Don’t Go Looking for Your Life’s Purpose How to Find Your Guiding Light
In this article, I want to challenge a conventional principle: One must find their life’s purpose. So much has been written about how important it is to find a singular purpose for your life. Many teachers, mentors, and even preachers stress the significance. But just as I expressed in my last blog about the fallacy of seeking your passion, there are problems with this almost universal teaching to find one purpose for your life.
Why is this idea relevant to us as leaders? Because leaders are driven to accomplish something with our lives. We want to do our best to make a mark, so we are susceptible to the concept of focusing on one overarching purpose for our life. We often buy into the idea that finding one focus will naturally drive us toward greater success. I believe this misleading proposition will actually shift our focus away from vital areas at different seasons of our lives, thus leading us to being less effective and neglect other meaningful things we are called to do.
Honestly, I too once thought I must discover the one purpose for my life and dedicate myself to it exclusively. But over the last few years, I have begun thinking there’s something beyond the traditional wisdom that says we each have one purpose in life. Let me show you why.
A Common Theory
Here is what the “one purpose for your life” theory says: Each human being has a purpose, a reason to live, a reason God placed them on this earth. They must search for it until they find it. Then they must commit their life to accomplish it with tenacity and determination.
Frequently, great leaders are given as evidence of the validity of this theory, like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, George Washington, and President Lincoln—people of great accomplishment whose lives seemed to have one profound purpose. For example, it is widely accepted that Nelson Mandela‘s life purpose was to lead South Africa away from Apartheid.
The Fallacies of Having a Singular Purpose in Life
- Our purpose is usually not revealed until later in life. Most people of great accomplishment did not know their “one purpose” all of their lives. So if there is only one purpose we must find, how should a person live before they discover it? For example, Churchill did not know he must defend Great Britain until the late 1930’s. George Washington was called upon to accomplish his “great life purpose” of leading the American Colonies into freedom in his forties. So what were these two leaders supposed to be doing or focusing on before these momentous events in their lives?
- We do not have only one purpose. It seems that at different times in our lives we have different purposes. Let’s take Churchill for example. If his life purpose was to lead Great Brittain through WWII, then what was his purpose after the war ended? He died in 1965, twenty years later. Should he have retired? He didn’t. Churchill became an impactful writer, national leader, and speaker. A cornerstone of the theory that we only have one purpose is that once we discover it, we should write a statement and make it our guiding light. The danger in that is now you have limited your life to one thing. I don’t believe we are meant to spend most of our lives fulfilling only one purpose. Rather, I believe we have multiple purposes in our lives. Some big. Some small. Some headline producing. Some very private.
- Our purpose may not be the most visible act we do. What we tend to call someone’s purpose is what we see as the most important and consequential work a person does in their lifetime. But what about the myriad other areas in which we accomplish? Why wouldn’t they also be considered purposes we are fulfilling? For example, most people would probably say Billy Graham’s life purpose was to evangelize. But was it? Did he have only one purpose? Or was that his most visible accomplishment? Dr. Graham was also a father. His son Franklin started Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that has saved millions around the world from disease and hunger. Could it be that another significant purpose of Billy Graham’s life was to raise a Godly family?
How to Find Your Guiding Light
- My purpose is to do what I’m called to do throughout the many stages of my life. Based on the arguments I made above, I believe it is highly effective for leaders to have different focuses at different stages of their lives. While we may have overarching values and general directions, we must not look for one goal that colors every day of our lives.
- My purpose is to do God’s will for my life. For those of us who are faith abiding, this must be our ultimate goal. The lives of the giants of faith in the Bible reveal that God gave them different assignments for different stages of their lives.
- I write guiding statements for different times in my life as goals are revealed to me. Do we oust the popular notion that we should create one written statement for our life’s purpose? I propose we adjust it instead. I write several statements, each for the different stages of my life, as guiding lights for my entire path.
My Evolving Purpose
In 2008 I adopted this statement as my life’s purpose: to grow so I can positively influence others. I read this often and made it my singular focus. I lived it and made it my life’s mission. It meant that I dedicated myself to grow and to help others.
Later in life, I realized that the banner over my life must be to honor God and do His will. Under that, various purposes and goals of my life are gradually revealed at appropriate times, as the different stages of my life unfold. And so, for the rest of my days, I aim to find what it is I must focus on in each chapter of my life’s story. I hope you do as well.
For Further Reading: