That’s the problem right there – wanting to discover some kind of calling or purpose that is tangible, measurable, permanent. Maybe it’s a career, maybe it’s a spouse, maybe it’s something else. But really at the heart of it, we want a specific and easy answer to who we are, something that can be tied up in a pretty bow and shared in a Facebook status that begins with the words “Honored and humbled to officially announce that I will be [insert achievement/purpose/life calling here].”
We want to give people solid proof of who we are, and a manual, written by us, that describes exactly how we should be viewed and judged.
There’s nothing technically wrong with this kind of thing – with the whole ‘wanting to announce your current status and situation publicly to everyone you know, because that makes it finally seem real.’ That’s just our mindset now I guess. We’re millennials, we share everything with each other, we have a hard time processing something in our lives until we ‘announce’ it in some way. It’s a little self-involved, a little egocentric, a little narcissistic, sure. But we all do it.
We all love to say that we don’t care what others think, and I think we all at least try to practice that way of thinking. But there’s also something so satisfying about being able to develop a substantial, clear-cut description of who we are and how we spend our time, and then being able to present it to others. Hello, I’m currently getting my master’s degree in psychology. Or Hello, I’m getting married soon and preparing to start a family. Or Hello, I just accepted a new job at a marketing firm in New York. These are all obviously very important and wonderful achievements and milestones. But they also tend to serve as our crutches.
Think about the last time you were in some sort of organized group setting, when you were asked some version of the ‘tell me about yourself’ question. What did your mind first shoot to? Your job. Where you live. Whether or not you’re in a relationship. These are our identity markers. That’s why we cling to them. We want the simple, precise, one-sentence answer to our life’s purpose and we want it to stay the same forever. So although our behavior, our social media posts, and our ways of thinking can seem vain and self-absorbed on the surface level (and probably certainly are in some way), at the core of it, we’re all just trying to find an identity.
We live in a world of over 7 billion people, and when the information of almost every single person we know is available at the click of a button, it feels even bigger than that. There are people everywhere doing magnificent things – magnificent things that are being broadcasted across the board and convincing us that there is a certain, invisible level to which we must rise. There is a certain way to have ‘made it.’ There are certain marks you must hit before an old acquaintence will say, if you’re mentioned in passing, “Oh yeah, they’re doing super well.” There are certain things you must achieve in order to ‘discover yourself’ and once you’ve found them, you’re in the clear.
The only problem is that this is not how life works, in any way whatsoever. It is perfectly fantastic to have goals and motivations, wants and desires. It’s great to want to get your master’s degree. It’s great to want to get married and begin your own little family. It’s wonderful to want to rise up in the ranks of your company. And it’s fine to want to announce these things on social media and share them with your world – sure, we all suck a little bit and get a high off of those likes, but whatever. That’s another topic for another day.
The real issue with dreams and goals and wants and desires is looking at them as some kind of end game.
Convincing yourself that any one of these things is the answer to your happiness, and once you have it in your hands, your joy and contentment are safe and guaranteed for the rest of your life. You start to believe that it’s okay to be miserable and to be sleepwalking through your life, because nothing counts until you finally reach your ‘purpose’ – after which life finally begins.
That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s a recipe for unhappiness. It’s a recipe for never, ever finding satisfaction and contentment.
Your life’s purpose, your life’s calling, is not something you will ever hold securely in your hands.
It’s fluid, whimsical, mysterious, and always changing. It’s a mindset, a way of being, a way of thinking, a way of paying attention, a way of loving the people that matter to you. Degrees and careers and relationships are wonderful stepping stones on the path to living a meaningful life, but they are just aspects of it, not the whole of it.
Your life’s purpose cannot be summed up in a single sentence, and neither can you. You are complicated, ever-changing, a creation of multiple experiences and feelings and lessons learned. You are a work of art, but more importantly, a work in progress, until the day you take your last breath. You will not reach the finish line of your dreams in your twenties, so stop trying. Just learn how to enjoy the experience of change, how to enjoy the very intricate and complicated story that is your life. That mindset will bring you more happiness than a simple one-sentence description ever could.