How Do We Find Our Purpose?
Many of us spend years looking for signs to answer: What is my purpose? But perhaps it’s time to change the question.
Last week I saw a sign hanging on a wall in a coffee shop, it read: If you’re looking for a sign, this is it.
Signs like this cause chaos for me, because I take signs seriously. I have spent some 30 years looking for signs to answer the big questions: What is my purpose? What is my calling? What am I supposed to do here?
So does this sign in the coffee shop mean I am to stop looking for signs? Or does it mean that this is the coffee shop I am supposed to work in? …Could it be my purpose has something to do with sign making?
I once thought I was receiving a sign from angels as feathers rained down on my head while waiting for a bus—only to look up and see a hawk in a tree, shredding a pigeon to death. Was that a sign I should work with pigeons?
The mind is designed to make meaning. Which means if you are a person who looks for signs—such as myself—you will soon begin to see them everywhere.
There are traits we may share in addition to this constant sign-searching:
- We likely own a dozen domain names from paths we thought we might take, but can’t bring ourselves to shelve just yet.
- We’re open to learning to find our purpose, and therefore have several unusual and disconnected certifications under our belt.
- We may have half-started at least three business ideas but never really ran with any.
- We ebb and flow between feeling inspired, and then lost or unsettled.
- We wonder if our lives would be easier if we didn’t believe there was some “grand plan” we were a part of with a role we’re supposed to fulfill.
Rephrasing the Question
Recently I have begun to see an end in sight of the search for my purpose. I haven’t found my purpose, but rather I have started to wonder if perhaps there isn’t a “my purpose” after all. Perhaps instead there is simply “the purpose.” Because if we believe we have a purpose and that it is to serve the world in some way, then we must also believe that we are all connected—that serving others is important for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.
Therefore, when we start to look for our purpose, we are essentially saying we believe—on some level—that we are all one. And if we are all one, then it stands to reason that we cannot possibly each have a unique purpose we are here for—rather we are all simply serving one purpose.
With this view of removing the “I” and the “my,” all the questions we ask ourselves in an attempt to uncover our purpose result in entirely different answers. There is no longer a judgment taking place or pressure on ourselves to do or be something or someone. We stop pushing and start receiving. We align with the universe.
What do you enjoy?
What is it that makes your heart sing? What did you want to be when you “grew up”? What did you spend your childhood doing? What do you get so engrossed in that you forget to eat? These questions provide clues as to how purpose wants to express itself through you. The clues may not be exact. When I was a child I wanted to be a famous novelist, an English teacher, and a nun. I’m none of these, but the things that have stayed with me through my life—and the things I lose myself in—are my love of writing, learning, sharing, and practicing devotion.
Why is this line of questioning helpful? Because as children—and when we’re completely immersed in something we love—we are not judging whether what we enjoy is noble or not, nor are we thinking about whether we are any good at it. We are just wholly tuned in to our expression of joy.
Without the judging mind we can also let go of our definition of happiness. Parenting may be extremely difficult, but you may also really enjoy it. Running a business is challenging, but you may love it. Writing, painting, dancing, making music, problem solving, running, yoga—all can be incredibly frustrating, but may still be something you consistently return to because you couldn’t not.
What are you good at?
The things we enjoy tend to be the things we are good at—or at least the things we are happy to practice and become good at. But what does “good” even mean? Too often we hold ourselves back from doing things because we set our standards too high. Do we have to be a prolific writer in order to have a purpose writing? When we remove the judging mind, we know the true answer is no. Do we have to run an internationally-recognized nonprofit to serve a purpose of social justice? No, again.
Often when we are thinking about a purpose, our mind tells us we must change the lives of millions, or write a book that inspires a nation, or create a product that can save the planet. And there are people who indeed we can look at as proof that this is possible. But who is to say what has more value—a charity that touches millions, or a pamphlet read by a few people? If we are all one, there is no “more/less value.” When we think our purpose has to be of a certain standard or reach, then we prevent ourselves from accomplishing what the universe may want us to do.
What serves the world?
This question is the key to finding an end to our search for “my” purpose.
When we think about serving the world we automatically consider what the world needs from our own perspective. We may have realized that we enjoy gardening and are good at it, so we may look around our neighborhood and think: Everyone needs to learn how to garden. So we buy the domain name and hang up a shingle, only to find after months of marketing that just two people are interested. Or we find a cause to get behind and make it our mission to tell everyone about it—but never really get much support. We’ve experienced this in our lives: This feeling of working against gravity. We end up drained.
This may be a step along your journey, and if it makes your heart sing, do it. But the point is: What we think others need is not always what they need. And even if it seems to be what the world needs, we may be of better use elsewhere. But how can we, with our mind full of judgment and limits, honestly say what the world needs from us?
When we start to view ourselves not as having my purpose, but rather as serving the purpose, then everything begins to change. Rather than searching for signs to uncover what we enjoy and what we are good at, and then trying to work out what the world needs, we simply make ourselves available for the purpose to move through us. We open ourselves up.
How can we, with our mind full of judgment and separation and limits, honestly say what the world needs from us?
Our minds may never comprehend what “the purpose” is. And to be honest, it’s almost a relief to no longer have to think about it. We may have an inkling. Perhaps it is an infinite creative process. Or maybe there is no purpose at all and the universe is simply love creating love. It all becomes too esoteric to put into words.
All we have to do is be still and breathe deeply, and instead of asking: What is my purpose? Simply say: I’m ready and open to be put to use—however that arises.
We may find this a challenge initially. We are often people who want to give to the world, and receiving is not where we naturally reside. And we may not end up doing what we had once imagined—there could well be one more domain name in our future—but we can trust it.
Because if our inkling is correct—that the purpose has love at its core—then we will only be guided and moved to do the things we enjoy, and the things we will be successful at. Because a loving universe would not make anyone suffer in order to express itself. When we give up the idea of “my” purpose, we can start to live the trifecta of doing what we enjoy, what we’re good at, and serving the world—rather than constantly thinking about it. Then we know, at all times, that we are living our life with purpose. The search is over.
So, if you’re looking for a sign—maybe this is it.
Journalist | Teacher | Minister
Helen Avery is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, & Awakening Together Minister, living in New York City. This article was origially posted on Wanderlust.com where Helen is a Section Editor working on the Vitality & Wisdom channels.
"Asana. meditation, reading and writing - for me, these all are gifts that enable me to learn and practice what it means to live from my heart. They help me to remember in all moments, outside of solitude, that there is only love."