Two misleading words that paralyze your pursuit of purpose
A common theme, which I encounter almost daily in my life purpose coaching, manifests as two common and subtly misleading words: “supposed to.”
- “What am I supposed to do with my life?”
- “I don’t want to just do what I want; I want to do what I’m supposed to do.”
- “I keep feeling like I’m supposed to be doing something else.”
This idea that we’re “supposed to” be doing some precise task or fulfilling some exact mission boils down to one of two underlying (usually subconscious) assumptions:
1. Purpose is a pre-determined destiny.
This is the belief that there is ONE right path for each of us (which was established for us from birth), and our job is to follow that one path. In other words, we have to find our purpose.
This paralyzes us because we’re worried that we won’t pick the right, pre-established path.
2. God tells us what to do with our life.
This is the belief that purpose comes (or should come) in the form of some clear and unmistakable call from heaven. We have an obligation to do what God expects us to do.
This paralyzes us because we sit around waiting for the call. Furthermore, we’re afraid that if we don’t do exactly what God expects us to do, then our life is a failure.
Let’s analyze each in turn:
Purpose is not a destiny; it is a choice
There is no ONE right path for anyone. There is only the path that you choose, and the one you choose is the right one for you.
In truth, the term “find purpose” is a contradiction of terms, given the etymological meaning of the word “purpose.”
It is derived from the Old English “propose,” meaning forth, and “pose,” meaning to put. The Anglo-French purpos meant “intention, aim, goal.”
Purpose means to put forth an intention. And that intention comes from you — not the stars or from God.
The purpose of your life is to learn how to choose to be happy by living with intention.
To say you want to find your purpose is like saying that an inanimate arrow wants to find a target. An arrow cannot aim itself; it can only hit the target at which it is purposefully, intentionally aimed by a being with the agency to choose.
Your purpose is the target at which you choose to aim.
While we wander around looking for the “right” target, every moment of every day we are surrounded by millions of worthy targets.
There’s nothing to “find.” Your task isn’t to find a target — your task is to shoot one as accurately and with as much force as possible. Which one? Whichever one you choose.
What do you want to do? Take aim and let your arrow fly. Don’t stop shooting until you pierce the bulls-eye dead-on. And when you do, choose another target.
You don’t find purpose. What you do find, however, are your talents and gifts. And that is the secret to getting started on the path.
Forget about finding purpose — go find what makes you tick, what comes naturally to you. Find and follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell would say, and your purpose will take care of itself.
Your purpose is what you want to do because it gives you the highest levels of joy and fulfillment.
Note that “bliss” is not the same thing as “pleasure” and following it is certainly not an easy, painless path. Following your bliss is not a selfish, hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, but rather a passionate pursuit of excellence and mastery.
Following your true bliss is what allows you to create the most value for others.
As Gil Bailie said,
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Stop trying to find your purpose — go find your bliss. Then choose what you want to do, where you want to go, what you want to accomplish with it.
Stop looking for a path — go create one that will make you happy and create value for others.
As Frederic Buechner put it,
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Stop asking, “How can I find my purpose?” and instead ask, “What purpose do I want to choose and create that will make me truly, deeply blissful?”
What God wants you to do is choose your purpose
You don’t find your purpose — your purpose finds you as you engage in a good cause of your own volition, without waiting for God to point the way.
When you are living from your Authentic Self, rather than from ego delusion, you can trust that what you choose to do is God’s will for your life.
While we wait for God to tell us what to do, the truth is that God is always speaking to us.
Guidance usually comes subtly: small promptings, quiet whispers, persistent intuitions, flashes of insight, illuminating ideas, talents and skills that come naturally to us, paths that interest us.
What God wants you to do is cultivate the unique seeds He planted in your heart. Those seeds are made manifest in your bliss, whether that be skateboarding, painting, or helping orphans.
The guidance we receive from God, the force and clarity with which it comes, and our ability to recognize it depends entirely on our willingness to heed it. Our willingness is manifest in how persistently we follow our bliss.
The key to divine guidance is to take initiative. While wait for Him to tell us what to do, He’s waiting for us to take action.
He does guide and direct on rare occasions. But the rest of the time it’s up to us.
The guidance we receive depends on the initiative we demonstrate. If we want more help from God, we must take more bold action of our own initiative.
To live purpose is to live intentionally
“Intentional” means an action performed with awareness; done deliberately, consciously, on purpose.
Our purpose isn’t a destiny written in the stars; it’s an intention that we declare.
The only destiny or divine guidance we need are the seeds of bliss that God has already planted in our hearts.
There’s nothing we’re “supposed to” do — there’s only what we choose to do with our gifts.