If you’ve experienced the privilege and struggle of trying to figure out your purpose, your meaning, your why, then you know that this is both a surprisingly simple and devilishly difficult question to answer.
One of the best ways to (re)discover or (re)define an answer, is to ask this question of ourselves through reflection:
When have I felt most aligned in my life with what I am doing?
In other words, when have I felt energized, excited, meaningful, purposeful, creative — a sense of deep pride in my work or life?
Then, some beautiful corollary questions:
What did it feel like?
What was I doing?
Who was I working with?
Why did it feel so aligned?
How did I create or discover this opportunity?
In answering these questions, rather than trying to answer questions like what is the meaning of life (too broad), or how can I find my purpose (too hard), it helps us anchor this question with specificity by searching through our journeys for experiences that match. As humans, we are generally quite good at pattern matching, if only we know what pattern we should be focused on looking for.
We can use what we discover about the past to look at what we’re doing now, to answer the question of why is what I’m doing now not aligned, is there something I can do to reinvigorate my excitement or do I need to make a shift? In what ways?
What’s hard about answering this question looking forward is that in the past, we have the benefit of hindsight. Thus, we must reframe our current, forward-looking answers and aspirations by saying that this is my best guess as to what will be most meaningful and purposeful for me to work on next.
What’s hard about answering this question is that each word carries so much weight. There may be deep-seated fear, trauma, narratives or pressure — peer, parental, societal, communal, cultural — that we’ve internalized about how we should answer this question.
But none-the-less, I implore you, if you do nothing else today, this week, this month, this year, I implore you to ask yourself these questions, and to give yourself permission to answer for yourself.
e e cummings has a beautiful perspective on just what makes this so hard but why it’s so worth it (that I found thanks to Maria Popova of BrainPickings). I printed and posted this quote on my wall in 2017 (which if you know me, is a very atypical thing for me). It inspired me to have the same weekly intentions for 26 weeks (or 6 months) straight, to not let fear of failure or fear or rejection stop me from being authentically true to myself. And writing this post today help me remind myself how lucky, dismal and wonderful it is to recommit to striving to do so once more.
If you choose to answer this question and feel comfortable sharing your experiences, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to do so in the comments or via Twitter @davidthefu.