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A life purpose is one of the bigger determinants of a person’s attractiveness, resilience, and happiness. The more locked in their purpose a person is, the easier they cultivate or rekindle relationships and bounce back from setbacks like a breakup.
That said, the breakup industry — borrowing from the sappy, grandiose, spiritual side of the self-help industry — brought forward a very crooked and unhealthy view of purpose. A view that does more harm than good and that needs to be addressed.
So before digging into the nuts and bolts of finding purpose, let’s clarify what purpose actually is and dispel some common myths shrouding the topic.
What Is A Life Purpose
Many people inject their purpose with some grand, cosmic significance. I never bought into that. I find that this attitude only complicates the simple purpose question and makes it harder to plop your thumb on its pulse.
I like to approach the purpose question in a more level-headed and down-to-earth way. For me, a life purpose is essentially deciding that something is important (an activity, idea, cause, goal, etc.) and then doing it because you feel it’s important.
It’s the answer to the question, “What can I do with my time that feels important and meaningful (and hopefully feels important and meaningful to others) and is worth sacrificing and giving a few things up for?”
Common Life Purpose Myths People Fall For
Until now, I’ve found three big purpose myths people tend to fall for. Here they are, along with explanations of why they’re untrue and what you should believe instead.
Myth #1: Purpose Is Singular
You can have more than one purpose in your life. You can feel as though you’re using your time meaningfully doing various things. Going to work, raising your kid, staying in touch with your friends, caring for your succulents garden — these can all be your purpose.
In fact, it’s always better to diversify your sources of purpose. If you only derive meaning from one thing, once that one thing fails or is taken away, you will end up in an existential crisis and feel like your life is meaningless.
But if you can derive meaning from multiple sources, losing some of them won’t spiritually slaughter you. After all, after losing some sources of meaning, you will always be able to fall back on other ones.
Myth #2: Purpose Is Static
Sometimes you can notice it and other times you can’t, but purpose is in constant flux. You never just find it and keep it for the rest of your life. What you find meaningful now likely won’t be what you find meaningful 10 or 15 years later.
Purpose is also tightly intertwined with age. What you find meaningful in your 20s likely won’t be what you find meaningful in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s.
Sure, exceptions do happen. Occasionally, people decide on their purpose early on and keep it until they depart from life. But you’re probably not one of these people. And it’d contend, good. The fact that your purpose changes means you’re changing and growing as a person. It means you’re not stagnating but are instead exploring new aspects of who you could be.
Myth #3: Purpose Solves Everything
Although purpose solves many life problems, it doesn’t solve all of them.
Sure, it enhances your resilience toward anxiety and uncertainty, but doesn’t eliminate those feelings. It boosts your productivity but doesn’t make you an indistractable god. It improves your baseline happiness but doesn’t prevent painful experiences from derailing you.
A purpose makes you more adept at life’s problems. But it doesn’t keep these problems at bay any better than if you had no purpose. Purpose is therefore required to lead a happy and fulfilling life, but by itself, is not enough.
How To Find Your Life Purpose
To find your purpose, or at least some vague direction of where you’re going, you must find an intersection of three critical areas:
- What you enjoy doing. Find a certain passion or hobby — we’ve all got them. Usually, they’re right in front of you. You’re just too afraid to pursue them. So you choose to ignore them instead.
- What you’re good at. If you think you have no talent for anything, consider the possibility that you’re simply not trying enough stuff yet, or are trying the wrong things — perhaps things other people want you to do.
- What other people value. This can but doesn’t have to be something people will pay you for.
Now a particular demographic of people will have a more challenging time figuring out their purpose-intersection than most. These are codependents, or colloquially, people who foster a high degree of neediness. And since the majority of my readers fall into this demographic, I feel addressing their struggle is vital.
If you’re codependent, you’ve likely kept doing whatever your parents, friends, partners, or society said you should do for a good chunk of your life. And as a result, you probably don’t know what you’re good at. After all, you didn’t try much other than what was expected of you. Break out of this slump!
Codependent or not, I need you to attempt to find your purpose authentically. Meaning don’t rely on other people to tell you what it is. They don’t know. You’ve got to find it for yourself. It will be a long and arduous process, full of obstacles and course corrections, and you probably won’t get it right the first time.
The reason is twofold. First, you never know how you’ll feel about a certain activity until you actually do the activity. Second, like everyone, you likely have a bunch of insecurities that make you avoid or procrastinate on your purpose.
To go through the purpose discovery process more smoothly, a) try a lot of things (i.e., sign up for programming classes, try camping, go paragliding, pivot in your business, join a chess club, learn a new language, get another degree, etc.) and b) embrace embarrassment. Feeling like a fool or an idiot is an inextricable part of the purpose-finding process.
What To Do Once You Find Your Life Purpose
In his famous commencement speech, Steve Jobs said he would stand in front of the mirror every morning and ask himself, “If this was the last day of my life, would I feel good about what I’m doing today?” And then he said that if he ever answered this question, “No,” too many days in a row, he knew he would have to change something.
This is ultimately the most useful way to keep your life on track once you recognize your purpose — or at least a sliver of it. If you were going to die soon, what would you change? Would you do anything differently? Would you shuffle your priorities? Would you alter your perspectives?
These are tough and annoying existential questions, but they’re ones you should be asking yourself regularly. They’re questions we should all be asking ourselves regularly.
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