Last weekend I watched the documentary “Marley.” The film detailed musician Bob Marley’s life. Around 30 minutes in, one of Marley’s friends (possibly a fellow Wailer) said, “Rasta say, the purpose of life is to be happy. Everybody supposed to be happy; and live in peace, love, and unity. Ya mon.” A wave of recognition washed over me. That feels about right. However, accepting that our life purpose may be something as simple as being happy is not easy. While I truly believe happiness is part of every soul’s mission, the path to that goal is unique for everyone and often takes some diversions along the way. Here are some of the steps and tools I have uncovered in finding and staying true to my life purpose.
Step 1: Embrace a Life of Purpose
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”
That quote is both profound and maddening. If you are seeking that “one thing” you are supposed to be doing or achieving, hearing such advice doesn’t feel particularly helpful. Still, accepting that purpose is part of your package is vital. Thankfully, in the circles I find myself these days, most people know that they want purpose in their life – that they want to serve humanity or be the best they can possibly be. That certainly isn’t true for every person. A large number of people are still not even awake to the fact that their time on earth has a common thread or goal, or that it even matters much at all (shudder). If you are even the slightest bit intrigued by the thought of having purpose, give yourself a pat on the back because you are surely on your way to uncovering why you are here.
Step 2: Have a Broad Vision
Some might say Bob Marley’s passion and life purpose was to make music. That is partly true. I remember distinctly the first time I ever heard, “No Woman No Cry.” It was my Freshman year of college and my next-door neighbor, a self-proclaimed “hippy” was playing Legend. I was so drawn in that I walked right into her room and asked, “What is this?” She was shocked at the question, and rightfully so. How did I actually make it through high school and never hear a Bob Marley album? Embarrassing really, but diversity was not big in my RI upbringing, so that musical gem escaped me.
Hearing the soulful chorus, “Everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna be all right now, Everything’s gonna be all right…No woman no cry!” made my heart swell. Being away from home, meeting so many new people, living with perfect strangers – was really hard on this introvert – hearing Marley’s words was such a source of comfort, support and love. That song still hits me right in the heart.
So while many may have seen Marley’s purpose as making music, after watching his personal interviews, along with those of his friends and loved ones, it is evident that his true purpose was much broader and ran far deeper. His purpose was to spread love.
If you can’t pinpoint that one job or role meant for you, perhaps it is because your purpose is much broader. Maybe you are meant to spread truth? Or, you are meant to make the world more beautiful through art? Maybe you are a natural leader or a compassionate caregiver? There is even the chance that you are just supposed to be so happy that you inspire others to be happy too. None of these themes point to a specific path or role, which I believe is the point. We all have free will, so even if we come into this world with a specific set of skills and gifts, we ultimately get to choose how we hone and use them in the manner that feels best.
Step 3: Accept Your Truth
Once you accept that you have a purpose, you then must accept that you likely already know what it is. That is a double whammy of truth – and it is a pretty big deal. Acceptance is one of the hardest skills to master. I know quite a few loving, compassionate people who live their days with great purpose, yet they don’t realize they are doing so. It is hardest to see what is right in front of you.
For instance, a close friend is an effortless nurturer and natural community-builder. She brings kindness and compassion to everything she does and deeply touches other people’s lives. Yet, if asked, she would tell you that after 6 decades of life she is still not sure of her purpose, or if she is actually living it. She keeps looking for that one job or title that will make her feel as though her efforts have meaning. Meanwhile her every day is effortlessly filled with deeply meaningful acts – making meals for busy friends, researching healing treatments for family members, organizing fundraisers, and on and on. To anyone touched by her graciousness, it is obvious she is living her purpose, but still she struggles with this crucial step.
Step 4: Be Still, You Already Know
I know the denial and struggle of accepting one’s life purpose all too well. I have nurtured others to write books, to publish their poetry, to start blogs. In many ways I am the Writing Whisperer for everyone else, yet I still find it hard to even call myself a writer, let alone finish one of the numerous books that I have in progress. The trouble is I believed everyone could write, and I didn’t feel particularly gifted in this area. In addition, a few harsh critics eroded my confidence (not the least of which was yours truly). It has only been in the last few years of people beating me over the head with praise for how “well-written” my work is that I finally realized that this is one of my gifts. However, it isn’t the only one, which I feel is part of why my true purpose has remained such an elusive mystery.
To re-emphasize Step 2, our purpose is often much broader than one role. This became much clearer for me around 5 years ago. I was doing very deep spiritual work that involved daily meditation. I asked the Universe to tell me my purpose – actually I asked a spiritual leader in a community I was participating in to put forth the request on my behalf. There was a language barrier, and she seemed confused by the question. Regardless, ask and you shall receive. A week later during meditation the words, “You are a conduit of information,” suddenly just appeared in my head. They were not words I would have chosen. I mean, really, who says “conduit?”
Yet, in reviewing my life I can see that in virtually everything I do I focus on sharing information. From the very beginnings of my career as a nutrition counselor, to my current role as a communications consultant, even just in my day-to-day interactions on Facebook – I never stray far from that goal. That is the mission of this very site!
The summation of these stories and steps is simple really. You do have a purpose, and you are likely living it and living it well. If that is just not quite good enough, following are some additional resources that have helped me find affirmation along the way. None of them are as helpful as tapping into my own inner knowing, but they all offer assistance along the path. Also, spend time with passionate people who love what they do. They will inspire you to see and feel a life of purpose in action.
Resources for Finding Your Life Purpose
- “Finding Your Own North Star” – A comforting and inspiring work from one of my personal favorites, Martha Beck. It helps nudge you toward your personal truth.
- “The War of Art” – This book by Steven Pressfield made it clear to me that I was meant for creative work by affirming that art in all its forms is not easy for anyone!
- Waking Up – a previous post that offers questions to help you focus on what is important to you.
- Life Purpose Calculator – from Dan Milman. It helps you determine your life path number which offers interesting insight.
- Life Purpose Boot Camp – by Eric Maisel. This one is helpful because it helps you uncover what is meaningful to you in an 8-week, self-guided program.
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