Your purpose is not to become the manager of a successful restaurant. Or a member of Congress. Or an actor on a hit show. Or a bestselling author. Or a doctor.
Those are positions. They are admirable, attainable goals. If you’re trying to make something of yourself and use the talents you’ve been given, those are wonderful things to be aiming towards.
But they’re not your purpose.
You will never be just a business person. Or a psychologist. Or a cosmetologist. Unless you let that happen. Unless you spend your entire life being defined only by a career. If you’re willing to let that happen, it very well may happen.
Your career is important. It’s important to wake up every day with goals to accomplish. Things to get done. Things that make you feel like you’re contributing to the world. It’s important to have an outlet for putting to use everything that you learned in school and at your internships and at all of your previous jobs.
But your whole world should not center around the line of work you are in. Work challenges you and forces you to think and encourages you to use your talents to improve whatever it is that you’re trying to create or sell or fix. It helps to mold you into the person that you are. It is a contributor to who you are. But it does not define who you are.
It’s easy to depend on work to give you a purpose. Because work allows you to be judged. Work allows you to measure yourself. Work gives you the opportunity to say, “I’m worth this many thousand dollars” or “I’m doing okay because I got a promotion.”
When you’re trying to find your purpose outside of work, no one is paying you for it. No one is promoting you. Nobody is bringing you into their intimidating office for performance reviews every few months.
That’s why it’s hard. That’s why it’s so difficult to find a purpose outside of your career. No one is telling us if we’re doing it right or wrong. No one is showing us the ropes. There’s no training program for finding your purpose. There’s no ladder to climb up. You don’t go straight up or straight down. You move in zigzags, with no one there along the way to say that you’re doing great, or you need to work on this, or you’ll get promoted once you accomplish that.
Finding your purpose is up to you, and that’s why it’s terrifying.
Do not stress yourself out by convincing yourself that finding your purpose is just one more thing on your never-ending to-do list. Because here’s the surprisingly freeing news: finding your purpose does not have an endgame. It’s continuous. It’s always happening to you. You are always going to be finding your purpose and you’re never going to stop.
Finding your purpose is about learning. Finding out as much as you can about the world. Reading. Traveling. Exploring new interests. Conversing with people who aren’t regularly in your life and actually listening to what they have to say. Asking questions. Allotting time for you to focus on what fascinates you.
Finding your purpose is about spending time with people. People you love. People you care about. The people you’re with in those rare moments where you feel like you understand the world, even if it’s just for a second. People who make you laugh, and who make you feel like you’re not alone when you are going through something. People who teach you and provide new perspectives for you. People who make your life better.
Finding your purpose is about doing things that scare you. Things that make your heart pound and shoot adrenaline through your veins. Things that allow your body to remind you that it is very much alive. It can be as physical as rock climbing, or as mental as doing something on stage in front of a crowd. It’s about doing the thing you’re most afraid of, and then seeing how good your mind and body feel as soon as you’re done.
Because at the end of the day, when you’ve stopped working and your career is over, you still have to keep on living. You still have to keep on finding your purpose when you’re no longer getting promoted and receiving raises and giving presentations. You have to find your purpose through other things in life. Through learning, and spending time with people you love, and scaring yourself. At the end of the day, these types of things will help you find your purpose. But it’s up to you to ask for the help.