For years, I lived on autopilot. I ate, breathed, shopped, studied–and generally went through life–without knowing why. I made decisions based on how I felt at the time.
Still, the deeper questions of life haunted me. “Why am I here?” I wondered. “Who am I? Where do I want to go? And how can I get there?”
I sat in coffee shops, perused bookstores, read widely, and even attended university, but the answers continued to elude me.
Yet, inside, was the hope that one day I would know.
A statement for purpose
In pursuit of meaning, I found myself in good company. “The search for the purpose of life is one of the deepest of our experiences as human beings,” says Os Guinness in The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life.
For thousands of years, the most brilliant minds–and also the simplest–have stumbled over this question.
“Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves,” Guinness adds. “For each of us the real purpose is personal and passionate: to know what we are to do and why.”
A turning point came in my search when I realized that at the end of my life, I would not be asked, “Why were you not Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela or Princess Diana?” But instead, “Why were you not Idelette?”
What is it, this life purpose?
Since each person is unique, from DNA to fingerprints, it’s reasonable to believe that each of us also has a purpose, a reason for being, that is uniquely personal.
Danish thinker Søren Kierkegaard wrote in his Journal: “The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wants me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live or die.”
Purpose doesn’t necessarily involve grand ideas or revolutionary inventions. Instead, it often springs from a commitment to be faithful in even the most undervalued tasks.
“Leaders who met at the recent State of the World Forum determined that the most important jobs in the world are parenting, teaching and healing,” writes Laurie Beth Jones in The Path. “If you are parenting, teaching or healing others, consider your mission among the most important in the world.” Knowing and fulfilling your life purpose brings you to a place of enthusiasm and excitement. It is the best place for you to be.
But how do you get there?
Know who you are
“Begin with the heart, for the spring of life arises from the heart,” reminds Meister Eckhart. Your purpose is the essence of who you are. It is the reason you are alive. To know your purpose, you first have to know who you are.
Don’t let culture, background, wealth, talents or intelligence limit you in your search for purpose. Rather, look at these as clues to why you were born in such a place and at a such a time.
I was 12 years old when I first said I wanted to be a journalist. I loved word games–Scrabble, Boggle, crossword puzzles. And I loved reading magazines.
For my 17th birthday, my best friend gave me a book about launching into the British publishing industry. Although it had little practical value to me at the time, this gift expressed her confidence in my ability to fulfill my dream. I chose to believe her and hid that vote of confidence in my heart for the times I would need encouragement along the way.
As soon as I found my seat behind a computer in the newsroom, something inside me clicked. I knew, for the first time in my life, I was doing what I was meant to do. Best of all, I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do it!
Clues from my past, and the fulfillment I experienced in my job, helped take me one step further. I wanted to find a golden thread to tie my life together.
On the path
To develop a personal mission statement, I took a workshop led by Laurie Beth Jones, based on her bestseller, The Path. After three days of soul-searching, I boldly stood in front of the room of my fellow Path facilitator trainees and said, “My mission statement is to embrace and communicate good news.”
It felt so good. In one simple sentence I could tell the world what I was really about. This statement covered my personal life, my work life, my social life and my spiritual life.
In fact, by the end of day three, each participant had a short, succinct, powerful and inspiring mission statement in hand. Not only were they written down on paper, but they were also imprinted on our hearts.
Catching a glimpse of the bigger picture, I suddenly understood that my job at the newspaper was more than a job, or even a career. It was part of fulfilling my life purpose. I injected good news into the paper. I pursued stories about people who made a difference in their communities and in the world. And I shared these stories with readers, hoping to create in them, too, a readiness to follow their hearts and their dreams. And to take action.
Now where do you want to go?
As I lived with my mission statement, I knew it worked. It inspired me. I understood the bigger picture, but I realized I also needed more concrete goals. I wanted to know where I was going. It was time for vision.
“While the mission statement is centered around the process of what you need to be doing, a vision statement is the end result of what you will have done,” says Laurie Beth Jones. “All significant changes and inventions begin with vision.”
During a time of deliberate solitude on Borocay Island in the Philippines, I wrote down my vision statement. “Imagine a world in which everything is possible,” I told myself. After three days, what I came up with was a picture of my ideal. It covered all aspects of my life and included many details and some challenges. With my vision statement in hand, I had a much clearer picture of where my path was heading.
I soon realized the most important part, and yet also the most difficult part of fulfilling a life purpose is actually doing it.
“On this day, and in this time, we, too, are called upon to act,” says Jeff Walling in Daring to Dance with God. “We, too, are called to live out dreams and follow visions. Like those saints of old, we are required to make some leaps of faith…We cannot wait for certainty and the assurance that everything will work out like we would like it to. We must take risks if we are to live out our dreams.”
It is only in the realization of set dreams and goals that purpose rings true. Of course, knowing your life purpose takes time. It requires an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn. But once you know what you are meant to do, you can meet the challenge head on. Fulfilling your life purpose requires commitment and perseverance. It won’t be easy. And yet, what better hope than reaching the end of your life, and being able to say: I have lived fully. I lived, on purpose.