Have you ever contemplated what your purpose for existing is?
Life is chock-full of opportunities and goals to strive for, and yet isolating that which would motivate me to get up each morning is a task that continues to be a challenge.
Before the failures and before the questioning there were dreams and endless possibilities. Yet as life has unfolded chapter after chapter, the question that haunts me as my age increases is what am I doing here?
Money comes and goes… as does happiness. People are in your life for a season, but then much like the seasons, they pass.
Every day we see lives ended as abruptly as they were started. No longer does death lie in wait simply for the old, unfortunate, and those outside the protective North American bubble. Nowadays festivals, the movies, and our schools are just as likely to be places where we draw our last breath. A sobering thought to be sure.
“Save for the future,” even though we may not survive long enough to be the recipients of that 401k. “Pay your dues” at that job you hate because one day you’ll make enough and be able to retire and then you’ll be able to do what you really wanted to do…. If you manage to dodge all the bullets and diseases between you and “having enough” to retire. What good is money when you are six feet under?
Life is a lot shorter than we believe it to be. For a long time, I created a list of tasks and dreams I want to see achieved before I reached my deathbed. Those dreams were placed on the horizon much like a mirage of water in the desert: visible to the naked eye yet never reached.
I always rationalized my dreams as being too lofty or risky to attempt at this moment in my life. So instead of letting them die as I had when I was transitioning from child to young adult, I placed them just out of reach on the horizon. There was always an excuse to delay the pursuit of those passions and ideas. I had to reach a certain level of financial stability. I need to find the right people. I wasn’t ready. I don’t actually know exactly what it is that I want to do yet. I need more experience. I am not competent enough.
There comes a defining moment when we realize that time is indeed short and that living for the possibility of fulfilling dreams tomorrow is a fool’s errand.
I spent years searching for purpose in different jobs, relationships, friendships, churches, coworkers, and money. I allowed people I respected to color what I was capable of and what I was “good” at. I justified being unhappy as just a simple part of the process of discovering myself. The dreams I had as a child remained destroyed by those I looked up to when their arguments of sustainability and realisticness obliterated them from my mind.
If I just had that amount of income, I’d be satisfied.
If I was friends with those people, I’d be appreciated and encouraged.
If I had this thing, I’d be fulfilled.
Every path I journeyed down led me to a dead end.
My anxiety took me down to rock bottom when I began to question the meaning of everything.
What was the purpose of getting up in the morning if there was no trajectory for my life?
The “carrots” that incentivized some of my peers had no effect on me.
Things like money, education, and friends could not keep me occupied incessantly. Whether I liked it or not, at three in the morning, the only voices that existed in my world were my own. Like a hamster in a wheel, going nowhere fast I felt as if I was powerless to do anything in this world besides run the rat race assigned to me.
The worst part is between the mental breakdowns and the existential crises, I saw my talents and strengths used to fulfill other people’s dreams. So not only were my dreams unattainable and unrealistic, but others’ dreams were attainable and me doing a “good job” meant helping the organization leader achieve his or her dreams because all I was good for was as a functioning part of the machine. The moment my sanity began to leave or my work quality began to decrease, it was my problem.
I gave those around me the benefit of the doubt and tried to see tantrums and out of character moments in context, but all I ever received was a reprimand and a downvote of confidence.
To have no personal purpose and to be a malfunctioning part of the corporate whole was equatable to having no value in my mind.
I spent whole Mondays lying on the floor of my apartment staring at the ceiling with no drive to do anything. I spent sick days bedridden with no physical explanations as my mind overpowered my body and kept me confined to my mattress. The ones I loved got it the worst as I would lash out against them for no apparent reason. I hated advice because I didn’t need advice on how to get further in life. I needed advice on how to pull myself out of my bed. I needed a way out of my own head before the rapidly barraging voices in my head drove me insane.
Social media encourages us to go public with our highlights while we crop out all the shitty parts. We see the parties in the stories, but we don’t see the pain we numb with the liquor. We see the “I started at a new job” posts, but we don’t see the “My life is being drained by this workplace” posts. We see the relationships thriving, but we erase the profile photos with our exes. We start comparing ourselves to our peers and we isolate ourselves as we begin to believe that we are indeed the only ones struggling.
I must be alone.
As I confided in family, my closest friends, and my therapist I began to slowly unpeel the layers of my psyche.
I began to learn that a lot of my negative coping mechanisms were not actually the root problem.
In fact, in sharing the most vulnerable parts of me with those I trusted, I began to realize that I was not in fact alone.
“Minds in dark places must be good at seeing the same shadows”
One of my best friends, Imon said this to me when I was remarking on his ability to read in between the lines of my sometimes coded messages.
As I shared with those I trusted about my substance abuse issues, my pornography addiction, the biggest moral missteps in my life, and a laundry list of my greatest failures, I began to see a theme that the human race is in fact flawed and that we all actually struggle. Our culture encourages us to struggle alone, but as we open up and admit our struggles, it becomes clear that we are not in fact alone.
As terrifying as it is to admit our vices, realizing that we are not alone allows us to experience the grace of those who we confide in. Through this, our inner dialogue at 3am loses some of its power in shaming us because it can no longer say that we are alone and utterly broken beyond belief because we struggle.
It is hard to find a purpose for oneself when we struggle with living with ourselves on a daily basis.
As we unpeel the layers that have formed us into who we are, we begin to see how fear, shame, and rejection have gripped and dictated the trajectory of our lives. When we see why we do what we do, we can then begin the long process of healing and loving ourselves.
As we are being healed, we can then turn our attention back to the work at hand. We can return to those abandoned dreams and we can step forward in confidence knowing that though the journey may be long and arduous we can indeed accomplish these dreams that we once dreamed or have yet to dream.
Finding personal purpose is heavily reliant on asking for those around you to show you grace so that you can learn to show yourself grace. Personal purpose is also hard to grasp if you don’t know yourself. What makes you tick and what are you passionate at and good at? What is a lifegiving activity for you?
“‘Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?’
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. ‘”
Finding out what you can do in the context of the world begins with learning to love yourself for who you are.