Can't Find Your Life's "Purpose"?
Give your gifts and talents room to breathe.
Posted June 23, 2009
Over the course of several years, not too long ago, I devoured a steady stream of books that focused on "finding your purpose". As I read a particularly inspiring passage or story, I'd feel a momentary injection of hope, which would then quickly flip into frustration and despair. As much as I longed to find my elusive "purpose", I worried that I was a rare and unfortunate exception, a "purpose"- less human being.
Yesterday, I had a coaching session with a new client. She told me that she had tried all kinds of different courses, activities, and therapy, and still "couldn't find" her life's passion and purpose. She envied an acquaintance who had become a world-renowned fly-fishing expert. He had started out drawing pictures of fish as a young child, and had steadfastly and happily followed a razor-focused life path ever since. She, by comparison, felt like she'd been chasing different dead-end routes all her life, without getting anywhere.
Most people who know me now would find it hard to believe that I ever worried about my "purpose", but it's true. Rather than having encountered a single purpose-defining moment (which would divide my existence into "life before the moment I found my purpose", and "life after I found it"), the pursuit and discovery of purpose has been more of a winding, baffling, nonsensical journey.
In my life I started out determined to become a Solid Gold Dancer (at age 9), but later abandoned that wildly improbable dream and followed a largely unplanned and very windy path: I became a (rather inept) gymnast and gymnastics coach, studied physics, studied kinesiology/human mechanics, got a degree in Dietetics, became a medical doctor, got into an Emergency Medicine residency, quit that residency and became a GP, became a salsa dancer, became a flamenco dancer, started a photography business, almost completed my first novel, became a travel writer, became a health writer, moved to Mexico, began working as a life coach, became a speaker, became a non-fiction self-help book author...and that's just a brief summary, missing lots of details and other minor tangents.
When you look at everything I've sampled in life, you can imagine why I often thought I was hopelessly lost. Yet when I look back now, it's all part of who I am and what I do now, even (and perhaps especially) the failures. Each change in direction contributed to the person I am today, by providing me with skill, knowledge or experience that I now use today to help myself and others. The twists and turns in set the stage for the contribution that I (hopefully) now make to the world, the way my life serves and helps the lives of others.
If you're blessed with a variety of different ideas or talents, allow yourself to acknowledge and examine each of them, rather than bending to pressure to "just pick one". If you've got lots of different interests, and almost as many diplomas or degrees, embrace all the different things you know (though there is certainly a time for those of us that like to hide in academia or learning, when one needs to stop studying and start doing). As you give each unique aspect of you room to be, to breathe and to express itself, you'll find that some naturally fall away, while others stick and become an essential part of you and your path. Each of us is unique: don't compare yourself to others, unless there's something about a person or their life that resonates with, inspires, or informs your own options.
I've found that living my way into purpose has been a process. It's a journey, not a single "aha" moment. I do sometimes have those, but ironically I will think that a certain "aha" is going to take me to a certain destination, and I end up in another place entirely. There's one thing I can always bet on, though: the unexpected destination turns out to be far better for me than the original one I might have planned. Ultimately, I do believe God is in charge of it all, and allows both the successes and failures (as well as a certain amount of flailing or missteps that serve to test and teach me). Each stage may not always come in an appealing package, but it's always good for my development and my life.
No matter what turns your road takes, remember to watch for the gifts and good things that await you at each intersection, bend and look-out. Enjoy your journey! Let it mold you into a better person, better able to serve your part of the world.
Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, health and happiness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, flamenco dancer and author. She has been featured as an expert on the Today Show as well as other major media outlets, and is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, media commentary, and private life and health coaching.