The reason most people find it difficult to understand, and hold onto their purpose in life is what they have been taught about ‘purpose,’ similar to ‘finding’ happiness. People are taught to search, to find, or to reach for their purpose in life, as if, purpose was something outside of themselves; something external of the self. It is a flawed approach to explaining the process of understanding a very important mental concept that guides most people to living meaningful lives. Fact is, purpose lies within.
Everyone has a purpose; so, instead of pointing people away; outwards, to go find their purpose, people should be guided through careful examination of themselves to RECOGNIZING their purpose in life. This might sound overly simplistic, given how challenging recognizing one’s purpose in life can be without guidance. The answer lies in our individual stories! In other words, everyone’s purpose is in his or her story.
By looking inwards, familiar patterns stand out, including:
a). What one cares about, and excels at.
b). What one is passionate about.
c). What one finds oneself doing repeatedly, or go back to again and again.
d). Something one would rather do; all things being equal,
e). The totality of which is based on service to others, and
f). Realized; by finding a way to channel that interest to answer a pressing need.
g). *** Packaging or presenting such service to people who would pay for it.
h). Finding the fortitude (self-belief and conviction) to pass life’s tests to own it.
*** It is not in all cases that good ideas are commercialized; thus, turned into money making enterprises. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi was a successful lawyer in South Africa before he realized what his life’s experiences were preparing him for: to be leader, like Moses, to lead his people to independence. Martin Luther King Jr. took after Mahatma Gandhi, when he was trust in the eye of Civil Rights struggle. In all three cases, they came to similar intersections in their lives, and chose struggle as course (purpose) of their lives. They rightly used their experience, knowledge and sacrifice to do extra ordinary things, independent of how much money was in it for them personally. Yet, they lived very purposeful lives.
On the other hand, some dreams or ideas can be thoughtfully managed to make great wealth as is the case with J.K. Rowling and Oprah Winfrey. So, financial gains does not minimize the essence of one’s purpose. It does not take away from the service for which the goal (purpose) was set out to provide.
Whether we know it or not, each time we experience a Eureka moment, and describe it as an ‘Aha Moment!’ we are reiterating the fundamentals to recognizing our individual purpose in life. This experience is similar to saying ‘I get it,’ or, each time ‘the light bulb comes on.’ Fact is, the light one sees is within. It is a literal attempt to express a spiritual experience with words as best known to the living. The bottom line is that when we look close inside, at patterns in our lives, against our interests and passions, we are bound to recognize what we can rightly claim as our purpose in life.
Purpose is a process; thus, will morph with time to incorporate the dynamics of one’s central idea. Later experiences will direct and shape or sharpen the focus of one’s vision. As such, this process needs patience, hard work, persistence and insight to develop, to chisel its true form out of the face of bland mountains. This can only be realized through concrete vison. Of course, this takes time, and it is a non-lineal process, so might branch out into new ideas and pursuits, but fundamentally related to the original idea for which the process is built upon. So, people must not be in a haste to complain about not making immediate impact at school, work or life. One’s story has to take form, mature, and yield the sort of fruits that time, environment and perseverance produce.
This view is consistent with most great philosophies and religious tenets. The same can be said for a few people who noticed or recognized what they were good at; something they loved doing passionately and were ready to pay the prize for to develop. Such people include Michael Jordan, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, and Mother Teresa (Anjeze Ginxhe Bojaxhiu). In retrospect, it might seem as if they knew from get-go what their future would turn out to be, but it was not so. They simply recognized something they excelled at, and zeroed in on it. They labored through tough times. Their passion and love for what they were doing carried them through until success came. In each case, as time passed, their vision expanded to include so many other things; however, these were mere extensions to the original dream: the purpose of their lives. When we look back carefully in their lives we will recognize the telltale signs that became the hallmark of their careers.
The challenge in this is withering the hurdles ahead. These will come in form of tests; real tests, without which there will be no story; no purpose. So, it is important to recognize that one’s story is about the process of becoming. One cannot attain greatness without undergoing a thorough cleansing process, just as it takes fire to make gold, so one’s trials and tribulations. This might be in the early stages of one’s struggles to finding one’s voice, working at supposedly dead-end jobs, or creating a new product; tinkering with ideas only visible to one’s mind’s eye. The beauty of purpose is that it is constant, bright and loud to the conscious mind; right in front of us. We all see it, but too scared to stop and embrace what it demands of us to bring out the greatness therein.
Recognize it: your greatness lies therein.
Your purpose is in your story.
*** Emeka Aroh, PhD, is a US Army veteran based in Dallas, Texas. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org /Twitter: @ArohDr.