Distillation no. 1 of the 3 Ps of personal growth series. Why purpose can be a limiting concept and a more empowering alternative.
Something that has sat on the cushion of my mind lately is purpose. In the personal growth world, it’s poised almost like this holy grail of living, something to launch a massive search for that once found, will make your life finally worthwhile.
But for me, even though I’ve held purpose as an aspirational ideal for a long time, I’ve noticed that purpose was feeling more like a burden.
I would find myself enjoying time with my family or listening to bird song under a ficus tree, and feeling this light dissatisfaction that I wasn't pursuing my purpose enough. Even when I was delighting in life, I felt like I had missed some mark because the things in my life didn’t add up to a clearly defined noble why.
It was only when I began questioning this notion of purpose that it became clear.
Purpose can separate us from fully receiving, honoring, and loving what is here.
While I think the intention behind purpose is good, I think it can rob us of the joy and meaning found right in front of us.
Because underlying purpose is this idea that we need to become better, more, or different than who we are. That our lives are not enough if we don’t carry a permanent mission statement to live and identify by, one that would justify our existence.
So caught under the heavy hand of purpose, I found myself laboring towards this far-off ideal that pushed me to be more, do more, and define myself more.
While the light filtering through cedar branches filled me with deep joy, while my daily creative practice lit me up like a firefly, I was there looking elsewhere, striving to find something to justify my existence. It was almost like purpose had siphoned these daily moments of wonder off as side dishes, instead of the feasts that they truly were.
Seeing how purpose was not serving me, I then asked myself: who would I be without this concept?
A vast well of freedom and lightness suddenly opened up.
Without this concept, I’d be free to drink up every moment through a bright squiggly straw and fill my cup with the rapture of life. I’d get to rest and finally lay my back on the sun-warmed grass without any burden of guilt or voice saying: this is not it. I’d be more in love with who I am right now, and where my journey has brought me. I’d be free to welcome every beckoning call as they come- even if they did not make sense.
Instead of purpose, I think a more useful and enlivening concept is fulfillment, that beautiful blend of joy and meaning. If there is a benchmark I use to gauge my life, it’s this.
For those who like charts, here’s a comparison:
What I love about fulfillment is that it’s more flexible- it can change with your ever-changing self. It’s not a quest for something out there in the future; it’s a relaxing into and honoring of what is already here. There are many paths that lead to it, some even quiet that leave no trace. You can feel full during all points of your journey.
For me, the deepest fulfillment comes when I am devoted to my truth, when I live and share from that center of gravity. And that changes. I do not bind myself anymore to a planted flag that proclaims: this is what I’m all about. This shift has given me space to expand.
When I look back at the years when I put purpose on a pedestal, I see my past self with a bit of sadness. Because I see a bright-eyed gal, doing wonderful things, but not feeling like they were enough as they didn't add up to some worthy cause.
And I know I’m not the only one. Somewhere out there, a mother looks out the window of her empty nest, feeling like a failure for not carrying out some grand purpose. Somewhere out there, a fiercely gifted creative doubts herself because she doesn't know what her life should be all about.
I’m here to say that maybe we don’t need to have a grand justification for our existence. Just being- maybe that is purpose enough.
And when it comes to asking, “What do I have to offer to the world?” which I think is a beautiful question, perhaps it’s as simple as the steadfast, open-hearted devotion to your truth. Or maybe even simpler- being a receptive and available vessel for all that unfolds around you.
So, instead of asking: what is my purpose?
Maybe the better question to ask is: what fills me with joy and meaning?
And allow yourself to feel full with that.
Thank you for receiving this distillation. If you have been feeling the pressure or stress of finding your purpose, I hope this has unburdened you in some way. And if you have a purpose that lights you up, I celebrate that too.
Have a beautiful day.
One foot in front of the other,
Does this tree worry about its purpose, or does it revel in sunshine, gifting oxygen as a byproduct of its delight?
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