Is There a Problem with Finding Your Purpose?
Recently, I had the opportunity, along with a few thousand others, to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert speak at the Convention Centre here in downtown Toronto. Her presence was magnetic, and the crowd’s energy was infectious.
In case you don’t know, she’s the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic.
The event was a delightful experience. It felt like a gathering of friends, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing tea with in the past.
However, one particular point Elizabeth made caught my attention and, admittedly, ruffled my feathers a bit.
She argued that we should stop obsessing over finding our purpose.
Elizabeth observed a trend, especially among women, of what she termed “Purpose Anxiety.”
Purpose Anxiety: the relentless pursuit of that one grand mission in life, the single driving force that should propel us to glory and fulfillment.
Her take was intriguing, and her eloquence could have made her a formidable lawyer.
While her argument against the relentless pursuit of purpose was compelling, it felt somewhat one-sided to me.
She focused heavily on the negatives associated with this pursuit, leaving out the positive aspects.
The Middle Ground When It Comes to Finding Purpose
This got me thinking about how we can approach the concept of purpose in a more balanced way.
Here’s how I believe we can navigate the idea of purpose without falling into the trap of anxiety:
Reflect on What Purpose Means to You: Purpose is a profound and multifaceted concept. Joseph Campbell, the renowned writer and mythologist, beautifully captured this when he said, “We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive.” This quote underscores the importance of aligning our external pursuits with our inner joy and satisfaction.
What Makes You Come Alive? I always return to my favorite quote by Dr. Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This wisdom suggests that our purpose lies in what brings us to life, the passions that ignite our spirits.
The Evolution of Purpose: Our purpose can change and evolve over time, just like we do. It’s not a static destination but a journey that unfolds as we grow and learn. My brother, for instance, seemed born to act, exuding a natural flair for performance from a young age. But over time, his purpose has evolved to encompass more than just acting – it’s about connecting with people, supporting them, and personal growth.
Embrace Your Unique Strengths: Our purpose is often intertwined with our innate strengths and passions. For me, the art of conversation, which I have engaged in since childhood, seems to be a part of my purpose. It’s about utilizing what comes naturally to us and finding joy and fulfillment in it.
Finding Purpose in the Present: Purpose isn’t always a grand achievement waiting in the future; it often lies in the present moment. It’s about engaging in activities that bring us joy and fulfillment here and now. Like the time someone at the gym approached me for advice, and through our conversation, I helped alleviate their distress. This interaction was a powerful reminder that my purpose includes alleviating suffering through meaningful conversations.
Simplicity in Purpose: Purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose. It can be as simple as positively impacting those around us. This approach helps to alleviate the pressure of having to find a monumental purpose and allows us to find meaning in everyday interactions and kindnesses.
The Deeper Meaning of Purpose
I rarely think of purpose as something worldly or material.
My drive to alleviate suffering through connection and conversation likely stems from my childhood experiences.
You know, two sad parents trying to find their way.
Of course I’d be driven to alleviate suffering. I’m trying to heal my parents!
But I’ve also had a powerful spiritual longing in my life, a deeper meaning of purpose.
I’ve been on a quest to understand and connect with something greater than a worldly or even psychological purpose. I have always wanted to know God.
This spiritual pursuit has been a constant thread in my life, evolving and deepening over the years.
And to that end, I have found Joseph Campbell’s advice to “follow your bliss,” one of the most helpful ideas when it comes to purpose.
Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.” – Joseph Campbell
Following your bliss means recognizing and nurturing what brings you joy and fulfillment, setting boundaries to protect it, and not letting others dictate its value.
It is a personal and unique journey.
So, there you go. I have written a lot about purpose in these blogs.
I wonder, would Elizabeth Gilbert sit down for tea and discuss this perspective with me?
I’ll leave you with these thoughts for now, but the conversation doesn’t end here. I’m eager to hear your insights and stories about your journey to finding purpose. Let’s keep the dialogue going and support each other in our quests to live a life filled with meaning and bliss.
Until next time, ❤️ Lisa