Imagine this. You're in your early twenties, fresh out of school and you can't find a job that will support you or interest you. What happens next?
Now imagine: You're in your early fifties; you need an income; and whatever jobs you have had no longer support you or interest you. What happens next?
It's easy to see that people who have a clear purpose succeed: or at least, it is easy to see that successful people often seem to have a clear purpose and a plan for working in line with that purpose. Logically, this does not mean that there are not lots of people out there with a purpose who are struggling to find ways to live it. But having a purpose does seem to build both resilience and optimism, and those often lead to a better quality of life.
So where do you go to get a purpose?
Most of us settle for goals: things we can see clearly enough to work toward with a sense of possibility. Often goals are handed to us by other people: they are called targets or objectives at work or they are stages we are expected to achieve by our social circles and families. If we dig a little, we find that they are things we are doing because something outside suggested them and we decided to go along.
You are a human being. Your general purpose is to stay alive and to connect with other people. This we can assume from the way the equipment functions: your brain requires input from other human beings to develop and function optimally and your body automatically triggers behaviour that keeps you alive (like breathing and eating and moving when alarms sound).
Inside this, you have a purpose that a detective might find by studying what you do, what you value, and what you dream. Whether you know this purpose as a sense or as a sentence, it needs to satisfy the general human need to stay alive and connect, and it also needs to satisfy that part of you that is unique to you. Because much of your beliefs and behaviours are outside your conscious awareness at any given moment, your purpose is likely to feel more like a working hypothesis and less like a burning mission.
My working hypothesis this week is that my purpose is to awaken curiosity. It's a way of thinking about what I do whether I am teaching, writing, parenting, or being a friend. I believe that curious people engage more with their world and their people, find more answers, and discover more good things in the world around them. When curiosity is awake in me, I am never stuck and when I awaken curiosity in others, I get to participate in the movement and life and good things they discover around us. Awaken suggests living in the body, in the real world, in the presence. Curiosity suggests freedom from the limits of what is immediately true and present. I know that the discovery of beauty is also part of my purpose, and for me it is contained in that phrase "awaken curiosity" although it is hard to explain why in a few words or clear logic.
There are days when I wish for a simpler, more comfortable purpose. I would like to pursue money or status or even peace. But when I look at what I love, what I value and what I do, I don't see someone who's purpose is to pursue money or status or even peace.
What do you see when you step back and look at your own choices as if they were the choices of some famous and wonderful person who did exactly what they should have done? If that was what you believed about yourself, you would probably find patterns in your thought and actions in the way that writers find patterns in the lives of famous people. You would probably begin to find a purpose and be a little disappointed to find that the purpose did not come with a road map.
The road map is another step. But it's not much good without a destination. So where do you think you are going today? It's just a hypothesis and you might end up on another path. Take a chance. Try something on and see how it fits.