Finding one’s “purpose in life” is often what many people say marks a successful life. This endeavor is often considered to be the highest priority a person can have. And failing in this regard is often considered as having failed at life. However, the task can be difficult, arbitrary, and vague. What does it even mean? Where do you look? How do you go about finding your purpose?
In my opinion, no one has a “life purpose”, at least not in the sense most mean when they use that phrase. I most often hear this phrase used to imply some kind of higher meaning to living, that each of us needs to justify our existence and place on this earth by living by the rules of our higher purpose and earning our place on this earth by constantly feeling inferior until we have found this elusive purpose. To people of faith, this purpose is often seen as a commitment to a higher power and living out the ideals of one’s religion. To people who value money and power, this purpose is often seen as showing beneficence towards others by giving to those “less fortunate” and “sharing the wealth” or endorsing causes that benefit the downtrodden. To people without means, simply giving others their time and attention or giving their time and attention to positive causes they align with (for example, forest preservation or volunteering at a soup kitchen) can be the “purpose” some are seeking in life. But in all instances, life purpose is something bigger and grander than any one of us, individually, and always highlights our own insignificance and unimportance. And more often than not, there is also the unsaid yet implied expectation that it will be money-making. It seems only saints and clergy are allowed to have respected, life purposes for the sake of goodness and starving artists for the sake of creative expression that aren’t necessarily money-making, as well (my tongue is halfway in my cheek, here).
While I think living by moral principles, helping others in need, or donating time and energy to positive causes are admirable, I see a problem with the search for a “purpose in life”. Many spend all their time worrying about finding theirs while their life passes them by. They might have many talents, skills, interests, and passions they are ignoring or haven’t even recognized yet while engaging in their futile search.
I believe “life purpose” is less abstract and mysterious than it’s made out to be. I believe, instead of being found, it is made. Much like happiness, it is constructed by doing and being in a way that is authentically you, not by searching for and finding it. Life purpose isn’t marked by struggle, but by ease. It’s aligned with you organically, not artificially. It brings out and is optimized by the real you, not the counterfeit “you” you are pressured to be or do. It is best situated to emerge when there is positive self-regard. It is synonymous with self-actualization. But it’s okay if you can’t answer the question “What is your life purpose?” Some people are able to answer that question, maybe because, for instance, they’ve always had one main passion since childhood that they ended up putting time into mastering until they eventually made a career out of it. But that’s not everybody’s story. Some people have multiple passions and strengths, and passions can wax and wane throughout a lifetime. Some people might have a passion but not a strength in something and others have certain capabilities but lack any enjoyment in them.
So if you’re frustrated because you’re young and confused or old and feeling like time’s running out, stop worrying about finding your “life purpose” and instead start being and doing in accordance with what you already have and are — your interests, strengths, desires, and principles, your natural urges and preferences. In doing so, you will learn more about yourself, gain respect for your inherent worth, and create a purpose for your life.