I am writing this because of the postings of some friends in Marriage Advocates, directly on this topic. While I have often encountered this subject and its benefits /complications in relationships, I have written little about it. I did post one article (Purpose, Meaning, Why We Are Alive). Here are some more thoughts.
There are several life events that bring this drive toward Purpose in Life to the surface: a close-brush-with-death is good, retirement or closing-of-a-job in men, children-leaving-home in women are a few examples. In many writings this is called a midlife- or identity-crisis.
Let’s start with an orientation on what I’ve learned is Purpose. Remember, this is how I see it.
How I visualize Purpose
1) The best idea I’ve found is that a person’s Purpose is created before birth by God (ancestors, or whatever), is born with them, and follows them throughout life till they die. It is not something to go out or look out and find. It is something to look inside for.
2) While it is unique for each person, many people have similar purposes.
3) Since it is always there, it has been around all your life, though you may not have, probably haven’t, noticed it. Still it has affected you all the time. The image I use is that rope in a subway or bus or trolley that runs from the front to the rear. Anyone can pull it to stop the vehicle. I think of purpose as a golden thread that is born with you, travels with you in every room you go through and bends down into your open grave.
4) It is always within reach, but sometimes you have to reach far for it and sometimes it rubs up against you. You can’t lose it. You can not know it is there and you can forget it. I recall Malidoma Some saying that childhood is often called “the forgetting,” a time when kids forget their God-given purpose. Initiation, he went on, was a time/event to help kids remember their Purpose.
5) When you touch it or it touches you, you will feel alive, excited, and everything you do will seem to have meaning and delight. When you see your purpose in others, you will be attracted.
6) When you are far away from your purpose you may feel discouraged, depressed, bored, etc.
7) Everyone has “purpose.” Ideally it needs to be nurtured by society. In a couple relationship that means both partners pay attention to nurturing each other’s purpose. Tis part of love. And both partners thrive inside the relationship because that is one place (in a cold world) where their purpose is nurtured.
8) I say “cold”, because I believe our culture is more a “control-freak” system where other people want to control/dominate you and extinguish your awareness of your purpose. And this controlling attitude seems all around us and thus “NORMAL.”
9) I think for many people “Purpose” seems a radical and dangerous concept, rather than the life-giving gift of God. When I lie down to die I would rather say, “I did my thing, the thing God gave me to do”, than have to say, I did “their thing, the thing they manipulated me into.”
No wonder I haven’t written too much on this topic. Tis kind of hot.
FINDING YOUR PURPOSE
Finding your purpose seems to happen a little after coming to believe it exists, and even then awareness grows with time. If you live in a relationship, a family, a faith, or a community that doesn’t believe in individual purpose, then you won’t even start looking for it until you “awaken.”
My experience is that most people’s lives are suddenly changed profoundly by just the awareness of their purpose being “something.” I didn’t know anything about Purpose until I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and later in the 1990s when I and some friends started studying this topic. Others, I’ve seen, discover the existence of purpose after a long time of feeling depressed, purposeless, discouraged with “life,” etc. Sharing about purpose seems to really help people understand themselves better.
A Story about a Purpose Helping Community
This is how it was told to me. In this African tribe, the community was used to helping youth discover their purpose. The belief was that a person who was following their purpose would be 20 times more productive for the community than a person doing what they-were-told-to-do.
Note: one of the traits of Purpose is that it only has meaning in the context of a community. Your purpose has something to do with giving, doing for others, and not much with taking (unless you are helping others to give).
When a kid is about 3, elders would come and live near the kid. They would watch and not interfere. After some days they would get together and talk about their discoveries. “This kid is interesting. Notice that his mom is a potter, but the kid is clumsy and handles pottery negligently. I notice that he neglects other people when they come by. He seems really uninterested in people, which is odd because his dad is such a great lover. But do you see his eyes when a bird flies over! Did your see the quickness with which he grabs the lizard after lying still watching it for a long time! I think this kid is a hunter. Let’s assign him to old (name) who was a great hunter. Let him learn as an apprentice. Let’s see.”
Clues to your purpose
Eventually, you will note when you are feeling close to Purpose and will be attracted to places and actions where you can have that feeling.
About age and change and personal reflections
My guess is that a person’s Purpose doesn’t change through life, but their awareness of it and their way of verbalizing it will evolve. Perhaps a better word is “refine.”
Personally, when I first made a stab at my purpose (1992 I was 50) I formed a pretty general idea. But it was a good guess. Over the next 15 years, I thought of it more and more, experienced it more and more. I changed my description of my Purpose to be more simple and, I feel, more accurate. I haven’t made much of a change in my understanding of my Purpose since I turned 65. I think it still lives with me all the time. In fact recently I realized some things about me as a child that were expressions of my Purpose, but that I had never seen that way before.
In the Dagara tribe I gather they see the first part of life (under 11 or so) as a forgetting period, followed by the quick awakening to Purpose in Initiation (at 12-15), followed by living out that Purpose, followed by becoming an elder, and death.
In my experience the first part of my life up through age 50 was a forgetting. For 30 or so years I worked, brought in money for my family, raised my kids, often living out the “life” of others or of my company. Looking back I banged up against my Purpose all over the place and then would wander away. Then I stumbled through an awakening (1992), blending into a period of living out my Purpose. Now I think I am mostly into elderhood. I sure wish I had had a skilled “initiation” and could have learned my Purpose in my youth.
My experience is that my Purpose never changed. It belonged to me.
In the Dagara tribe they think of people in their middle years as too busy living out their Purpose to talk about it much. Elders reflect and share. Elders conduct Initiation for the youth.
In our culture, I think most people do what comes up next. Simple. As one gets older, events sometimes conspire to make a person thoughtful and reflective. That’s when discussions of Purpose seem to happen.
I put Purpose into my Map of Relationships, the concepts of the “Biological Dream”, and “Vintage Love”, as it seemed to be a needed building block to understanding people. Without it something was missing.
And as you may have noticed, I like things to be completed. I hope you enjoy this and I urge you to look around for your Purpose —- and “do it.”