Henry David Thoreau wrote that ‘most men live lives of quiet desperation,’ and I’m sure we all know what this feels like. Life can sometimes seem like a treadmill – running to get nowhere. I have no idea what the purpose of all life is, but I do believe that each of us has an individual purpose, something which we are called to do and which, when we are doing it, makes us happy and fulfilled.
Finding one’s calling can seem like an impossible task at times. But the answer is closer than you might think. We need to look in the right places, however.
First, purpose does not come from the outside. There is a danger that we can waste time looking outside ourselves, seeking a purpose which is ‘out there,’ when the answer is within. The practice of meditation is useful because it forces us to go inside and to see ourselves more clearly.
Second, it is something you are already doing. Few people are living a life which is completely divorced from their calling. You will have been drawn to certain things, often subconsciously, and there will be elements of your current life situation which are aligned with your life purpose. Think about times when you are happy, content, energized and alive. It may be looking after your family, raising your kids, listening to people’s problems, writing software… Think carefully and you will find there is something in your current experience which you love doing. The key to a fulfilled and happy life is to expand these ‘bright spots.’ Try to spend more time doing this kind of activity, look for opportunities to change things so you can do less of what you don’t enjoy and more of what you do. When you’re thinking of moving jobs, look for a situation which will give you the chance to do more of what you are called to do.
Third, your purpose involves giving some kind of service. This is a very diverse term. ‘Service’ just means giving something – time, experience, love. For some, a life of solitary meditation is a life of service; for others, running a multibillion dollar company gives value to the world. Don’t see ‘service’ in a narrow way – think about how you can give service to your family, your friends, your colleagues and your community. Your calling will then be easier to spot. Again, try to expand these areas; give more of what you are giving now, whetever it might be.
Incidentally, your purpose is not ‘to make money.’ Money and other forms of wealth will come to you naturally when you find your true calling, but money and material possessions are never, in themselves, your purpose in life.
Finally, it is important to realize that not knowing your purpose is fine. There is something valuable about aimlessness. To drift along without direction is not necessarily a bad thing. A friend of mine told me recently that, as a child, he and his friends would throw a tractor tyre into a river and they would sit on it, floating along for hours and enjoying the view, the changing river bank, the birds that few overhead, the vast, open sky. There is no need to rush. In a sense, it is purpose that finds us and not the other way round. Ultimately, you cannot avoid your calling – it will keep on pulling you, ever so gently, and wait patiently for you to respond. Some people find their true calling late in life, and this is as it should be. When the time is right, your purpose will become clear. Don’t struggle too much – to do so would be to push away the very thing you desire.
Relax. Enjoy the view. Sail with the wind. All is well.