It's not uncommon in personal development curriculum to explore what one's life purpose is. It's a worthy pursuit to answer the age-old question of "What am I meant to do?" and yet I know it to be a confusing and painful process for some people.
Do you agonize over finding your purpose? Do you reject what you think your purpose might be because it's not "big enough"? Do you wonder if you are really meant to do anything significant with your life?
I am a huge proponent of figuring out one's purpose and living it fully. The part I have a problem with is the misconceptions people have about finding it and what they think it should be.
Finding one's purpose in life is not the destination. Once you recognize it, own it and begin to fulfill it, you have launched yourself on a journey of twist and turns that will take the rest of your life to complete.
You see, purpose is not something you choose. It's not a slogan or a bumper sticker that if you like it, you don it on your car or business card. Purpose chooses you. It is something you ARE, not something you DO. And that's where most folks go wrong... they use a WHAT to describe what is really a WHO.
"My purpose is to make a difference."
"I help other people."
"My purpose is to make an impact on everyone I meet."
"My purpose is to create the biggest _________ (fill in the blank with a save-the-world project)."
These are not WHO qualities that are as central to your being as your DNA. These are WHATs or "to-dos" that you think will make you a better person if acted upon.
Purpose reflects your life's blood. The energy that runs through you that is the unique contribution you make anywhere you go/are. It doesn't require a heck of a lot on your part. It's just part of who you are. People gravitate toward this essence of your being that affects them intellectually, spiritually, emotionally or even physically.
Really, no two people's purposes are alike. Two people may have similar ones, but no two will express their purpose in exactly the same way. For example, maybe you are a voice for justice, a midwife to ideas or to people's potential, a bridge to peace or communication, or someone who calls forth smiles, or someone who empowers. You may be an action, you may be a noun. It doesn't matter, but it is something you just are and always have been, even if you stand still and do nothing. People gravitate to you for this.
One of my favorite stories about purpose comes from The Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan, which is an account of a woman being kidnapped by Aborigines in the Australian outback and being forced to live with them. One of her observations was that no one in the tribe had a biblical or given name. Their name was their purpose in the tribe. The songstress, the peacemaker, the cook, the medicine woman -- they were their function. In this case, they are described in nouns but they were not the to-dos of that function. That function was undeniably who they were. They would not be themselves without fulfilling that function. Interesting to me as well was that they only celebrated birthdays when they evolved to a new level of purpose rather than when the lunar calendar came around to the date of their birth.
Imagine the peace you would have if you truly understood your part in the whole in that way. Imagine the focus to your every day. That is the gift of uncovering and living your purpose.
If you are one of the people still not clear about your purpose, keep in mind there are two criteria that tell you you've found it: 1) It's something you already are or do naturally, and 2) it impacts others. No one has a purpose alone in a vacuum.
Not being able to name it gives people a lot of distress, but it could simply mean there is more inner work to be done before you are ready to live your purpose fully.
Many also worry that their purpose needs to be grand or world-changing. I call this the "Mother Theresa Syndrome" -- as if one's purpose is not worthy if it is not on the fast track to sainthood. Ironically, it was Mother Theresa herself who said: "We do not DO great things. We do small things with GREAT LOVE." And there begins the promise of purpose. When we all give with great care, understanding, respect, and compassion, we are fulfilling our reason for being. The ripple effect is initiated and it is not ours to control.
So, please, forget crafting a purpose statement. It's not a destination or the promised land. Make the journey to just being real. When you are fully and undeniably yourself, you won't have to ask what your purpose is, because you'll already be living it. It is as simple as that. It'll just be you!
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