Dear Teressa: How Do I Distinguish Between My Purpose And Life’s Demands?
With many demanding priorities, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one’s real purpose from the demands of life. Even with great desire to know and understand my purpose, it feels as though I am desperately seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack.
The tug of war you captured is so familiar. We want our lives to be significant and meaningful, our purpose fulfilled. At the same time, we need to manage the demands of a challenging career, pay the bills, do the laundry, get the kids to soccer, help Mom and Dad, support a friend in crisis, cook dinner and clean the house.
Here are three suggestions for understanding your purpose and using that purpose it to guide you every day.
1. On the most practical level, take a hard look at every item on your calendar and to do list. Make sure each activity is a wise use of your time and energy. Ask yourself:
- Is this a necessary/must do activity?
- Am I doing this based on a conscious choice? Or, am I operating out of habit or a desire to please others?
- Could someone else do this instead of me?
When we step back and make an objective assessment, sometimes we realize there are things we can respectfully let go of because they’re not essential to wellbeing or effectiveness – our own or that of others. In fact, sometimes we impede the development of others – children, partners, employees – by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.
2. The belief that the daily demands of life and our sense of purpose are two separate things is one of the LIES – Labels, Illusions, Excuses and Stories – that limit. The perception of disconnection between our purpose and practical tasks is an illusion. Both, our sense of calling and the demands of daily life, are very real and important. We serve ourselves best when we reconnect and recouple our sense of purpose with the practical, ordinary details of life.
Purpose is who you are, not merely something you do or accomplish. Purpose is a way of being, no matter what you’re doing. Your purpose – those qualities that make you uniquely who you are – can be called upon and expressed anywhere. The mundane stuff of life provides an opportunity to practice being your purpose, no matter what task you’re performing.
For example if your purpose is to be an educator. You can teach in any number of contexts, ranging from the classroom to the meeting room to coaching to mentoring and more. If your purpose is to be an authentic communicator, you can fulfill your purpose in any interaction. If your purpose is to bring compassion to the world, you can practice being compassionate, even when you’re in line at the grocery store, or listening to a colleague complain. If you’re a problem-solver or visionary, you can find ways to express these gifts, as well.
One of my clients has the job title Vice President, Organization Development, but her identity is “Artist.” She says, “I have to express my creativity because artist is who I am.” Art, and its associated beauty, is what she loves. Every day, she makes space to fulfill her calling and her role in the workplace. She incorporates the qualities of “artist” into everything she does, from the design of strategic change initiatives and presentation materials, to the way she dresses and decorates her office.
Throughout your life, your purpose has made itself evident through your innate gifts, talents, and life-long passions and interests. My book, LIES That Limit: Uncover the Truth of Who You Really Are presents a number of stories that make this point.
3. Use the details of your life, including its pressing priorities, as an opportunity to bring your gifts and talents to bear on whatever you’re doing. Every day, make a conscious choice to do one thing that is a conscious expression of your purpose. Do something you love. Do at least one thing that allows you to connect with your passion and use your innate strengths and talents.
For a 5-step process for getting to know the “real you,” check out “How to Hear Your Own Voice Among the Many Others In Your Head.”
Jenny, knowing and expressing your purpose is your gift to yourself and everyone whose life you touch. Make conscious choices about how you use your time and energy. Then, allow your gifts and talents to shape the way you engage with every aspect of your life – details and all. You’re bound to find that needle in your haystack and feel happier, healthier and more fulfilled.
On behalf of the Spirit of Purpose Community, I appreciate your gift of your question.