Confused About Your Purpose in Life? It's Simple.

11/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The past year has really done a number on us. Truly brilliant people are telling me that they feel like failures. They are worried about their finances and their futures. They are starting to define themselves by what has happened to them.

Several years ago, I quit my job to chase my dream of writing a book, but that book was rejected repeatedly. I was demoralized. If I wasn’t going to be “Fawn Germer, Author,” who would I be? Everybody was asking, “How’s the book coming?” “When’s the book coming out?” I felt like such a failure. I was so embarrassed.

My friends got together one day and I blurted out, “I don’t know my purpose in life.”  The outburst was met with silence and stares. Finally, Pam said, “I don’t know, either.” She was in a job she hated. Teresa said, “Me either.” One by one, we went around the room and every single one of us confessed that we didn’t know our purpose in life. I was sure that, by the time we got to Bette, we would get an answer. Bette was in the throes of chemo for ovarian cancer and, surely she had figured things out since she was facing a likely terminal outcome. But, she shook her head “no.”

Not one of us knew our purpose in life.

Two years passed and, during that time, I sold my book, Pam switched jobs, Teresa went back to school and Bette kept on living as best she could.

Actually, for those two years, Bette lived a fuller life than any of us. Once, we went kayaking to Caladesi Island, near Dunedin, Fla. The Gulf of Mexico was cold, yet Bette dove right in because she “thought the water was pretty.” She got a grant from the city to build a butterfly garden in her neighborhood. She spent time with family and went hiking and laughed and lived.

My book was finally published and Bette and the gang made it to my first big signing. Being there meant a lot to her -- and me. She forced herself to rally. A day or two later, she was back in the hospital. I left on tour for several weeks, and when I got back, she began her walk into death. One day, she told me she’d seen Jesus and she wasn’t afraid.

The day came when her brother called to let me know Bette had passed away. He asked if I would write her obituary. As a journalist, I have always thought that obituaries are the most important things we will ever write because they are the last word on a person's life. I spent a lot of time writing Bette’s. I thought about how she’d lived her life as she faced her death. She filled every moment with as much joy as she could find. She was from a huge family and every one of her brothers and sisters took turns of coming down for a week and caring for her. I know that, when she died, there was peace. That obituary was not a list of accomplishments. It was the story of a woman who lived. Regardless of what life threw at her, she lived.

That was when I realized what I’d learned through her passing. She defined her purpose in life by simply living her life. That's all any of us are here to do. In the end, the only thing that matters is that we breathe in our time here and fill it with life.

As soon as I finished the obit, I rushed out the door. I was late for a hair appointment at a new salon, but had to get there because I was flying off to St. Louis for an event the next morning. I passed right by the place as I sped through the darkness, then turned around on the busy six-lane road and kept searching for the address. I moved into the two-way turn lane so I could see the numbers better on the left side of the street, but that was a terrible, terrible miscalculation. Another car was coming straight toward me, blaring his horn. We had no time to stop and nowhere to go because there was so much traffic whizzing in the other lanes.

Miraculously, a space opened up on his side and he moved into it, flipping me off as he sped past me.

Seconds later, I turned into the salon parking lot. My heart was pounding harder than it ever had. I’d come within a split second of being killed. How tragic it was, because my friend had just died after spending two years fighting so hard to live, and I had almost died because I hadn’t been paying attention.

What a profound lesson. We lose so much time by not paying attention and don’t realize what we are wasting until we face losing it. It doesn’t matter what you do for your job or where you are living or where you think you rank in society. What matters is what you do today to live and enjoy your life.

It’s so simple. Your purpose in life is to live your life.