A rather simple, apparently profound but actually quite fundamental question had many stumped in a gathering of intellectuals the other day with generic answers like spreading happiness, do good to others, look after my family etc being expounded without conviction. The age-old question that was the centrepiece of discussion was ‘What is your purpose in life?’ Simply put, purpose as we all know is ‘the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists’.
Spiritual domain answers like ‘The ultimate purpose of your life is to become one with God in higher consciousness’ attempt to address this poser with an extremely zoomed-out perspective without really satisfying the thirst for a practical and credible answer. Reflecting truthfully, how many of us can truly claim that we have identified our purpose in life and living our life to achieve it?
A nail is truly a nail when it fulfils the purpose for what it was created for. A nail is useful when it is nailed in to hold the surfaces together, not when it is stored away in a tool box. In storage, it just has the potential to ‘be’. In that vein, for some of us, just existence and survival itself is mistaken as a purpose and a typical 9 to 5 routine is adequate while all of us have the potential ‘to be’ something much more. Others are meandering and in constant quest of their purpose. Some have identified it and are yet contemplating the first step towards its pursuit. There are of course some who have been able to overcome their basic survival insecurities and are able to align their daily lives and professions with their purpose. Needless to say, purpose should not be evil for then it would be working at cross-purposes (some pun!).
So, a fill in the blank attempt way to look at the question would be, I was born to be a businessman/ soldier/ entrepreneur/ sportsman/ politician/ engineer/ doctor/…………..and then do what………? Professions are admittedly enablers and a multitude of us excel in our chosen ones but the second part is where ‘purpose’ lies when you are able to answer ……….and then do what? There are many people who are not satisfied with their chosen professions or their current state of affairs. They tend to blame their choices, circumstances and many other factors including childhood & parenting for their frustrations but in reality, they are probably just struggling with the clarity of their purpose in life.
Ambition and desires are often mistaken as purpose. Many reach places where others dream to be but remain incomplete and unsatiated in the absence of purpose. Much like the eight year kid who wrote that his ambition in life was to be a rich man, all the riches, villas, positions, awards and gifts, overflowing wardrobes and lockers can be self-gratifying desires but not purposes in life. Similarly, health, wealth, character, relationships are all important but are not really purposes in life. However, they can and do contribute in many tangible and intangible ways towards achieving or striving towards achievement of purpose. With time, one discovers that purpose is the real plot, rest everything is a support act.
Do something purposefully was a common refrain from our teachers. Profession by itself is not necessarily a purpose. The intent, mindset and commitment with what you approach and do something defines its purpose. Purpose is a higher aim, which produces energy, motivation and the strength to take difficult and unpopular calls at times. Along with, zest and zeal are natural by-products. It also throws out stress, boredom and negativity out of the window without a conscious effort.
“I know it when I see it” The phrase was used in 1964 by US Supreme Court Justice Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in the famous Jacobellis v. Ohio case. Similarly, people working with purpose are self-radiating and visible to all. They don’t need to project or advertise their achievements. You can in fact, spot them from a mile. The aged family doctor who reached late for his own daughter’s marriage because the last patient had not left his clinic, the teacher will-fully giving extra coaching lessons to his class on a holiday, the soldier gallantly sticking his neck out beyond the call of duty in the face of terrorist fire, the scientist working sleepless nights to produce the vaccine, the philanthropist industrialist going beyond expectations during strife, the uncelebrated taxi driver who ensured a decent cremation for unclaimed bodies for four decades, aged couple coming out of retirement to support their orphaned grandkids and even the domestic help working extra jobs to support her child’s education- all are people driven with a purpose. Further, purpose need not be sought only in the dramatic or heroic but can be found even in the mundane like house-hold chores, bringing up children and helping a friend. Identifying your purpose which will unlock your potential is therefore the most important self-discovery activity one can perform at every stage in life.
Purpose gets you in a mission mode and makes you fearless and in fact courageous. It provides you that extra spring in your step, empathy in your smile, heart in your care, healing in your treatment, happiness in your actions, conviction in your thoughts, passion in your execution, excellence in your delivery, gravitas in your demeanour and wisdom in your knowledge.
Purpose is what that will always define and drive you. It takes you beyond the ‘self’ and fills the gap between existing and living. The Japanese have a wonderful concept called ‘Ikigai’ or ‘the reason for being’ which best captures the essence of purposeful living. You will know when you have discovered your own and people around you will also sense it. And as they say, the universe will conspire to help you succeed if you set your heart and soul towards achieving it.
First published on Seekmediation.com on 25/04/21