A Working Definition of Purpose
The path you must walk appears strange
This is one of my favorite quotes:
All of us are called to a place we have not been. Our lives were always intended to be journeys into the unknown. The invitation is both personal and mystical. No one else may fully understand what you are being called to. You may not even fully understand. The path you must walk may appear to others as strange or unreasonable, but you know there’s more going on than meets the eye.
I frequently remind myself of this blurb. Every few months I pick up my copy of Erwin McManus’ Soul Cravings to try and hunt for the page where this quote comes from. Just to get it right.
McManus captures what living with purpose is like. You know you’re living for something much bigger than yourself- something so big you can’t get your mind around it. It’s not an easy path, but it feels like what you were put on the earth to do.
In short, purpose means reason. The reason you were put on this Earth. Raison d’etre in French.
There’s also a Japanese concept called Ikigai, and I mostly like the way it maps out purpose.
Purpose is the crossroads of your passion, your mission, your vocation, and your profession. It’s what you find when you find what you love to do, what you do well, what you can get paid to do, and what the world needs.
Like I said, I think this is a pretty good idea, but let me round it out a bit further with some of my own markers of purpose.
Purpose happens when we become part of something bigger than ourselves
A big part of having a purposeful life comes when you realize it isn’t about you. Many people get to a point in their life when they realize that living for their own enjoyment is kind of a dead end. Meanwhile, people who are driven by something bigger than themselves can endure all sorts of hardship along the way.
I believe I was made to create things that help people create change, and I believe that this isn’t just a job or a hobby but a spiritual thing. I believe that compassion reflects God and brings us closer to him. For me, my faith helps connect my day-to-day actions with something bigger than the things I can see or understand.
Things like beauty, love, community, healing, and justice also go far beyond the confines of our own lives. I think we were all born with a soul that craves these things.
Purpose happens when we connect to other people in our world
Purpose and connection go hand in hand. If you’ve ever gone through a season of loneliness or heartbreak, you’ll easily recognize how unfulfilling life is when it’s lived in isolation. On the other hand, if you’ve ever felt like you’ve found a group of people you truly belong with, you understand how important our connection to each other really is.
It’s hard to say it any better than the Xhosa concept of ubuntu- a person is a person because of other people. Part of our purpose comes from being connected to each other. My grandma never had a professional career, spent most of her 98 years at home, and lived a fairly quiet life. But at the end of her life, she was incredibly fulfilled because of her strong personal relationships.
That said, I think we do ourselves a huge favor when we realize how connected we are to people as far as the other side of the globe, or to people we seem to have nothing in common with. I’ve seen so many of my friends come to life by committing themselves to a cause. Some of the things that fill me with the most awe are sharing a moment of joy with somebody on the complete opposite side of the world.
Purpose happens when we get to apply the passions and gifts inside of us
Ikigai does a pretty solid job at recognizing that we are born with the seeds of passions and talents. When we tend to them, they grow up with us, and that leads to the desire to excel at them and to use them to help others.
There’s also the plain fact that we also need to survive- and generally these passions and talents lead us in the direction of doing something that pays the bills! In the ideal scenario, what we’re good at, what we’re doing, and what we can get paid to do all overlap. In the real world, though, that doesn’t always happen. That’s why purpose is a pursuit!
Being able to pursue purpose is a gift, but it also takes work! A life lived purposefully is a beautiful thing. Beautiful things are hardly ever convenient.
Amazingly, I have a job and a life that serves something bigger than myself, that keeps me traveling around the world, and that makes use of my creative inclinations. And it’s also my goal to help other people do something similar. To find purpose through doing work full of wonder, connection, and joy.
Every week I share one key idea that’s helped me pursue purpose and make an impact. Whether you’re at the start of your journey or just trying to make the pieces fit together a little bit better, my goal is to help you get there. Click below to sign up for this journey.