How To Discover Your Life Purpose

and avoid letting a breakdown become your breakthrough

Credit: Pedra Lastra

It seems like there’s a growing number of people who are unsure what they really want out of life or what they are here to do. I guess it’s always been there, like some silent incendiary device, waiting to be detonated if you keep hitting the snooze button.

That existential crisis can hit at any time in life; when you’re least expecting it and it’s always uncomfortable.

You reach a point where you realise you’re no longer satisfied with the life that you’ve been living. Your job that you were once passionate about, you wonder why you’re doing it. The business, the wealth… it’s good, but there’s an emptiness inside, sometimes accompanied by feelings of guilt.

You “should” be grateful for what you have. But right now, they feel like trappings… Then you compare yourself to others ‘worse off’ than you, and put up with the discomfort of remaining in your comfort zone — goodness knows why it’s called that. And so, you distract yourself with whatever’s ‘acceptable’ alcohol, holidays, shopping or an affair.

A bit like when a kid falls and hurts their knee — distract them and, while the wound is still there, it isn’t as painful. In time, the wound heals. But you can only take the edge off that longing for so long, then it grows louder.

Deep down, you know there’s more to life… You just don’t know how to get past ‘that’ feeling — as you wistfully remember the things you were good at and used to enjoy.

If you give up everything you’ve worked for and ‘built’, what comes next? What will your life look like? How will you even get there? Will your relationships survive or become a casualty of your need to find purpose?

Perhaps, you think, it would be selfish to others in your life, if you went on a voyage of discovery?

But I found that the truth of the matter is, the discomfort continues to grow, and your life is going to crumble anyway — either externally, as it falls away, internally, like a violent implosion, or both.

Rather than go down with the ship, you may as well be proactive and jump. Instead of fearing it, the change may actually enrich the lives of those around you, as you’ve probably not been a barrel of laughs to live or work with, anyway.

My ownn life purpose was buried in the middle of a messy midlife meltdown.

You somehow know what you’re born to do and be in this world, but it gets lost along the way, confused with other people’s expectations of what they think you “should” do and be for them.

For me, the “What’s the meaning of life?” period of depression came before my 40th year.

As a child, I thought I’d get married, have lots of children and live in a rose covered cottage near a stream. I’m not sure which fairytale that came from, but clearly, there was no space for a career in that ‘stay at home mum’ vision. After the tomboy years, came the lost years (aka the ‘rave’ era), and then I settled into my career managing services and staff for deaf students in education.

My “What I want to be when I grow up,” remained hidden for decades.

Most parents want the best for their children. Most children of immigrants get conditions attached to career choices they’re ‘allowed’ to pursue. Like many African Caribbean parents who’d sacrificed a life they knew and loved, to come to the Motherland, my five siblings and I were given two respectable careers choices: doctor or lawyer. This merely muddies the waters and, though well intended, can throw you off course.

At school, when the careers advisor asked what I wanted to do, and I said a teacher, she said I’d be better off as a hairdresser. That was her perception of what would be good for me. My filters differed to hers. Little do we know at the time that those comments can become like self-fulfilling prophecies, depositing limitations where there aren’t assumptions about capacity.

The adviser had cast uncertainty on the only career I desired. I no longer knew what else I wanted to do or become, so I collected qualifications like some people collect stamps. I reckoned that if I had to account for my lack of employment history while I was waiting for my purpose to smack me square between the eyes, at least I could tell prospective interviewers that I’d been studying.

Whether you were expected to join the family business, your parents lived vicariously through you, auditioning you for beauty pageant contests, or you sought to make your parents proud, at some point, if it’s not what you are meant to do, the work will no longer satisfy you and you’ll look to supplement it, or numb the feelings somehow.

Nothing in your life happens by accident. In fact, when you look back, you see how everything has contributed to who you are today and helped you get to where you are now. A childhood visit to a psychiatric ward on Christmas Day aged 8, was where I vowed to learn how to sign. I was talking to the patients, while my mother worked her shift as a nurse, and came across a young Deaf patient.

Years later, when I started university to read English, to ‘perhaps’ become a teacher, no sooner had I walked through the entrance, there was a flyer pinned up in the foyer “Learn to Sign” at the local Deaf club. Call it coincidence, the Universe… whatever; I couldn’t miss the sign!

I was a ‘bring a friend along for support’ kind of person. A, “If you’re going, I’ll go, but if you’re not going, I won’t,” type, but I’d wanted this for so long, that I went alone. Two years into my English major degree, I changed course to Deaf Studies, which steered me on to an 18 year path working with Deaf people. A year after leaving university, I began a career in education managing student support and support staff. I set ONE goal: to become a qualified Sign Language Interpreter by the age of 30. I didn’t think to set any others, except, perhaps, the one in the pub where a gay friend and I discussed having a child together if I wasn’t married by 30. Clearly, I thought 30 was my ‘do or die’ age!

6.5 years after working in further and higher education, I left to freelance, setting up a business running an interpreting agency that was later to trap me. None of it seemed planned; all of it seemed incidental and grew from my desire to help others service providers source interpreters for their events.

Then it came…. I no longer enjoyed interpreting, which had once been my passion. I stopped interpreting and worked in the business.

Then I grew to resent the business. If you’re in this space now, you probably don’t feel appreciated; there are untapped talents within you, which leave you feeling like you can do this work standing on your head with your eyes closed and still spin plates. You’re not being stretched — or maybe you are overstretched and hurtling towards burnout?

I was in that space where I realised I’d been cruising through life and I didn’t really know what I was truly capable of achieving.

In junior school, I was usually first or second to finish my classwork. The teacher would place ‘remedial’ pupils next to me so I could help them catch up. My speed was rewarded with being slowed down; I was held back. My school teachers wrote their frustrations at me only doing enough to get by in my annual school reports. It took mindset work in my forties to discover why I stopped giving my all.

I turned to alcohol to numb the pain and desperately wanted to shut the world out by taking duvet days until the hole I’d fallen into pushed me out. Instead, I’ll wail in the woods like a banshee, as the emotional pain I’d suppressed leaked out of me and my poor labrador wore a confused expression, wondering why I wasn’t kicking his ball? Then I’d compose myself, go to work, and come home to a chilled bottle of oblivion. The banshee was, indeed, warning of death and it was that of my own carefully constructed, hardened shell.

I needed help, too afraid to see a therapist; my coping strategy had been to dissociate emotionally from the events in my life, why would I pay someone to talk about them? And what if, I couldn’t ‘stuff’ them back down again after the hour was up? I’d interpreted counselling sessions and 50 minutes in, regardless of where we were at, the last 10 minutes was containment. Making sure the person was ‘safe’. It didn’t feel satisfying, nor client-centred to me and I didn’t feel like swapping seats to become ‘the client’.

So, I went to see a psychic medium for spiritual guidance instead, but it could’ve just as easily been a coach for career guidance, had I know they existed.

Apparently, I was a healer with all the psychic gifts and a powerful woman.

I was respectful, maintaining my poker face as the psychic uttered those words, but at that point in my life, I felt so vulnerable and anything BUT the person she was portraying me to be. She was right, but it took years of denial and internal conflict to accept who I was becoming and my purpose in this lifetime.

You worry about what people will think — will they accept or reject the new version of you? Can YOU accept the new you who’s emerging? Sometimes, we need to rediscover who we truly are, without the masks we’ve worn for so long, before focusing on our purpose.

As you change — and it is going to happen, either voluntarily or by force (the universe has a way of pulling the rug from under your feet), some people will want to cling to the person they thought you were. You’ll lose friends, to create the space for new ones, and meet people who will enrich your journey (or help you to relive painful lessons you’ve yet to learn), as you move beyond stagnation into growth.

If you’re feeling like you’re standing at a crossroads in your life, struggling to find your life purpose, here’s what I share with my clients:

  • Write a list of the things that you enjoy doing.
  • Include the things you were good at at various times in your life — as a child, growing up, in your twenties, etc.
  • What comes naturally to you — do your friends come to you for advice? Are you good at drawing or photography? Do you have a knack for connecting people? Add those to the list.
  • Look at your life experiences — what have you gone through that puts you in a position to help others going through the same? What wisdom can you share?
  • What lights you up to the point where hours can seem like minutes and it doesn’t feel like work?

If there’s a pattern of things not working out in your career, it may be because they’re not meant to, but they’re nudging you closer to fulfilling your life purpose.

Follow your passion in your life and you’ll probably find your purpose.

If you need help finding yours, you may feel more comfortable seeing a coach than a careers adviser, unless you fancy being a hairdresser, that is!

And if you’re struggling emotionally, consider seeing a therapist who uses energy psychology tools like EFT or EMDR, to support you not only in changing your perspective and beliefs but to also assist in getting any trapped energy associated with your ‘struggles’ flowing again.

Tricia Mitchell combines my psychic gifts, business experience and training as a coach, & healer to help others quickly achieve powerful results. She sees her former careers and business as apprenticeships. None of it was “wasted”. From experiencing stress and bullying — in both her personal and professional life - developing (and healing from) autoimmune disease antibodies, the wisdom and empathy, necessary to help others grow, emerged.

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