The infamous middle-aged crisis is perhaps our realization that time is running out and if we ever want to be happy on our own terms, radical change is in order. Having a possibly vague intuition that this cannot be all there is, we seek that missing something that will allow us to feel we leave this life having accomplished something of meaning and value. Next stop, soul’s purpose seminar. All of the tools available to help you discover your purpose are admirable in their intent and often in their execution. They are, however, quite probably unnecessary.
What saddens me is that the answer you seek is right there with you all the time. Like that poor, sad man waiting on his roof, many of us wait for the Universe to put a billboard on Sunsent Bld. Telling us what we are meant to do. Yes, I know that you’ve heard time and again that the answers are within you. I also know that you believe you can’t find them. You spend hours and days writing in your journal, agonizing over uncovering the Great and Divine Undertaking that is surely your life’s mission. Maybe your purpose is a great and divine undertaking. Maybe you are here to discover a cure for cancer, or a way to end war, famine, or television commercials. It may also be true that the little nudge inside is something you ignore because what it tells you doesn’t seem big enough, noble enough, important enough, to devote your life to.
Not everyone is here to cure cancer. Some of us are here to create beautiful art that lifts the spirits of cancer patients. Some of us are here to write and deliver jokes that give cancer patients a much-needed laugh. Some of us are here to design beautiful clothing that makes cancer patients feel better while wearing it. All of this things are big enough, noble enough and important enough. Whatever you are here to do matters, because you are the only one who can do it in your unique way and without you, it would not exist.
The deceptively simple secret to discovering your purpose is this: what you want to do is what you’re meant to do. What you want to do is the voice of God speaking to you. Do you think God is bullshitting you? Do you think a benevolent Universe would create in you a desire to do something that’s crap? Do you think your unique and innate talents, viewpoint and voice are to be devalued because you believe the things that come naturally and easily to you must also be natural and easy for everyone? Do you think your Great and Divine Undertaking must be difficult and unpleasant to count? Damn those Puritans, anyway.
A greatly wise friend of mine once told me that the purpose of life is to enjoy it. It sounds trivial and flippant, but on further examination, not so much. I hear people say that work is not supposed to be fun. Contributing to the world is serious stuff. If it isn’t hard, exhausting and disagreeable, it can’t possibly be worthy. Is that when you do your best work? When you are tired and miserable? Do your most noteworthy accomplishments come about because you, or someone else, forced you to painfully squeeze it out? Or are those the only times you think you must have done something important, because otherwise it would not have been such a torturous experience?
My father has had a long and fruitful love affair with the ocean, particularly as experienced from a sailboat. This love had led him to many places and adventures he might not otherwise have known. He was an extra, as a rower, in the movie Amistad. He was on the winning team in a rowing competition in Russia. He’s in the Coast Guard. He has come close to death at least once that I know of, in a storm that so terrified my brother, John, that John feels queasy just being in the town offshore from which the ordeal took place. I think that some of these adventures led my father to both a respect for nature and a deeper appreciation of being alive, including an enhanced ability to savor the moment. Sailing is something people do for fun and relaxation, and so may be devalued as frivolous by some. Yet the benefits of participating in something he loves are neither frivolous nor of little value. I expect the same can be said for any of us, with any of the things we love.
There are stories of people who turned their greatest supposed defects into their greatest triumphs. I’ll use the ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey as a well-known example. Oprah loves to talk to people and she has an abundance of empathy. In the newscaster world, tearing up whilst reporting the news is not considered advantageous. Damn, girl, just say what happened. Don’t be crying over other people’s pain, or trying to hug victims of tragedies or shit like that! This is the news, not a gathering of your dearest friends.
Criticized for, heaven forbid, feeling something and sympathizing with other peoples’ pain, Oprah took her show on the road, so to speak, and became the Empress of the Universe she is today with her fabulous empathy. Her curiosity about others, empathy, warmth and love of exploring our inner lives aren’t character faults. They were the right thing in the wrong place. Put in the right place, not only has she turned them into shining virtues, not only has she made herself one of the most wealthy and influential persons on the planet, but she has also helped countless people in many ways. If she had listened to her critics early on, she might have ended up just another talking head or disappeared from the public eye altogether. (Yes, I am a huge fan of Oprah’s. Don’t like it? Too bad.)
The point I am long-windedly trying to make is, you are uniquely yourself for a reason. Whether you believe it’s because God made you that way, it’s in your genes or you are the product of your environment, you are the only you there is. Your talents, perspective, abilities, interests and dreams are not random crap. They are tools to be used in the service of your specific and joyful purpose. What you love is what you were made for.