Word From our Coach – Finding Meaning & Purpose
In my younger years I searched long and hard to find the answer to the perplexing question. Feeling sure that there must be an answer out there somewhere. In frustration I wanted to give up the search for the ultimate answer. No angels appeared in the night giving me a definitive answer, no messages were written in the clouds for me to read, and no wise old man with long white hair had stopped me in the street to whisper in my ear.
Ok, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there was a sense that there was an answer to the question, somewhere ‘out there’ if I was truly committed to the search.
It was one bright day that I found myself filled with delicious joy. And I wondered if this feeling was my purpose. It was in that moment that I realised that my unique personal meaning is in the things I feel strongly about, whether the strength of the feeling is in the pull toward something, or in the power of the push away from that. No one feels just the way I do; we each have our own way of experiencing life. I came to realise that we each give unique meaning, or value and significance to every experience we have. Our own unique response to life.
By acknowledging the feelings, purpose can then be defined as the unique response to the feeling.
Now wondering whether these insights had any value, I decided to ask a man who I admired. His life seemed full of challenges, yet he lived with such kindness and joy. I asked him if purpose in life could be as simple as being aware of all strong feelings, good or bad, and then asking the question, ‘What goodness can I do with this feeling?’ All he did was smile and hug me.
Over time I found that my purpose evolved as I had more diverse responses to the new things I was learning and been exposed to. Slowly I also learned to differentiate between enduring meaning and fickle meaning. Fickle meaning seemed to be related to things that I had explosive responses to; like a real drama queen. These feelings would soon die down and fade away. I found that my enduring meaning always seemed to involve connections with people and living things where growth and development was involved. I was excited by the sense that this was my unique response, my unique purpose. A personal unique purpose we can all discover for ourselves.
It is possible to get caught in the trap of thinking that the things you do well must be your purpose in life. Finding enduring meaning tends to be different from the things you do well. Often in life we will have developed skills and competencies and then experience a quality of pleasure from been able to perform well in these arenas. So the pleasure comes from doing a job well. Now this is different from the joy experienced in doing something that is driven from an emotion deep within yourself. The trick is to do the things you are good at and weave into that doing your personal meaning and purpose.
A friend of mine was a dentist’s receptionist. Working while studying to be a specialist teacher to work with children with learning difficulties. I had heard the dentist rave about her excellent skills at organising the schedule, keeping the accounts in order and the general good running of the practice. Yet it was her quality of interaction with the patients that intrigued me. Usually dentist reception rooms are deathly quiet but in this reception there was always a low hum of conversation and often outbursts of laughter. The children were relaxed and playful. I began to realise that for her the most important thing about being a dental receptionist was to alleviate the patient’s fear of the dentist. Later when she became a teacher she followed through with this purpose in life by alleviating the fear parents often experienced about their children and the child’s complicated fears of not been good enough. Through her previous life experiences she had experience and witnessed people been emotionally crippled by fear. It became so meaningful to her to see people liberated from their fears that that function became her life purpose. I treasure her friendship as she has helped me overcome many of my own fears.
Over the next few days pay attention to any situation where you feel your emotions rising. It would be good to jot them down in a notebook. Then choose a time when you can have an hour or so to yourself, pull out the list and explore what it was about each item on your list that got you so stirred up. Maybe it was the excitement of seeing something of beauty been created. Maybe it was a gesture of kindness and compassion. Maybe it was a specific quality of leadership been offered. Or maybe it was a tasty meal been prepared, or a stunning performance by your favourite band. Try and drill down to the real thing that touched you. Just like my friend, it was not being an exceptional receptionist/teacher that got to her, but rather the opportunity of easing the burden of fear while carrying out the tasks of her job.
Once you feel that you have got the trigger for the strong emotion, see whether you can convert it into an action or a ‘doing-ness’ so that the deep meaning can be turned into a purposeful action in all the everyday things you do.
Living a life with heart; filled with meaning and purpose. If you feeling demotivate and lacking in an experience of having meaning and purpose in your life you can talk to someone confidentially. Please call our helpline to set up a free session with one of our skilled counsellors on 08002BWELL (0800229355)
Listen to Mary Oliver reading her poem: