It is you who decides. So, you can change your mind. What matters is that you choose your purpose and you take action. And if you see fit to change it, you go and change it. It makes no sense to have as a purpose something that feels too restrictive or not motivating enough, something to which you cannot ENTIRELY commit.
Also, you will realise that it still doesn’t make the world a dream. Things don’t just fall into place because you’ve got a purpose. It IS more simple and straightforward. You will put all your heart into one thing, and this will give you the clarity you need to pursue and carry out whatever is needed to make what you want to achieve happen. You will endure failure as much as with anything else, but you will rise. You will remember and you will constantly feel the presence of the personal joy of accomplishment, and it will tap you on the shoulder and tell you that: Yes, you and your life are meaningful.