Full disclosure: I’ve always hated the question “What is your purpose?”
What is the purpose of a tree? Of a cow? Or an octopus?
It always felt to me like the setup to feeling shitty about myself. If I don’t have an answer to the question, then my life is doomed to meaninglessness. And if I get it wrong, then I’m trapped in a groundhog nightmare of a life that doesn’t fit me.
How embarrassing!! Especially since everyone out there is shouting at you to “find your purpose!” and “follow your passion!”
I’m not sure there is actually a capital P-Purpose per se to anyone’s life.
Well, the Dalai Lama maybe.
Sure, some people live very purposeful lives. There are people who choose professions that come with built-in purposes. And there are those who feel “called” to do or be something.
Unlike us, they don’t lay awake at 4 am wondering what their purpose is and how to find out.
Purpose might be more like something we discover in retrospect, when we look back on our lives. Or there are the Grand Swaths of Purpose – like “The purpose of humanity is for the universe to experience self-awareness”.
But that’s not necessarily very helpful in answering the question, is it?
That’s partly good news.
If there is no explicit written-in-the-stars purpose to our individual lives, then we get to pick one. We don’t have to go excavating for The Purpose, we can simply choose one that fits. We can claim one that feels right for us today.
Which means we can change our minds too. Or pick a purpose for a year. Or a season. We can try one on for size and throw it off like so much dirty laundry.
Not buying it, are you?
I get it.
Because what we’re truly trying to get by asking the question is a sense of certainty and significance. Having a purpose is like being “chosen”. And who doesn’t want to be chosen? Who doesn’t want to wake up one day and be told, “Darling, I am here to tell you that all your questions have answers and all your struggles are because YOU <your purpose>.”
Or, we can stop asking the question and just live. Like a tree. Or a cow. Or an octopus.
Or my dog Winston.
I’ve shared a stretch of life with a shepherd whose Purpose was to Protect and Serve. It was in his DNA. He patrolled the apartment at regular intervals and looked threatening on walks.
I’ve shared a stretch of life with a golden retriever whose Purpose was to Love. That was in her DNA. She followed me from room to room and settled wherever I was and moved closer during moments of heightened stress.
We caught him in the act, his face full of turmeric.
“Was it worth it?” I asked, wiping his face with a dishcloth while he wriggled.
His expression said: “YES! Welcome home by the way. What did you bring me?”
That was Winston. His life seemed to sing “I’m here for a good time, not a long time…”
I like to think Winston taught me not to get too hung up on things like finding purpose. He showed me that we all end up food for trees, so we might as well sleep well, enjoy the finer things in life and play as much as possible while we’re above ground. It may not seem especially noble, but neither was Winston. And yet he brought joy as bright as the sun.
- Maybe it’s not for us to determine what our purpose is. We don’t have to know what that is in order to live a meaningful, wholehearted life.
- Take a page from Winston’s book: Enjoy the sun. Eat good food. Play.
Photo credit: Ran