Updated on 8th May 2018
Finding Meaning and Purpose.
"Finding your life's purpose is not some objective truth you're going to find out there somewhere. You'll find your life's purpose in what you value. When you're congruent and aligned with your values, you will feel on purpose. You will value yourself when you do what you value. It really is that simple.
When you know your values and your mindset, attitude, and behaviour align with those values the sense of meaning and purpose is automatic and immediate" NLP Gym
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver.
This line from the end of beautiful poem The Summer Day by Mary Oliver really strikes home to the heart of the matter about the way we live our lives. What will you do with your one wild and precious life? What does it mean to find your purpose in life and what does it mean if we haven't found our purpose yet?
In the preceding line Mary Oliver says "doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?" And isn't that the truth? We only have a certain number of days on this planet and at any one time we don't know how many days we have left (to most of us, it could never be enough!). To some that might sound morbid and depressing and people can find themselves getting lost in those dark thoughts wondering if anything really matters anyway, to me however those three lines serve as a reminder to show up every day and commit to living a life that has meaning and purpose, that is engaged and passionate, and if I am honest that line in the poem gives me what I call a little bit of healthy anxiety because it forces me to assess my life - it asks me bluntly if I am making the most My One Wild And Precious Life, and with that answer (whatever it is) comes empowering choices!
Meaning and purpose are unique and different for everyone and the biggest mistake we can make is to compare ourselves to others, to their dreams, their goals and what other people are achieving. The meaning we give ourselves and our life and the purpose we find is our unique gift, not only to ourselves but to the world.
But how do we find meaning and purpose? When we look at people that have meaning and purpose in their lives, that have direction, it is tempting to think that they must be special or that they're different from us but the truth is that if we have not found our purpose and our meaning it is that we haven't looked hard enough, we haven't made it a priority and as Gandhi said,"Action expresses priorities"
We find our meaning and purpose simply by fully living our lives, by experiencing life, by getting out and engaging with the world around us. Some people I know have said "but I don't have any purpose in life or anything that I'm really passionate about", and to that I would say that's okay but you can find it if you want to, if you choose to start the process.
So what is it that makes up meaning and purpose in life? According to Drageset, Haugan, and Tranvåg (2017), there are four main experiences that encourage meaning and purpose in life:
Physical and mental well-being
Belonging and recognition
Personally treasured activities
Spiritual closeness and connectedness
To narrow that down even more, it is a sense of Worthiness and Belonging that lead to Meaning and Purpose.
When we have a healthy mind (and body) we develop healthy self acceptance and worthiness and when we feel worthy we find a sense of belonging and from belonging we can find purpose.
“I’m worthy by virtue of my very existence. And that means everyone around me also is worthy by virtue of their very existence. I realise that I’m walking in a world of worthy people and I can treat people as such and I can expect to be treated as such. Then life becomes a lot more compassionate and caring and supportive." Kelly Flanagan
I tell my children that I would be happy for them when they finish school to take a few years and go travel the world. Now I value education very highly but I also value the unique education that getting life experience can give you and it's in that experience, in travelling the world and seeing other countries, experiencing other cultures, languages and different customs that we expand our awareness and in expanding our awareness we open our lives and minds up to finding our passions, meaning and purpose. It's hard to find meaning, purpose and passion if you've never left your own back yard!
It is not just travelling either, it can be volunteering, it can be joining a club, it can be anything that takes us away from looking only inward, and when we stop being so myopic, so one eyed and inward looking we expand our awareness to what the world has to offer, then we start to ignite the flame of passion and when we ignite the flame of passion we find our meaning and purpose - that thing that turns from a spark to a flame to a roaring fire.
For me personally it was finding myself at the end of a marriage and starting life again as a single man and parent and having the courage to firstly look inside, to do the hard work of figuring out why I had ended up where I had and then deciding that I needed to do something that had meaning for me.
I had spent many years with that gnawing, nagging feeling deep inside that something was missing from my life. I had a wife and family and home but still something was missing in me and looking back now I believe that I was searching unknowingly for purpose in life, I was searching for meaning.
I had always loved travelling but I'd never done enough, as a child I had been an avid, passionate knowledge gatherer, from astronomy to science to nature and the world fascinated me but as I grew into an adult something had caused me to lose that wonder and excitement and so I decided to reignite those flames that had burnt brightly all those years ago.
I did some travelling by myself for the first time. India, New Zealand, Nepal to name a few and it was in these travels that I realised the one thing I loved the most was meeting and talking people, listening to people's stories, always fascinated and wondering about human nature and what made people tick and so then I embarked on a journey of education.
I became a Counsellor, I became a life coach, I became a personal trainer, I became a photographer, I started trekking company Nepal and in doing these things it has ignited not just one passion but many and has given my life meaning and purpose!
I had to get out of my head and into the world to gain experiences to find my meaning and purpose!
My journey to finding meaning and purpose is both unique to me and similar to many others and what makes it similar to others is that I got out and experienced life, I got out and started living, I chose to seek meaning and purpose.
Your purpose can be anything, it could be to be a great parent it could be to be a great coach, a great athlete, a great teacher, a great helper, an entrepreneur, a scientist, it literally could be anything big or small it is totally your journey. Don't fall into the trap of comparing what you are passionate about and what you find purpose and meaning in, to anybody else's but yours.
The Winter Olympics was recently on and I was listening to an interview with the athlete from Tonga, Pita Taufatofua and it was fascinating to hear him speak. He knew he wasn't going come first, second, third, fourth, fifth, or top 10, top 20, or top 30 in the cross-country skiing event, his purpose was to simply finish and it didn't matter if he finished last he simply wanted to finish. He came second last and personally I think that is a victory beyond compare because his message in his interview was this: what I hope for the most is that some young child will see what I have done and know they can do anything too! His purpose, his meaning and his passion to compete in the Winter Olympics was to inspire others, not by winning gold-medal but by simply competing at the highest level.12 weeks before the Olympics he couldn't even stand up on skis, he practised on roller blades here in Brisbane and the courage that he displayed is so incredibly powerful because he has shown that by having purpose and meaning he is fulfilling his mission in life. His unique gift to the world is showing Inspiration and courage, and in sharing that gift he has found his purpose and meaning in life - inspiring others to greatness, by showing others that despite any obstacles you can achieve greatness!
My hope for you today is that you will simply realize that finding purpose and meaning in life, having something you're passionate about isn't for a select few people, the ones that we see on the news doing outstanding, incredible things, but that it is for you and it is for me and that it is simply to show up, to live our lives and have a plan for our one wild and precious life, because yes everything does die at last and too soon.
Living a purposeful, meaningful and passionate life is not for the select few it is for everybody, so get out there and experience life, lots and lots of life and if something grabs your attention, if something ignites a flame follow it, follow it as far as it will go because who knows where it could lead. - David Young
Life is precious, the days are long and the years are short - What will you do with your one wild and precious life?
I hope this serves as a reminder and some inspiration to take action, to follow your dreams, to live a more engaged and inspired life, one with meaning and purpose and in doing so live an fulfilled, engaged life.
Here's the full poem by Mary Oliver titled The summer day:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?