Often times — when we are somehow touched by the end of someone’s life — we take pause and think more deeply about our own life.
And that deep thinking is often inclusive of the question, “What is my purpose on this planet?”
A Story About John
I was thinking about the life purpose for a middle-aged man I know. Let’s call him “John.”
John lives a simple life. He has a small apartment into which he has crammed huge fish tanks.
Diligently, every week, John cleans the tanks and cares for his fish. The rest of John’s life is maintained with the same diligent, rigid approach he takes with his fish.
John is “self employed,” hitting the road for 2 weeks at a time, then returning home for a week. He sells electronics from his van, posing as someone he is not, and is only satisfied if he scams a person out of every dollar in their pocket. During his week at home, he enjoys the routine of seeing his baby son on specific days for specific time periods. His old van, on the edge of death, is filled with gasoline after every two hours of driving, needed or not. Sunday means a drive to his parent’s home for an afternoon visit and early dinner. And, on a near daily basis, he attends AA meetings.
And that is it. Rigid routines and simple living.
John has yet to discover the joys of a committed relationship founded on unconditional love. He tends to choose emotionally unstable women who briefly fill his rigid existence with chaos, until he tires of it. Rather than sharing himself and his life purpose (whatever that might be) with someone, he looks for fulfillment from someone rather than with someone.
John would be the first person to admit that there is something missing in his life. He believes that the “something” is a “someone.” I believe, however, that what he is missing is a mission in his life — a genuine reason for his existence.
I suspect if I asked him “What is your purpose in life?” he might respond, “To stay sober.” After 25 years of addiction, he now boasts a 5-year sobriety that is truly to be admired. But it makes me wonder: Was it perhaps a lack of purpose that caused him to become an addict in the first place?
Or, perhaps he’d say this his purpose in life is to be an example for his son that allows him to grow and develop into a happy adult. But if that were his answer, how would he justify all the time he invests in scamming people out of their money, lying about his income, not paying taxes, and failing to pay an honest amount of child support?
The bottom line is: To live a life which is truly fulfilling, one must not only have and understand his life’s purpose, he must live consistently with that purpose.
A Personal Experience
There are two specific projects I’m working on, each of which requires me to narrowly define what I want. The first deals with finding a job; the second is in regard to my concept for a talk-show.
In my quest for the perfect career opportunity, I’ve had a hard time narrowing down my qualifications to a single area of expertise. I was recently asked by a professional, certified career coach, “What is THE job title you seek? What is THE one thing you do best?”
While I don’t yet have either of these two issues resolved or answers to those questions, I know that both need to be considered in conjunction with what I believe to be my own personal purpose in life.
It was a simple statement by the late Elizabeth Edwards that caused me to consider more deeply my own narrowly defined purpose. As I reported yesterday, she said:
“I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.”
It occurred to me that if Elizabeth Edwards had been asked about her life purpose, she easily could have replied, “To have a positive impact in the world.” And, it occurs to me that she fulfilled that purpose.
How Do You Define Your Life Purpose?
Have you ever tried to define your purpose?
First, try to write a sentence or two by filling in the blank:
“In my life, I want to ______________________.”
When filling in that blank, avoid the following:
- Role Identification.
- Responsibilities & Obligations.
Identifying with your role(s), your responsibilities & obligations, and your goals will result in statements regarding what you do, not why you do it. For example, if you say, “I want to be the best parent I can be,” you’ve not identified why you want to be a good parent. If you say, “I want to be a billionaire by the time I retire,” you’ve not addressed your core beliefs — the foundation of who you are and why you exist.
Your life’s purpose — your mission — is about your core beliefs. It is more spiritual in nature, though not religious. Even for the person whose mission it is “to do God’s work” or “to live as God wants me to live,” the foundation is made up of core beliefs that may have developed from religion but that are not religious.
Your life’s purpose is your reason for being. It is more than what you do and how you do it. It is not the roles you play, but might be the reason you play them.
Your life’s purpose is what underlies the reason for your commitments. If you are committed to your friends and family, for example, think deeply about why. Your answer may reveal all or part of your mission in life.
Examples of Life Purpose
In researching this topic, I found some excellent “life purpose” statements written by others. Here are some examples:
I do hereby declare that I am here on this Earth to fulfill the following:
-to radiate light and love as I move through my life, and to walk in the shadows peacefully and with acceptance;
-to impart beauty in all of its many manifestations;
-to inspire gentle healing for all life forms;
-to strive for spiritual, emotional, sexual, and intellectual balance in my own life and with those around me;
-to seek the good for all in my dealings with others Nancy Smeltzer
My intention is to do and be the BEST I can, every day and with every person I meet, including myself. I will walk in my power and truth, and I will be gentle with myself and with others. Arabella Droullard
Notice that these examples speak to the author’s deep core beliefs about what is important to them, personally. They are “deep,” well considered, and meaningful.
The Importance of Your Life Purpose
You may be wondering why it matters — why it is important to define your purpose in life.
When I work with families and individuals who are struggling, one of the first things I do with them is help them to define their mission in life. Once they are able to do that, we thereafter use their “mission statement” as a measure against obstacles, questions, and confusion about the choices they make.
I ask, “Does your decision measure up to your mission statement?” “Is what you are about to do (or not do) consistent with your purpose in life?” Most often, the answers to these questions guide their ultimate decision(s).
Understanding your purpose for being will help keep you on track.
A person may end up getting to where he is supposed to go even without a map, but the journey is more enjoyable when one doesn’t get lost along the way.
Especially when you find yourself questioning the bumps in life’s road, you’ll more easily unravel the chaos if you do so in the context of your life’s purpose.
While I would hope that your purpose is more substantial than “keeping the fish-tanks clean,” not every purpose needs to be as grand as “positively impacting the world.” Your purpose is yours and yours alone, and will be as unique as your fingerprints.
As you define your mission in life, feel free to share your mission statements here. Your unique purpose in life may be the catalyst for inspiring another’s purpose, and so on. And, if you’re having a hard time coming up with a clearly defined purpose, send me an email; I’m happy to help!
~Lynda C. Watts