I was an enthusiastic devourer of self-help and personal development material for well over twenty years, although I have now been in healthy recovery for nine years.
During my addiction I always noticed how much material there is on finding your life’s purpose and it continues to be a popular topic. There are many people offering us tips, tools, and advice on how to find our own sense of it.
It is a very seductive idea because we associate having a meaningful purpose with a much greater sense of being alive.
We have all seen people and businesses that, with a grand purpose, accomplish amazing things and have extraordinary levels of inspiration, passion, and energy.
Who does not want to feel like this?
If you reflect on your own life, I am sure you have experienced times when your life was rich with meaning and purpose; times when you were at your absolute best and felt unstoppable.
It was Steve Jobs who, in a much-publicised address to students at Stanford, said:
“You’ve got to find what you love…. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle.”
Countless others have said something similar. We are lead to believe that our purpose, the thing that will light us up, is somewhere ‘out there’ and independent of us and that we must keep looking until we find it.
Just like Steve Jobs did. Or Ellen MacArthur, J K Rowling, and Lewis Hamilton.
But whoa – hold on a moment.
What if you keep looking and do not find ‘it’? What then?
There must be millions of people who listen to this kind of advice, fail to find ‘the thing’ and conclude that they just have not been fortunate enough to come across it. So, they can end up with a sense of something missing from their life.
Could all this helpful advice be pointing us in the wrong direction?
It turns out that your purpose is not ‘out there’.
The problem is that whilst finding your purpose may seem like good idea it points you away from your true sense of purpose because it is making purpose into a thing.
The idea of our purpose being external and independent of us is exactly what gets in the way of a feeling or a sense of purpose.
The fact is that our inner world of thought and our outer world of circumstances exist independently of each other (even though this can be difficult to grasp, initially).
A circumstance, cause or activity cannot not give you a feeling directly.
Our purpose is not floating around in the world somewhere, just waiting for us and ‘it’ to be united, so we can disappear off into the sunset together.
This is not how life works.
We work from the inside-out. Not the outside-in. Purpose is realised, not found.
A sense of purpose, of being fully alive and engaged in life, is the natural consequence of a free and present mind.
And this is only ever one thought away and, therefore, available to you right now.
P.S. Byron Katie is one of the most powerful teachers I have come across. A short clip of her talking about purpose is here.