How does saving people work? And if you can save people from themselves isn’t that tyranny?
Purpose. It’s one of those lofty words that are used in motivational conferences, commencement address speeches, and places of worship. It is supposed to make us feel big, feel like individuals that are more than just the sum of our banal daily experiences. But what does it mean, precisely, to have a purpose? Are words that are often coupled with ‘purpose’ like “higher” or “driven” anything more than cliches reserved for the self-help genre? While I am immediately skeptical of meaning-of-life words and fluffy notions, “purpose” happens to be a Big Word that carries for me heavy personal significance.
So what is purpose? Convention would have us believe that to have “purpose” in life is to have a definite direction, a discrete goal for which to aim. When people say that you have “a purpose in life,” they usually speak of an individual having found their “calling,” which can be anything from a profession to a social role like a parent. But surely living a life of purpose is more than simply setting goals and single-mindedly pursuing them, more than just happening upon what we see as our vocation or role? Instead of seeing “purpose” as a particularly extreme form of determination, why not understand the word as the precursor to goal-setting, the reasons that guide and inform all our actions?
For example, say I decide that my purpose is to become a lawyer. Once I achieve this goal, once I “become” a lawyer, then my purpose is finished. I may have several years still to practice law, to develop my capabilities as a lawyer, but what of the rest of life? What is lost when we equate purpose with professional goals? Instead of espousing this brand of tunnel-vision, I advocate that individuals frame their lives with a worldview that is more broad. To have purpose is to strive for an existence that takes into account a diverse spectrum of human desires and necessities. I consider a life to be truly purpose-driven if it endeavors to constantly derive meaning and find motivation for every action undertaken, every emotion felt, every idea or experience shared. To have purpose means also to question, to doubt, to wonder.
So before spending too much time trying to figure out what your purpose is or will be, take a step back and consider this–setting and achieving goals is pleasurable, but the pleasure is fleeting. We are notoriously bad at figuring out what it is that we truly want, and once we do achieve or own the object of our goals, we are all too often dissatisfied. Purpose is not an end, it’s an acknowledgement that there is no end or object, except to live, to work, to share, to grieve, and, perhaps, when all is said and done, to have a good laugh.
This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who writes on the topics of nursing colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: email@example.com.(Bold, italicized text is input from One World class participants. Thank you!)