Why Your Life Purpose Isn’t What You Think It Is

It’s been a while (a LOOOOONG while) since I’ve posted here. Taking on a new role at the College, starting a new business, having a freshly minted tweenager and a two year old took a lot of my focus away from my writing. But now that I’m starting to come out of the post-partum fog (yes, it’s taken over 2 years) I’ve started thinking about more than just staying alive each day.

Turning 44 at the end of 2019 also got me thinking (again) about life and the universe and my place in it. (I also have toddler who doesn’t sleep so I spend a lot of time staring blankly into space in a fog of sleep-deprivation…)

So here we go.

What is your life’s purpose?

Why AM I here? Why are any of us here? Is life really all about waking up, getting through the day, going to bed…lather, rinse, repeat? Kind of, yeah.

Turning 40 prompted me to think very much about why I’m here. I mean, I’m pretty much mid-life now, right? And just like Christmas looks so much closer on the other side of July, I had started to feel like I needed to do more with my life. Like I needed to contribute something to the great void beyond simply existing. Turning 44 made that need feel more urgent.

Naturally, that makes you question why you are here and what you’re doing with your life. I needed purpose.

Purpose with a Capital P

When you talk about purpose people can tend to get very stressed out because the idea of having a Purpose seems very overwhelming. This is especially true if you’ve ever dabbled in self-improvement circles or believe in the “DREAM BIG” philosophy all those motivational speakers throw out there.

If you aren’t waking up every day changing the world you’re failing as a human being, right? Your purpose is supposed to be HUGE. It’s supposed to LIGHT YOU UP. It’s supposed to make you leap out of bed every morning! (And hey, if you can make money while doing it, so much the better.)

The reality is most people struggle to just GET through life, let alone have a meaningful impact.

But does having a life purpose need to be grand? Does it need to have an impact? I mean it certainly can if that’s what you feel inspired to do. But why can’t your purpose simply be something that brings you joy and allows you to live a full life? A life that YOU decide how to live by the choices YOU decide to make?

So how do you figure out what your purpose is?

Lots of experts have lots of different ways to help you determine your purpose. One example is the eulogy, or to ask yourself how you want to be remembered.

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

I don’t like this one. It requires you to define yourself from the perspective of others, which can be a very slippery slope and go very wrong. It can place the importance on what other’s think of you… or at the very least, it makes you think about what you THINK people SHOULD think of you.


Another exercise is to consider what you’d do if all of your basic, day-to-day needs were taken care of, and you had to decide only this:

What you would do for the rest of your life if you weren’t getting paid a single cent for it?

How would you spend your time if you didn’t have to spend it doing the things that keep us “busy” because we have to put food on the table?

I like this exercise a little better, but I tried it and to be honest it’s not that much better than the eulogy. Most of us have been so busy since we started our working lives that we’ve forgotten what truly brings us joy.

I mean we all have things we ENjoy…but could you really watch Netflix, or read books, or play racquetball all day, every day, for the rest of your life? Probably not. Hmm, finding JOY. A topic for another day.

A Unique Approach (and my favourite one)

My best friend and I swap life philosophies and solve all the problems of the world regularly over coffee. She had an interesting question asked of her by a coach once, and she shared it with me.

What is the one thing you think you didn’t get enough of as a child?

This one gave me serious pause, because I had a pretty awesome childhood. My home life was fantastic and I had loving, nurturing, supportive parents; I had awesome siblings; I even had a couple of really good friends. The more I thought about it, however, the further beyond my inner circle I went.

I was horrendously bullied as a child, all the way up to high school. This led to a lot of challenges in my youth, and my young adulthood. One thought lead to another and I discovered that the one thing I definitely lacked growing up was validation from my peers.

Full disclosure, I have sought validation from others in much of what I have done or tried to do. I have felt, for most of my life, like I need the approval of others in order to approve of myself, and I have often changed who I am and how I behave to fit the expectations of others. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

In the last few years I have made some serious progress in that respect personally, though (40 really is a great number). I am much more comfortable in my own skin now than I have ever been. I am starting to listen to my own voice more, and have stopped feeling bad or guilty for not doing things the way others expect or require. It’s taken work, and it’s taken honesty with myself, and it’s taken getting tired of getting burned.

The irony is that one of the areas I was MOST successful as a teacher over the last 10+ years was empowering others to approve of themselves, to believe in themselves, to trust their voice and make choices that were right for them. Seems a bit strange that the one thing I personally struggled with the most is the one thing I empower best in others.

But that’s precisely how it works. I once read that the thing that makes you feel most vulnerable is the thing you are best at teaching and helping others through.

So I know I’m definitely on the right path. And I definitely know my purpose lies in speaking my truth to give strength to others… and to help them feel validated.

Where does that leave us?

Figuring out your life purpose doesn’t have to be overwhelming, because it really isn’t.

It is simply the place where your story lives, whatever that story may be. It is your greatest life lesson, or maybe one of them. It is the thing that you bring to the world that can help others in their journey.

Your life purpose also doesn’t have to be something grand that you go out and share with the world. I mean, it CAN be if you feel compelled to do so.

But maybe your life purpose is simply about living YOUR best life, a TRUE life, in which you are living in alignment with what is important to you, and doing the things that you love most, with the people you hold dearest.

Maybe your life purpose is about being a shining example of that truth, and quietly inspiring others to do the same.

And you’ll know the truth by how it feels. Because the truth always feels effortless.

Let me know what you think about this. Do you know what your “purpose” in life is? How did you discover it? I’d love to hear all about it.

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