The problem with being a grown up (and by “grown up,” I kind of mean 40 and up though it can apply to younger folks), is that you’ve lived long enough to know that nothing is the “be all and end all.” If you’re anything like me, you’ve gone through many incarnations and gained and lost many attachments. Goals were either met and replaced by new ones or went unmet and were written off as “wrong fits” in retrospect.
Thus, it can be difficult to believe in or hone in on a single life purpose.
And this is where I have found myself flummoxed.I don’t believe in one life purpose, yet I still keep searching for it. I Google, “find my life purpose,” “what is my calling?” and “why am I here?”… I know I’m not the only one because as soon as I type a few letters, those phrases pop up. I have taken a quiz or two and read a guide or two … Alright, that was an understatement; I’ve taken countless quizzes and read even more guides, but the links I’ve provided are some of my favorites.
I’ve gleaned a lot of useful information from these online expeditions. Still, that one clear calling has not been revealed to me. I get impulses.
- Nature, I want to be in nature.
- Mentoring, I want to help and inspire others.
- Money, I want to make enough to support myself and give my children the best of everything.
- Activism, I want to fight against corporatocracy.
- Advocacy, I want to work to protect the environment and children and those most defenseless.
- Education, I want to research and contribute to reforming the public school system.
- Counseling, I want to help bridge the gap between men and women and assist couples in staying together, keeping families cohesive.
- Art, I want to support and promote artists.
- Writing, I want to write blog posts and novels and nonfiction and screenplays.
- And, and (in my best 5 year old voice), “I want to be a ballerina and a scientist and a concert pianist and…”
At my lowest point, a few years ago, I felt utterly despondent. Nothing inspired me. I just wanted to sleep. I could not invest myself and I thought nothing could turn me back on to life. Now I realize, I am actually inspired by too many things rather than not enough.
Either way, too many possibilities or too few, I have struggled to choose one ambition and go all in.
I’m pretty sure I’ve discovered what the impasse is here. My number one value is family and my family is broken. My number one priority is raising my children to be healthy, productive adults. So nothing, no matter how much it floats my boat, has managed to capture enough of my will and attention to pursue with the kind of zeal a successful career requires. The father of my children has put his career first and while that has rendered him totally unpredictable and often unavailable, it has enabled him to pursue his passions. While money is tight, his obsession with his career has kept the bills paid and ensured that I can put my kids first. I know that if I went all in on a career, my kids would have more money (eventually) but neither parent providing stability and normalcy.
All of that said, I know if I could get fired up enough, feel right enough about a career pursuit, I could make it work. I don’t doubt in my ability (or in most people’s abilities) to become successful with enough focus and hard work. So, I guess I don’t need to know what my life purpose is, per se, I need to know what I have just enough passion to pursue, without becoming obsessively imbalanced in my pursuit of it.
Often, the best insights come when giving advice. So here goes. Regarding your life purpose, stop racking your brain or trying to calculate, objectively, what that is. Make peace with what you know about yourself. Though for some reason it has been tough to accept, I am relieved to make a personal declaration that, until my kids are adults, they are my first priority. Knowing that (and you may know something very different about yourself), frees me from that relentless effort to talk myself into some other value. Now I can look at what my skills and interests are and know that I may not find my next “life purpose” for a few years. I just need to make some money and tailor my life to being available to my kids to the extent that they need me.
It is not glamorous. It is not what we hear on TedTalks that imply (rather overtly) that I’m only half living if I don’t fulfill my dreams right now.
This is tricky. We don’t want to settle and be complacent with our “lots,” but it can also be quite paralyzing to compare ourselves to Steve Jobs. I’ve had a few too many friends call me so pumped up from reading his biography and espousing the virtues of his “all in” approach. The reality is, he was also a notorious dick who abandoned his first child. For those of us who value more than just the attainment of a single goal, who are not hardwired for the kind of focused ingenuity that Jobs was so adept at (try just about everyone on the planet), life is a balancing act. For most of us, once we have children, we factor their care into our equation. That is not to say that Jobs didn’t impart much wisdom; his Stay Hungry Stay Foolish speech stirs my soul and is the best advice on having the best shot of having great success.
Back to the issue of finding our “life purposes,” let’s agree for now that a valid life purpose is to live, learn, and do the best we can. And even if inventing the next life altering gadget isn’t in the cards for us, we can stay hungry, we can stay foolish, in our own ways. 🙂