“I struggle to find my life purpose. I don’t know how.”
I have heard this comment many times. Given that there are tens of thousands of free pieces of advice on the internet about the importance of life purpose and how to find it, why so many people still cannot find theirs? In my opinion, the reason is that many of us are told that we all must have one, but few know what it is. Here are a few common myths that I have observed or experienced myself.
Myth #1: Everyone must have a unique purpose
The reality is most of us on earth have exactly the same over-arching life purpose. It is to learn, to grow and to develop ourselves into wiser and more compassionate human beings. Ultimately, we are to recognize that the meaning of life is far more than sustaining and satisfying the needs of this physical body. It is developing ourselves spiritually – to discover the divine qualities within us, and to express those qualities in everything we do. Those divine qualities can be summarized as wisdom, compassion and self-mastery. We might not accomplish this in one lifetime, but we hope to make some progress in this lifetime.
While we can talk about life and its complexity in infinite ways and languages, in the end, we all want and strive to develop these three qualities. The more we have them, the more we can overcome challenges, take care of ourselves and contribute to the world. Every single struggle we experience in life and in business is due to the lack of one or more of these three qualities. Don’t take my words for it. Test it.
Myth #2: We need to know life purpose in advance
What people refer to as “life purpose” is actually our unique “life path”. Life path isn’t entirely controlled by us. It is a co-creation between the Universe and us. Most of us don’t know and cannot possibly know where life is taking us in order to define it in advance. As Steve Jobs famously said: “we can only connect the dots when we look back.” Often, it becomes clear in later stages. Early on, it is often a blur and needs to be explored and discovered.
Instead of finding our “life purpose” or “life path”, we are better off increasing self-awareness, accessing our intuition and practicing mindfulness. Because the Universe is always giving us clues on which direction to go moment by moment. Stay in present and follow our instinct, we will have the most up-to-date and just-in-time guidance we need.
Myth #3: Our life path has one consistent theme
Many people can identify the theme only toward the later life stages when everything falls into the right place like a puzzle. In the early stage, our experiences can be made up by small segments that look drastically different from one another. For this reason, it is more practical to manage each segment instead of the whole journey.
For example, studying in university may seem to be for the purpose of downloading knowledge and getting a diploma, when in fact it is an opportunity for self-mastery – learning how to live independently without parents; how to manage the demand of heavy school work, extracurricular activities and creating meaningful friendships.
When we become parents, we might think we are creating a family. In reality, we are learning how to provide for the family, support the growth of this child while taking good care of ourselves. It is more advanced self-mastery, plus compassion and wisdom. Whether it is going to school, becoming a parent, starting a company, or creating arts, we are already on our path. How we do or how we respond to circumstances define us more than what we do. By managing each segment well, we are creating an outstanding life every step of the way.
Myth #4: Life purpose has to be big and world-changing
This cannot be further from the truth. Only our intellectual mind or ego believes that we have to start something grand and impressive. Our entire life is a series of experiments. Consider developing wisdom, compassion, and self-mastery as our life purpose, we could develop these qualities at any given moment on any ordinary day. For example, creating healthy habits, managing anger, overcoming fear are all part of self-mastery. Treating people with kindness, forgiving, expressing gratitude, helping people in need are practices of compassion. No matter what path we take, we can find ways to practice and express those 3 qualities and fulfill our life purpose. In fact, it is much easier to do one big thing well in a short period of time, than to do small things well consistently over a lifetime, especially when nobody is noticing.
Many people also believe that the purpose of life should be helping others. This sure sounds nice, but it cannot be true. Our life purpose is always about ourselves. But the definition of self or the circle of self-interest keeps growing in size. For a student, the circle of interest might be himself only. For the parent, the circle of interests includes the entire family. For Nelson Mandela, his circle of self-interest was South Africa. Ultimately, this circle expands to include the entire humanity. The more wisdom, compassion, and self-mastery we have, the bigger space we can hold, the more people are included in our definition of I, me, and myself. No matter what we choose to do, we do it because we need it for ourselves to live with peace, joy and fulfillment.
The easiest way to find our life path is to let go of the need of finding it. Instead, live mindfully with wisdom, compassion, and self-mastery in every small thing we do and do it well, regardless of the circumstance. If we pay attention to the here and now, when we need to change directions, we will notice the inner calling. If we follow our instinct and take action, we are guaranteed to fulfill our purpose in this lifetime.