Beyond Finding Your “One Purpose”
For at least two decades, thought leaders have preached an idea that has become nearly sacred. It is that you must find your singular purpose in life.
While I too have marched behind this bandwagon, and still agree with many of its principles, I would like to share with you a new perspective on this topic of finding your life purpose. If you have struggled with finding your one purpose, or understanding the concept of having a life purpose, I think you will find this article helpful, or at least in some way thought provoking.
There are countless books, seminars, workbooks, and retreats on this very topic. They are all targeted at helping a person find their life purpose. This line of thinking makes two major assumptions:
- We only have one purpose in life.
- By searching and seeking, we are capable of finding our one purpose.
Allow me to challenge both of these assumptions. Let’s take three leaders that most people would consider to be examples, or icons, of excellence in leadership: Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill.
Do we only have one purpose in life?
If the “one purpose per life” principle is true, one might say that Dr. King’s purpose was to champion civil rights. President Lincoln’s was to lead the US in its most dire moment to emancipate slaves. And Mr. Churchill’s was to defend the world from Nazi Germany. Right? Well, these events may be monumental and possibly the most important work of their lives by most standards. However, who is to judge that these events were what they considered, or what God considered, to be their one purpose in life?
Dr. King was the pastor of a church for many years. He was a father and a husband. Why would we say that his contribution to the civil rights movement was his one and only purpose? Why not say that it was one of the important accomplishments of his life, along with many others? Even when considering such an indelible achievement for an iconic figure the likes of Dr. King, I still find it difficult to reason that his life had only one purpose.
I believe it is the same for both President Lincoln and Mr. Churchill. While most people would agree that their most important work happened when they led their nation in its most difficult hours, I cannot accept that for each of them, their entire life’s purpose was only to accomplish that one mission. They touched lives, they loved, they taught. They were sons, husbands, and fathers. They were both writers who had great wit and wisdom.
One may argue that for these three leaders, these above mentioned roles were not in fact their life purpose. Then what was? If they had only one, what was their sole purpose? One might say that their purpose was “to serve their country” or “to serve their people,” and that’s what their whole life was about. One might say that their broader purpose was “to help people.” Well, okay. But, I would consider that to be very generic, and offer that this is a purpose that we should all espouse to. Therefore, having a singular purpose in one’s life, one overarching mission may not be the best way to look at the arc of life. What then should our purpose be? I will share with you what I believe, but first let’s challenge the second assumption.
Are we equipped to find our one purpose?
The second assumption that we have been taught is that we can find our purpose if we search for it hard enough. If there is a singular accomplishment that we are to achieve in our lives, or a particular focus we should center our lives around, many times we don’t know it until some point later in our lives. Dr. King did not know he would champion civil rights to such an extent when he was a pastor in Birmingham, Alabama. What if he started searching before the events that precipitated his civil rights leadership and came to a different conclusion, and did not make himself available to lead the nation as he did, because that was not the one purpose he had discovered for himself?
The same could be said of President Lincoln and Mr. Churchill. They had no idea that they would be at the helm of their nation in one of its most crucial moments, even as they advanced in their political careers. So, if it is true that we do not have a singular purpose in life, nor can we discover it by searching hard enough, then what?
What is the purpose for our lives?
Here is what I think our life work (or purpose) should be:
- Grow ourselves. (Proactively and intentionally)
- Serve others. (Every chance we get)
- Be available. (To God’s directives)
And that is the formula that I see people of purpose living by. People of purpose don’t seem to obsess over finding a singular purpose in life. But they do obsess over maximizing who they are as a human being—spiritually, physically, emotionally, and relationally. If there is no depth to who we are, there will be no impact to what we do.
That’s what Dr. King, President Lincoln, and Mr. Churchill did. They lived their lives to maximize their growth. They read, they challenged themselves, and they exposed themselves to consistent learning. Rather than spending their efforts searching for their purpose, they invested their efforts into learning and growing, then serving.
People of purpose all aim to serve and to give. They live their lives asking themselves, Who can I impact? Where can I serve? What can I give? That core value has nothing to do with knowing your one purpose. It is simply a value of generosity. It is a value that we should all strive to perfect in our own lives. We spend so much of our lives getting for ourselves. Hopefully we all reach a point where we say, enough. And we choose instead to spend the rest of our lives giving. Dr. King, President Lincoln, and Mr. Churchill all had that heart. They were always pursuing opportunities to give and to contribute.
And finally, living on purpose requires that we make ourselves available. Available to hear the call of God’s voice. His leading. And if you are a spiritual person, I think you will consider this last point to be the most important. I think if we get locked into our one purpose, that at any given point, we may miss something else we are destined to do because we’ve closed our ears and our eyes to anything outside of that singular focus.
So, please search for your one calling and one purpose if you like, but have an open mind about this approach. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, I really think it’s okay. Just grow, just give, just be available. If one amazing calling comes your way, then that’s good. But if not, that’s okay as well. If you live a life of growing and giving you will certainly live a life of meaning.
For Further Reading: