The Soul-Quieting Power of Purpose

Confessions of a former tortured artist.

They were dark years. Ten of them. In a row.

While winning award after award for my filmmaking talents, I hid the fact that I was discontent, unsatisfied, and frustrated. Outwardly, I looked successful and honored; inwardly growing emptiness.

I tried to shrug it off telling myself I was just a “tortured artist” and that that’s the kind of life I had to live as a member of the creative community. Yet I knew deep down it was a lie. Because I knew another problem existed — one that the harder I tried to ignore it the more intensely it clamored for attention.

I felt I was capable of more. I had more to give, but I didn’t know what or how.

And it gnawed at me.

I remember confiding in a friend that I felt like a goldfish that had jumped out of it’s bowl and was lying on the white countertop gasping for air. In my mind I could see the contrast of the tiny orange body against a sea of endless white. My large fish eyes scanned the emptiness as I struggled for the only kind of air that would satisfy me.

I needed something in my life that would fulfill me.

Turns out it was a sense of purpose.

If you haven’t found a strong reason to live that’s outside of yourself, you will find great value here.

Viktor Frankl wrote about this in his ever-inspiring book, Man’s Search For Meaning. Having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, he told of those who could not handle the inhumane treatment and chose suicide as their way out. Some would run into the electric, barbed wire fences or towards the guards with the guns; others simply gave up. He pointed out that there were signs when a person was giving up and he found that he could accurately predict how long they would last once their hearts gave out.

What he found remarkable was the pattern of the survivors.

The resilient ones were those who found the will to live that was outside of themselves. They were living for another human being. Frankl quoted Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, who said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

The “why” could have been the hope to be reunited with a loved one waiting for them, or it could have been that they were conscious of an unfinished work only they could could produce.

They felt their lives mattered. They had purpose and meaning.

What was surprising was that years later he worked as a psychiatrist and found suicide continued to be a problem, however it wasn’t with people who were destitute or who were being tortured or oppressed — it was those who had ample “success” and leisure time. Of these he said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”

Viktor Frankl counseled, “One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

Did you catch that? Everyone has his or her own mission in life to carry out… Their own contribution to make…

Brendon Burchard, a popular motivational speaker, is famous for pointing out that at the end of our lives we will look back and ask three questions: Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter?

Ready to live more fully? Have you got your purpose figured out? Do you have a mission or “life’s work” yet to produce?

Here’s some food for thought.

Adam Leipzig shared a TEDx talk in which he explained, “How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes.” It’s fantastic. I’m including a link to it below.

The five questions Leipzig suggests you ask yourself to find your purpose are:

– Who are you?

– What do you do?

– Who do you do it for?

– For the people you do it for: What do those people want or need?

– And what did those people get out of it? How did they change as a result?

I like a lot of what Leipzig outlines, however I do caution you to not fall into the trap of thinking that your career or what you get paid to do each day are somehow naturally tied to your life’s purpose. Your vocation may bring you a false sense of identity (a good friend of mine recently lost his job and with it his sense of value. He told me he put so much into his work, now that it’s gone he’s not sure who he is without it. Tragic). Take Leipzig’s ideas a bit further. Allow yourself time to ponder the deeper question of what is it that ONLY I can contribute in this world.

What will your verse be?

Once you know what your purpose is, you will find a surprising amount of peace and satisfaction as you charge forward on the path that leads to it.

Lastly, I will share a bit of advice I was told as I began to passionately pursue my purpose (because you’ve got to know the road will be rewarding but it will not be easy). I stumbled across a quote from an unknown author that says, “Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.”

You’ve likely been given this passion for a purpose.

Your time here matters.

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