When things hit me in groups of three, I believe the universe is speaking to me. Sometimes I’m too thick or stubborn to take action, but I always take notice. Today the topic of purpose is hitting me from all angles. This is most likely because a troubling memory has recently resurfaced and I can’t seem to shake it, a memory of an argument with my (now) ex-husband (who was trying so hard to inspire me but the effort was lost on me due to the season I was in) confronted me with the question, “What is your purpose?”
That simple question really pissed me off. Who the hell was he to ask my purpose? I retreated into an internal diatribe about all the things I did for him yet there he was questioning my “purpose!” Oh the indignance, the anger, the self-righteousness that coursed through my veins like electricity on a high-voltage powerline. That was about five years ago – and the emotion is still raw. Why? Simple really, I didn’t have an answer and I knew that was very bad. This conversation has been on my mind for about a week, popping into my head without invitation at odd moments.
Somehow I had forgotten who I was. I’d lost my passion for nerdy jokes, unicorns, glitter, mermaids, reading books, cooking, loving others. I had devolved into a robot that lived as I believed I was “supposed to.” I poured all of my energy into a job that paid well but sucked the very soul out of me. I existed minute to minute … nothing more, existing is not the same as living. Somehow I found myself waking up every morning doing things I didn’t like, sleeping next to a man who no longer liked me (I didn’t like me, how could he), going to a job I literally hated, and acting out through all kinds of self-destructive behaviors. My courage, my purpose, and my self-esteem had all vanished. That conversation with my ex-husband pissed me off because it called into focus the main problem in my life. Sadly I wasn’t ready to do anything about it, I was a real-life zombie who went through the motions of life filled with resentment and outright animosity, I lived this way for years, and it got much worse before it got better.
As I spiraled downward I forgot about that conversation, or more accurately repressed it. It’s so much easier to wallow and cast blame than to take action and make changes. Besides, how was I going to find a purpose, “all the good ones were taken!” I can laugh at myself now but I really thought that for a long time. It’s what someone talking to a child would call “stinkin-thinkin” and what professional psychologists refer to as cognitive distortions.
This morning as I watched Dave Hollis on “The Morning Show That no one is Talking About”(put a link in there – start today). His discussion of the importance of developing daily habits included having a purpose — I never thought of purpose as a habit, but I liked the thought. He quoted Frederich Nietzsche of all people who said “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” As I was listening to Dave I was scrolling my to-read list and Apple served up a book on purpose (If I like it I’ll recommend it to you). Merriam Webster defines purpose rather blandly:
The definition is deceptively simple and doesn’t truly convey the power of purpose. Purpose is the “Why” of life. What are you trying to achieve and more importantly why. If you want to run a marathon because your friend Jane did, you probably are not going to stay committed to the training (because that shit is hard), If you want to build a business because you don’t want to work for someone else – that reason may not be strong enough to motivate you through the thigh-high swamp muck you’re going to have to traverse to succeed. That’s exactly what I’d been doing. I wasn’t at a loss for goals, but I had no purpose, I was checking boxes not leading my own journey.
I thrive on helping people. I’m not one for the spotlight but I’m very talented at putting the spotlight on others and helping them shine. When I look back on my career I’ve spent most of my life convincing executives to invest in technology that will help them make more money. And I’m good at it, but if I truly loved this work I’d be exceptional, I’m just good. I follow the playbook, I check the boxes, I do the things but I’m not as inspired as I wish I was.
There was one era in my career where a lowly individual contributor, a cog in the wheel changed the face of marketing for a multi-national company by turning customers into heroes. When asked to talk about a time in my career I loved, that always comes to mind. I was on fire I’d tapped into something I didn’t realize was within me. Sadly budgets changed, priorities shifted and while the project continued on, I had to take on other work, my passion wilted like a hydrangea in August sunshine.
Fast-forward a few years to another company and another industry. I was at a very conservative industry trade-show where participants wandered the floor in toe-crushing dress shoes confined in uniforms (suits) that stifled identity. Two men wearing jeans and sporting what was obviously prison ink walked up to me and said hello. If this encounter had taken place on a dimly lit street after 9:00 p.m. I would have been terrified, in this setting I was intrigued. Who were they, why were they here, and why were they talking to me??? Turns out they were representing “Homeboy Industries” a non-profit that helps people transition from gang-life to being law-abiding citizens. They needed help with a job training program. I listened. They didn’t just have a need, they had a “why” that struck my heart. Suddenly I found myself working my phone to get them what they needed, I had a purpose and I wasn’t willing to take no for an answer. I was en fuego! (pretty sure this is a grammatically incorrect use of Spanish to convey “on fire” but it’s fun to say). I got them what they needed and it felt great, so great that other people noticed. But guess what, just like before something new and less inspiring became a priority and I lost my fire, I wandered back into the swamp, and I stayed there for years. During this time I wasn’t helping anyone, least of all myself.
I’m 9 months sober right now, and I’m a firm believer in the power of Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the main principles is the notion of helping others once you are strong enough in your recovery. For me, the past nine months have been a period of very deep, focused, self-reflection. I now, realize that I am at my personal best when I’m inspiring and helping others. That is my purpose, especially those who I think haven’t gotten a fair shake.
Great news ya’ll I have a purpose! Bad news, it doesn’t pay the bills so I still work in a job that isn’t my passion but, I have goals now that are built on that purpose. And the idea that all the good purposes are taken — Bah! So here’s my purpose I want to help women capture their self-esteem, embrace their power and be their best selves.
I won the genetic lottery. First of all, I was born in the United States of America a country where there are disadvantages to being a career-minded woman but I don’t have to worry about being stoned to death because of my ambition. Second, I was raised in a text-book family where my parents loved each other and my sister and I. Third, my parents did their absolute best to encourage me growing up. Fourth, I was able to get an education, and more so very very very much more.
And yet I fell apart because I didn’t have a purpose, because I let some really mixed up notions of who I was “supposed” to be obfusicate who I was. If I struggled that means someone out there is also struggling and maybe I can throw them a life jacket and help them to shore. So that is my purpose.
3 thoughts on “The Search for Purpose”
You are an inspiration. I’m sure your story resonates with many out there. Stay strong, you are on the right path.
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That’s kind thank you!
I struggled with my purpose after I retired! Teaching was my passion!
My hearing loss prevents me from teaching now.
I had to think of my purpose as a a bigger picture. I think of it now as bringing joy.