What’s wrong with finding your purpose
Living on purpose is the only fulfilling way to live.
Therefore, your highest, most persistent quest should be to find your God-given purpose, which is the combined answers to these four questions:
- What was I born to say?
- Who was I born to serve?
- What was I born to create?
- What is the highest and best use of my unique combination of values, knowledge, passion, talents, and skills?
But there’s a major problem with this perspective, which, ironically, can often paralyze rather than empower us.
The problem is this: What if you don’t know the answers to these questions?
What if you don’t have enough experience or self-awareness to answer them? What if you see so many possible options that you don’t know which is the right one to pick?
There’s a simple way to break out of this analysis paralysis: it’s to recognize that “finding your purpose” is the wrong way to put it.
“Finding” your purpose assumes that there is one pre-determined thing that you’re supposed to do — that anything less than that one mystical thing is an irresponsible misuse of your talents, a diversion, a false path, a dead end.
That assumption causes us to bury our talents; we fear doing the wrong thing, so we do nothing productive at all until we find that ONE thing.
But there’s a more accurate and empowering word than “find.”
Allow me to illustrate this better word by sharing a story about a boy named George, who was separated from his parents at birth and grew up as a slave orphan in Missouri.
As a child, his health was so poor he was given “women’s work” — washing clothes and cleaning — by the kind farmers who took him in.
After slavery was abolished, the farmers wanted to help George get an education, but they couldn’t afford to send him to school. George memorized the only book they had: Webster’s Speller.
Determined to receive his education, George struck out on his own, sleeping in haylofts and working odd jobs for food.
According to George, “white folks’ washing” paid for his high school education.
After several applications, George was accepted into a university, only to be rejected because of his race. He opened a laundry and saved enough money to attend Simpson College in Iowa.
Washing, scrubbing, and house cleaning got him through three years of college. He continued on to complete four years of agricultural study at Iowa State University.
After graduating, Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, offered him a job.
Washington wanted an agricultural laboratory, but there was no laboratory or funds for George to work with. Another challenge was that the soil George had to work with was sandy and eroded.
But George was not deterred. He found tools for his lab with seemingly useless odds and ends. He used a salvaged barn lantern for heat. For mortar he used a heavy kitchen cup, and a flat piece of iron for a pulverizer.
He made beakers by cutting off the tops of old bottles rescued from the school dump. He turned an ink bottle into an alcohol lamp and made his own wick.
He and his students took baskets and pails into the surrounding swamps and woods to gather muck and leaf mold, which they used to amend the sandy soil. Eventually, he shocked onlookers by turning what was the South’s worst soil into some of the most productive.
Over the next forty-seven years, George revolutionized farming in the South by learning, through the scientific method, how to restore depleted soil through crop rotation and to maximize yields.
Of course, you know him for his most famous contribution: recognizing the intrinsic value of the peanut as a cash crop and finding more than 300 uses for peanuts.
George Washington Carver summed up his success formula by saying:
“Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it. Never be satisfied.”
George didn’t find his purpose. He created it. He simply started with what he had — which was infinitely less than what you and I have to start with — and made something of it.
Get past the analysis paralysis of “finding” your purpose. Instead, act now to create your purpose.
The underlying assumption of “create” your purpose is the exact opposite of that of “find” your purpose: Rather than assuming that there is one thing you should do, it assumes that there are infinite things that you can do.
In this context, what you should do isn’t some pre-determined destiny, but simply a practical matter of taking stock of your assets and opportunities and doing the best you can with what you’re currently working with.
As one anonymous author put it,
“If you’re wondering what your purpose is, your purpose is to create one.”
What do you want to do? What do you enjoy doing? How can you serve people by doing what you enjoy doing?
Pick something. Anything. Do something. Anything — as long as it creates value for other people.
“Finding” purpose is about some ultimate destination. “Creating” purpose is about a lifelong journey.
On the journey of creating purpose, there are no worthless dead ends; only valuable detours, which get you closer and closer to living your ultimate purpose — as long as you keep moving forward.
Commitment leads to knowledge, increased knowledge reveals your next step of commitment.
Listen: You don’t need another seminar, another book, more introspection to find your purpose. What you need is to commit to doing something productive that you enjoy doing.
That one thing, for now, is your purpose — because you created it.
Stop fumbling around in the dark trying to find your purpose. Turn on a light by creating your purpose.