Here’s Why You Keep On Resisting Your Life Purpose
Get Crystal Clarity About Passion and Purpose
Who you believe you are, how you relate to others, and how you engage with the world around you is directly aligned with your purpose.
Yet you have many purposes that change throughout your life.
As a child, fun, exploration, and learning are dominant purposes.
In your late teens and early twenties, finding your niche or study or work, building your social identity, and discovering your peers are all essential purposes.
In adult life, family, career, status, and success are essential purposes.
While all of your purposes make for a full life, they may, or may not connect to your life purpose.
While everybody has a life purpose, many people remain unconscious of it throughout their entire lives.
The danger of being unconscious of your life purpose is that you may confuse it with your worldly goals, such as career, making money, and being successful.
In the confusion, you may try to force your life purpose into an inappropriate form.
Here are four steps to getting clarity.
1. Life purpose is the continuum that underpins and stabilizes the fluctuations of your personality and circumstances.
“Purpose is a soft virtue — but it’s what gives you steel in your spine.”
— Rich Karlgaard
Rather than the transient purposes that shift according to your age and circumstances, life purpose is unchanging.
It’s the unchanging part of you and the reason for your existence.
Every person on the planet has a life purpose.
The French call it, Raison d’être, “reason for being”.
The Japanese call it Ikigai, “reason for living; meaning for life; what makes life worth living”.
Dharma “right way of living” and “path of rightness’ is the conventional explanation of life purpose in Hindu culture and yoga philosophy. Dharma means “to support, hold, or bear.” Dharma is the regulator of change and the principle which remains constant while change occurs; but dharma itself does not change.
In Daoist philosophy, life purpose is The Way which sets Nature and the Cosmos into order out of chaos. The Way creates stability and order in the turmoil of the change.
Life purpose in these terms is the foundation of your life. It’s the cohesion of your existence, your essence, and your spine — that which animates and holds you upright in the world.
2. Life purpose is not passion though passion may fuel your life purpose.
“There’s a reason that the ancients used to warn against the passions. In fact, the Stoics thought that the passions were a form of suffering.”
— Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy
Your primal passions are your instinct to survive, procreate and experience life’s pleasures. These manifest your desires for food, sex, and the good things of life.
Much of your life will revolve around these drives, and it’s vital to acknowledge and not suppress them. You need to fulfil them in healthy ways.
Passion drives emotion, not purpose and not life purpose. And while the expression of passion could be somebody’s life purpose, it’s not everybody's purpose.
“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
Today, we use the terms passion, purpose and life purpose interchangeably. Confusion of terms confuses thought.
Advice to live your passion, purpose or life purpose is pitched at you in this confusing language by friends, authors, celebrities, and meme makers.
The popular meaning is that passion, purpose and life purpose are emotionally based. The popular advice is that your most powerful emotions should be the guiding star that manifests your clear path forward.
This advice is wonderfully affirming to the insatiably desirous ego, and yet as you step into your emotional path you quickly hit a blockage. Confusion abounds and it feels as though you’ve failed, again.
You are right to be confused. Your confusion is your sanity alarm going off, slamming on the brakes of intelligence, bringing you to a standstill.
Don’t kick yourself. Pat yourself on the back and be happy for the saving grace of confusion. Messed up language doesn’t make sense to you. Great! You’re smarter and wiser than you think.
Let’s get some calm, sanity happening, and stay still for a moment. And let’s hitch a ride on my good friend Riley’s story.
From Foodie to Sailor — Riley’s Story (by permission)
Riley was a highly passionate “foodie” for about four years.
He loved to bake special breads, to cure his own meats, and concoct unusual combinations of pickled vegetables, infused herbal oils, and exotic flower waters.
Like a master chef, he hosted exquisite dinner parties and especially loved having supertasters like me around to take extra delight in his creations.
Riley learned everything about the chemistry of food, and almost started a business with a colleague who wanted to bankroll his considerable talents.
The business would free Riley from his day job as a data analyst and allow him to pursue his passion full time.
But just as the pair started to firm up business plans, Riley’s interest began to wane. Although he was passionate about food, he wasn’t sure that it made good business sense. He couldn’t see himself out there “spruiking pickles” at markets and trade shows, and he didn’t want to leave that task to someone else. He just didn’t.
Riley also knew that he had too many other things he wanted to experience — too many other passions.
He called the deal off.
One year on, Riley’s passion is sailing.
In a recent discussion we had (for this article), Riley initially said that he prefers just to live, to follow his interests and see what happens.
“I honestly don’t have a life purpose,” he assured me.
We reflected on his changing passions.
I remarked on how, even though he’s new to sailing, he has been warmly welcomed, and rapidly become an invaluable asset to the crew.
Riley then revealed that he is now the protege of a soon to retire pro sailor who is keen to impart his knowledge to Riley because he reminds him of himself — “a team player who gives one hundred and ten percent”.
I remembered how when Riley cooked; he didn’t just cook, he created tastes that bordered on the sublime.
He reflected on his school and university days, and a theme began to emerge, or rather, to be recognized.
Riley always gives his absolute best, no matter what he does. His passions themselves don’t matter that much, but something else does.
“What could that something be?” I pressed him to answer.
Suddenly he lit up, ” That’s it. That’s what I do; I don’t cook or sail, I do experiences. Heightened experiences.”
Then he lit up even more, “But what I love to do, is to support other people enjoying the best possible heightened experiences. That’s totally why I’m on the planet, totally.” he said in a committed voice.
“Wow,” he laughed. “I do have a life purpose.”
Then he said thoughtfully, “If only I could find a way to bottle it! But, I won’t be waiting around for my ‘big break’.” He laughed again like he’s no fool. And Riley sure isn’t.
Lessons from Riley’s story.
“Be suspicious of what you want.”
- Passions are multifarious and ever-changing. They come and go with your transient needs, moods, fascinations, and curiosities. Asking that your passion become your life purpose is not only unhelpful, it also may restrict your life experience.
- Passion lacks intelligence. You inherited a mind capable of intelligence, logic, and vision so that you can temper and refine your passions, and position them in service to your aspirations.
- Passion is the vehicle, not the destination. Think of your passions as your compass more than your endgame, then you’ll begin to feel calmer, less hurried, and less desperate.
- Hold off trying to “bottle” your life purpose into a form that doesn’t appeal to your rational mind. Think through the commitment required to make it enduring and successful.
3. Life purpose is easily derailed through cultural, social, and familial conditioning.
“Nature spews the lukewarm from her mouth.”
— Old saying, Anonymous
Nature is merciless when it comes to the “lukewarm”.
Like Nature herself, your nature is to strive beyond lukewarm, above mediocrity, toward something you know in your heart and mind is meaningful and vital.
The problem is that you’re not as merciless as Nature when it comes to eliminating the lukewarm.
It’s deceptively easy to be swept up by values and ideals that belong to your culture, society and your family, but which are not yours.
Of course, you need to fulfil your purposes to survive, succeed, and to fit into culture, society, and family — to play the game.
But you also need to get crystal clear on the differences between the purposes you share, and the purpose that comes from the heart of your existence — your Raison d'etre.
“It is better to do thine own duty, however lacking in merit, than to do that of another, even though efficiently. It is better to die doing one’s own duty, for to do the duty of another is fraught with danger.”
— Bhagavad Gita
Are you still concerned that your father won’t approve of your music unless you hit the big time?
Do you change what you want to express because your peers will shun you once they know what you believe?
Are you ready to spend the next 20 years rearing children only because that’s what everyone else in your circle is doing?
Should you give up being an artist and get a real job because all your friends are doing the same?
Will you forgo your dream to fulfil a family tradition?
Her Father’s Shoes — Eleni’s Story (by permission)
My client, Eleni, an elegant Greek 33-year-old, was the managing director of her father’s company. She was being groomed to become the CEO in five years, at which point her father would retire.
A jet-setting, confident dealmaker, she was keen for us to get straight down to business in our first session. She wanted me to “get rid of the nightmares” so disturbing that she feared sleep.
I soon learned that Eleni had neglected her health, and her husband. Illness and divorce loomed.
In passing, Eleni mentioned how she would occasionally volunteer at events to support her intellectually impaired brother, how she always enjoyed the work and the people.
On the other hand, she did not enjoy the work or the people in her father’s company, yet there were too many positives — a secure future and great respect from the Greek community for her to worry about that.
Eleni’s nightmares varied, but in essence, they all revealed that she was carrying an unbearable load that was chipping away at her spirit.
Though outwardly proud, the pressure to fill her father’s shoes was immense. Her brother was “a terrible blow” to their father’s dream of the firstborn male maintaining his legacy.
Eleni never questioned her father’s harsh disappointment in and disapproval of her brother, whom she “loved dearly for who he was”. She was the apple of her father’s eye and her brother’s saving grace.
Her brother was cognizant enough to know he was the tragedy of his father’s life, and that his mother was ashamed for “bearing an imperfect child.”
While Eleni knew this, she couldn’t recognize the powerful impact that it had on the psyche of the whole family. In fact, the disappointment and shame had unconsciously become hers and she was fated to spend the rest of her life making up for it.
Gradually and reluctantly Eleni began to see that she did not share her father’s values, respect his wishes, and (especially) sympathize with his disappointment in her brother. In fact, the whole situation filled her with grief.
Eventually, she could see that by not questioning her tradition (embodied in her father), she unconsciously succumbed to his demands for her to compensate for his cruel disappointment and her mother’s shame.
“Freedom is what we do with what is done to us.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre
These realizations threatened her identity and her livelihood, but since the nightmares began to subside and her health improved, she trusted she was on the right path.
It took one year for Eleni to leave her father’s corporation. And it wasn’t easy to withstand his angry demands and sorrowful pleading. The day she left the company, her father stopped speaking to her.
She had to re-organize her finances, restructure her life, but mostly she had to accept a different identity outside the family business and the Greek community.
Through further sessions, Eleni realized that she was more than a businesswoman, she was a compassionate educator whose greatest delight was to assist people suffering from the same issues as her brother.
Another year on, she started her own learning center for the intellectually challenged, in partnership with her brother.
Instead of nightmares, she now has big dreams for people like her brother to not only have functional lives but to be proud of who they are.
When she wrote a letter to her father telling him her life purpose and her mission, he called her right away, weeping. He now supports her learning center.
Eleni is blessed to have this happy ending. Not everyone is so lucky to have parents forgive them for abandoning their wishes and traditions.
Lessons from Eleni’s Story
“Let your heart break. It will change what you do with your optimism.”
– Melinda Gates
- Look at where your heartfelt commitment lies. What joy you want to bring to others and how you want to help them to stand up and succeed in the world.
- Don’t forget to look at your dreams and your nightmares, those you experience while both waking and sleeping. They are directing you all the time.
- Consciously examine the values of your culture, peers, and family. If they are not your values, but the pressure for you to live by them is too much, you may need to separate, come what may.
- Be aware of the seductions of money and status. They can be very powerful distractions from your life purpose.
- Attend to all the lukewarm — the mediocrity and hypocrisy that you unconsciously accept. It can easily stop you from making a difference in your own life and in the lives of others who need your gift.
4. Your Life Purpose Is Not Your Ego.
“Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like… It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task.”
– Paul Graham, How To Do What You Love
Ego is fragile and ever-hungry for validation. Prestige feeds the ego.
It takes a depth of self-knowledge, self-possession, intelligence, and maturity to resist the magnetic campaigns that are continually broadcasting to your ego, such as, “you should be rich, famous and beautiful”.
These ego feeding campaigns seep into your waking and dreaming consciousness, and like seductive sirens to the seafarer, they steer you far from your path.
The majority of people never become aware of their life purpose because they are too busy trying to become products of their ego.
Bedazzled by all the shiny things, they lack the interest to access their inner life which is far more individualistic than their worldly life, and which is the key to connecting with their life purpose.
The irony is that they will never stand out for more than their “15 minutes” once they get fulfil their popular egoic pursuits because too many replicas are vying for the same thing.
While your ego helps you to establish yourself in the world, it’s the enemy of life purpose because usually a life purpose lacks glamor.
Egoic Life Purpose — Audrey’s Story (by permission)
My client Audrey, a 35-year-old financial advisor, loved helping startups get off the ground, and she often worked for free.
Her confidence shattered when her fiance of two years left her for another woman who he’d been dating for the duration of their engagement. The woman was a celebrated artist.
Three months post-breakup, Audrey fell for a successful entrepreneur who was seven years younger than her. She described him as having “L’uomo Vogue looks and cool,” and was amazed he even dated her, let alone began to call her his girlfriend soon into dating.
High on the romance, Audrey began to think that financial management held too little glamor for her. She knew she had a creative talent with design and fashion and she felt compelled to make her mark.
She hired a Creative Advisor who got her in touch with her passion. They worked on her passion for design and fashion, and Audrey affirmed that this was her real purpose in life, to be creative.
Deciding to “go in big”, she invested 80% of savings into the business. She hired three staff and a design workroom.
Six months into the business Audrey discovered that the whole thing was a mistake. She didn’t enjoy the work or the fashion industry.
Audrey spent the next 18 months trying to exit the business with minimal collateral damage but finally sold at a loss.
The whole process was a financial disaster that took a huge emotional and psychological toll. The relationship suffered, and the couple parted ways. It was at this point that our sessions began.
Audrey became so fearful of her passions that she locked herself into a purely rational approach to living, which was appropriate to lever her out of her financial mess, but inappropriate to live her life this way.
As Audrey began to develop her inner life, she discovered a deeper desire that sat below her passion and her ego. She loves to assist others in the initiation and follow through of projects. She has always done this through paid and free financial advice .
While Audrey believes her business mistake helped her to help others, the toll was almost too much. Therapy has helped her gain clarity and get back on track.
She says, “My ego certainly distorted my purpose. My life purpose has always been with me— the thing I loved doing and even occasionally did for free. In my honest heart, I knew it but I never spent time looking there until now. Now that my vision is clear I can branch out in the right direction.”
Audrey has begun to teach kids at high school the financial nitty-gritty of startups, and about clarity of purpose. She loves it.
Lessons from Audrey’s Story
- Ego loves prestige and glamor. When it comes to life purpose, your ego is the most significant enemy to overcome.
- Trying to rebalance lost confidence and self-esteem through egoic pursuits can send you on a long and dangerous journey away from yourself.
- We are not all resilient risk takers. “Just do it” is appropriate for some, but not for everyone.
- It’s possible that you are already expressing your life purpose through your existing activities. It might be just a fraction of the work you are doing — look for the signs of wanting to do it anyway, to give your services for free.
- You may have to venture out far from your life purpose and explore something very different to it before you can fully recognize and accept it. Be cautious about investing everything into a new direction.
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”
– Joseph Campbell
Distrust your passions when it comes to life purpose. They are vehicles, not destinations.
Only you know what your life purpose is and how it differs from what your parents, peers, and culture want it to be. Be dispassionate in seeing and acting on the differences.
Read the themes and threads that stir your deepest heart (the place where your spirit and higher mind lives). If you can’t see the theme, work on your inner life, as this will enable your inner-vision.
Theme and form are not the same. To make your life purpose into a specific form is no easy task. Don’t force and fool yourself. You will need to employ deep heart, your rational mind, your willingness to commit, right timing, and proper conditions.
In the meantime live your life purpose anyway. Don’t await the perfect form. You may not be able to make your life purpose your job, but you can use your job to support your life purpose.
You’ve already won your place on planet earth. You arrived from who knows where; a god, stardust… it doesn’t matter.
The fact is, that you’re here, now, with life-force filling your body, mind, and heart, propelling you to express your deep, abiding self, your inner beauty, and your unique gifts.
Commit to expressing yourself. Trust and have faith in your existence and your whole life will add up to a life purpose much bigger than you.