Ever had a moment thinking “I don’t know what I’m doing here”? I’m sure I had.
Having a sense of meaning and purpose contribute to us feeling good. You can find some great suggestions on how to develop a sense of purpose here.
If you think this is too little and still wonder, what your life’s purpose is — after all, Gandhi had one — let me offer you some perspectives. Thinking about my life and my life’s purpose this way helped me to chill out about the topic and find meaning in other things.
1. You can’t know yet.
Like pieces of a puzzle you won’t see the full picture until you’ve put most of them together.
Think about how many years you’ll live. Now think about how many years you already lived. Would you have known what is important to you now ten or twenty years ago? Could you have guessed the place you’d be in right now? Probably not. Now flip this to the future. There is no way you can predict your life’s purpose because you can’t know what will happen in the coming ten or twenty years. You even can’t know for sure what will happen in the next ten to twenty minutes.
Like a spiral staircase you’ll come across variations of your purpose at different stages in your life.
If you’re older than a teenager, it is worthwhile taking a look back and see what you repeatedly come across. For me it was teaching. As a small child I played school with dolls, later I taught science to my imaginary class. Then play became a reality when I tutored other pupils, students at university and look at what I do now for a living.
But two occasions don’t make a pattern, so you need to give your life a little time to provide opportunities for that pattern to emerge.
Like watching a movie in a cinema you can’t fast-forward to know the end, so sit back and enjoy.
Raise your hand if you ever fast-forwarded a movie because you couldn’t take the suspense. Or because it seemed to drag on forever and you just wanted them to get to the point. (*raising my hand*) You can’t do that in a cinema. Like in real life, you’ll just have to sit through and keep watching. No matter how exciting, nerve-wrecking or boring it is. You can’t change that, so feel free to surrender into just experiencing.
2. Now is most meaningful.
You can’t change the past or know the future, but you can always choose what you do right now.
What’s done is done. And what’s yet to come is, well, yet to come. You have the most power over your life right now. What will you do? Keep reading? Scroll through social? Help someone out? Or not listening to what your friend is telling you, because you’re all absorbed with what’s going on in your head? Getting better with living in the now helps you live intentionally, consciously and worry-free.
Do your best right now, because if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
You are where you are right now. And even if it is not your dream job or you’d wish to move a level up, give it your best. Everything else is wasted time. And opportunity. Because you’ll learn new things everyday if you stay open and do the work. And you will need those skills later in life.
You can do a thought experiment. Pick a part of your life. Let’s say doing the paper route oder that gap year or that entry-level job that underwhelmed you. Now think about all the things you learned there, no matter how small they might seem. Next, you can mentally picture all the succeeding jobs and challenges you had — and how they would have been different if you wouldn’t have had all those skills that you learned previously.
Sometimes the purpose of life is to be alive.
This is something we can learn extremely well from children and animals. My sister’s dogs are great example. One loves just lying in dirt in the sun all day. The other is most content if he can put his head on your lap chewing his rubber toy. And the third can’t contain himself when it’s time to play. Pure joy, just living. So next time you find yourself staring out the window or being otherwise “unproductive”, don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re doing what you’re meant to do: living.
3. All is purposeful.
Play and enjoy, it’s the most fun way to learn.
That’s the other thing about letting go and doing silly, joyful, seemingly meaningless things in our lives. Our brains never rest, even if our minds do. So in hindsight, you will always find something useful and purposeful in what you just did. And being in that playful state of mind actually super-charges your brains ability to learn, be creative and build resources.
Be intentional about the meaning you give to adverse life events (you know, when it all just sucks).
Big shout-out to Viktor Frankl and Alfred Adler here. I highly recommend you look up what those two taught, it might blow your mind. I’m sure it did for me. But to get you started, think of something that recently sucked and then instead of asking “Why is this happening to me?” ask “How is this happening for me?” Find a moment where you can get past the pain, dig into your curiosity and explore that question.
Don’t wish for it to be different, you are exactly where you’re meant to be.
This is where many of us waste a lot of energy and headspace. Wishing others would have gotten the report in on time or hadn’t said that hurtful thing or started to be more attentive. Lingering in these thoughts, we’re arguing with reality and that’s a fight we can’t win. The report came in late, they said what they said and nope, still not calling back. Letting go of thoughts instead of ruminating is soothing. Our ego doesn’t like it, but hey, you can learn to let that one go, too.
So there you go. These thoughts have helped me and I’d love to hear what you think. Any of this useful? And please share your thoughts and tricks on how not to stress out about not having that one big life purpose wrapped up neatly with a bow… yet.