The word purpose is defined in the dictionary as: “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” When it comes to humanity, we can say that our purpose is the reason we exist. Has there ever been a period of your life where you felt a tremendous sense of meaning and happiness in your existence? One of the most common traits that happy people across the world share is a sense of purpose. They believe that there is a reason for their being, something they are good at that brings value to the world. When they wake up in the morning, they are excited about whatever it is they are going to do that day, something Steve Jobs urged us to be mindful of “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Purpose is our reason for being. Purpose is what brings joy and meaning to our lives, and purpose is where we find our how and what we will contribute to make the world a better place.
As you might expect, if purpose adds happiness to our life, not having a purpose leads to unhappiness and depression. I can remember a couple of the most depressing periods of my life, and while I may not have realized it at the time, a large part of the reason was that I lacked purpose. One such time was immediately after college graduation. Until that point my purpose was to get an education and make good grades. Admittedly I was not great at that purpose, it would take years before the quality of my education would eventually be revealed to me, though it never was manifested in great grades. After college, I had no purpose. I took months to get a job and at 22 I was still uncertain what my true passions were. In short, I had no purpose in my being. Eventually I find work but it was just a job, a way of paying bills. It definitely wasn’t a calling, a passion, and it certainly didn’t help me fulfill my purpose. It was a subrogation law firm. For those of you unfamiliar, a subrogation firm essentially works for insurance companies and gets their members to reimburse their health plan if they end up receiving a settlement from an at fault party. In short, it was a reverse Robin Hood, we took from the poor and gave to the already rich insurance companies. It was awful, and I was miserable. Surely my purpose was not merely to help the rich get richer.
In finding our purpose we need to have experiences, and we need to think introspectively, identifying our passions and our skills. Your purpose is probably not going to be something for which you have absolutely zero skills. Skills can be acquired and improved through consistent effort and discipline, but we need to be realistic and realize that with we may never have certain skills. Your purpose also needs to fall in line with your passions. What do you like, what makes you happy, what lights up your mind? In identifying a purpose, we find an avenue towards which we intend to pour a great deal of time and effort, a process that will at many times be a great struggle, a struggle through which we endure because it is meaningful to us. Your purpose should allow you to follow your passions because the idea of spending hours and hours dedicated to a purpose that doesn’t spark your passion is a miserable existence.
Two of my closest friends in college were history majors like myself and they both wanted to attend law school. For them, this was something that they were very passionate about, and thus they were able to happily and successfully complete all of the necessary coursework, reading, and internships necessary to get a Law degree and pass the bar. Not being yet aware of my purpose, and being afraid of the vulnerability to search for a path of my own, I followed in their footsteps, which brought me to the aforementioned job. Realizing I was depressed and downtrodden didn’t take long and I quickly began to think introspectively. I thought, if I have to spend 50-60 hours a week doing something, what would I want to do? This led me to an honest assessment of my passions as well as my skills. I loved sports and exercise but was an average at best athlete. While my skills wouldn’t allow me to be a professional athlete, I could work with athletes in some capacity. Thus, I enrolled in a Sports Medicine program where I became a certified trainer and exercise physiologist. I spent the next several years working with professional, collegiate, and high-school athletes across multiple sports, as well as working with the general population. I had found my purpose. The work was tough and the hours were grueling but I had found it. I didn’t care that I had to wake up at 5am because I loved that I was going to get to go help people become more fit, get better at a sport, improve their body image and so forth. I got to stand up and move all day while many people had to be stuck at a desk in a cube. This is a perfect example of purpose. I had discovered the perfect intersection, for myself, of skill and passion. Think deeply about what your own passions are, and what you are good at. For all of us, our purpose is going to be as unique as we are.
Keep in mind that your purpose will change over time. As a young person our purpose will likely be in finding a career that adds stability to our lives, but also gives us the ability to create something, to connect with others, or to bring value to the world. As we get older our purpose may shift towards raising and caring for a family. We find purpose in caring for those we love and watching them grow and develop. The focus will change, but the core of purpose for all of us is similar. At the core, we see that a true and meaningful purpose involves something for the greater good. Yes, we want to and we need to take care of our own needs, but those of us who are the most successful tend to have more altruistic objectives when we set out. Steve Jobs didn’t set out to be rich, he set out to create a beautiful and artistic user interface that became the core of Apple. Elon Musk hasn’t set out to become the wealthiest man in the world, he set out to pursue his passion of science and to use that science to help improve people’s lives.
For myself, while working as a trainer was still a passion, it was no longer my purpose. My focus shifted more internally, wanting to take more time to develop and grow myself. I still share the values I had then, values such as helping others, but I wanted more personal development. As such, I was lucky enough to find work that is stimulating and challenging, but gives me more free time to read, write, and focus on my own health. The fact that it is loosely connected towards improving the healthcare system is an added bonus. I no longer enjoy witnessing the direct impact of my work in helping someone shed 20 pounds, score the game-winning goal, or just smile more, but it is nice to know that although I no longer see the tangible results, my work still helps. Now I believe that my purpose is in my writing, in things like this blog, which I hope brings happiness and joy to those who read it. My hope is that you will read this and take the time to focus on your purpose. This is something that takes time. Get out in the world, try new things, meet new people, follow your passions. You will know when you have found what you are looking for.