‘Finding your life purpose’ has become a popular catchphrase in our culture of self-empowerment and New Age psychology. Experts and self-help gurus all over propagate a life where we should strive to forge a path that is personally significant to us and that reflects on our core values.
Distinguished psychologists, such as Abraham Maslow, have postulated that living a life of purpose is an essential requirement for fulfilling our need for self-actualization. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is the final level of psychological development that can be met once all other basic needs are met. Fulfilling this need leads to a life of creativity, inner fulfilment and living up to one’s full potential.
In our contemporary society, most people living in developed countries have their basic needs met due to modern conveniences and technology. This has allowed many of us to evolve into spiritually astute beings who now seek deeper meaning in everyday living. As a global community, we have become more attuned to our deep yearning for purpose (whether or not we address this yearning is a different story).
This rise in consciousness has resulted in a ubiquity of books and blog articles that attempt to show people the way. Clearly, we need all the help that we can get to grasp the ambiguity of what it means to live and discover our purpose. In fact, I myself was preoccupied by this conundrum for many years.
Most of the books I read on this topic espoused the ‘follow your passion’ methodology for finding your purpose. This popular approach claims that your purpose is directly connected with the interests and vocations that you are passionate about and wouldn’t mind losing yourself in for hours.
It seems fairly simple and straightforward but the issue is that it doesn’t seem to be working for everyone. While it may be the key that unlocks the door for some people, it may not necessarily be the case for others due to the following reasons:
– They are not clear about what they really love to do
– They lack the skills, drive or circumstances to engage in the process of self-discovery
– They don’t have one specific hobby or interest that they are passionate about
So what do you do if you happen to fall into this ‘shades of grey’ category? Are you doomed to live a mundane and mechanical existence without the sense of elation that comes from living a purpose-driven life?
The answer is no – you aren’t. You’ll find it reassuring to know that many prominent figures in history from various walks of life stumbled upon their life purpose in unconventional ways. I’ve collated a list that describes how the initial seeds of purpose were planted within these legends.
Martin Luther King: He resented the racial humiliation that his family faced while growing up in the segregated American south. He also lost a friend in his segregated school because the friend’s parents did not want their son to play with a black kid.
Mother Teresa: She became convinced at age 12 that she would commit her life to a religious path after listening to stories of missionary services that took place in Bengal, India, which fascinated her.
Einstein: He met a Polish medical student named Talmud in his early teens who became an informal tutor to him. Talmud introduced Einstein to a children’s science text that inspired him to inquire about the nature of light.
Michael Jackson: His father, Joseph Jackson, was a guitarist but put aside his musical aspirations to work as a crane operator to support his family. He believed that his sons had talent and molded them, including Michael, into a music group that became The Jackson 5.
These exemplars demonstrated a variety of non-traditional ways by which one can find their purpose. If neither these examples nor the ‘follow your passion’ methodology has sparked any ideas on how you can create a meaningful path, these three alternative approaches might jumpstart your search:
- The needs of your immediate environment: People who have lived through major global crises such as the World Wars, or found themselves in the midst of environmental disasters such as the Tsunami in South East Asia in 2004, or those who encountered grave injustices that were often seen in colonized countries, felt morally obligated be part of the solution to these weighty problems. Even if we don’t live in an era or region facing pronounced calamities, we can still get involved in our neighborhood or communities in a purposeful way. Once we identity the problems and the issues that exist in our surroundings, we can find ways to contribute towards alleviating them using our talents and skills.
- The things that frustrate you or make you mad: When you read or watch the news, are there certain headlines that tend to draw your attention simply because they irk you? You may feel something being stirred up within you and you’re enraged because, for some reason, this issue feels deeply important to you. Maybe it’s related to global warming, women or child abuse, economic disparity, racism or environmental pollution. Whatever it is, if it has an emotional charge behind it, you need to pay attention to it. It could be a strong indicator of a matter that you can potentially spearhead.
- Following your curiosities and inspiration: I picked up this genius yet surprisingly simple idea from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. In her book, she asserts that a more elegant and less stressful way of living purposely is by always following our curiosity. She says, “Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder — a little whisper in the ear that says, ‘Hey, that’s kind of interesting…’.” So if you’ve always wanted to learn more about astronomy or learn how to paint, garden or do the foxtrot, do it, because you never know where it will lead you and the kind of impact it will have on you.
Just remember that no matter what you do for a living, whether you run a corporate empire or sweep streets for a living, you have an important role to play in the world. Don’t let the superficial parameters of money, fame and fortune delude you into believing that your voice doesn’t matter – because it does and always will!
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Have you found your purpose yet? If not, are you willing to try any of these ways to find your life purpose?
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