Part of the human condition is the deep desire to live a life of value and purpose. This isn’t always easy to define, and often it is natural to ask what we should be doing to make the most of the life we have been given. It is tempting to think that this comes down to a career choice, a living situation, a friend group, a pastime, a relationship or some other aspect of life. We often find ourselves asking,
- Pursue a new job?
- Relocate to a new town or housing situation?
- Get married, divorced and/or have children?
- Become involved in a social or charitable group?
- Join a faith community?
While it is normal to periodically doubt our choices, we tend to wrestle most when our current situation is leaving us dissatisfied, drained or worried.
In times of uncertainty, it can be helpful to remember that purpose and contentment can be found in a variety of situations. There is no single path. Admittedly, our choices take us in different directions, but we can live lives of meaning in all of them.
If you feel a bit unsettled or insecure about your choices, here are a few truths to remember.
- What You Do ≠ Your Value
Life has value simply because it exists. Period. Whether we are born with a long list of talents or are born with limited faculties, each life is a creation that adds to the human race. We may not be able to see exactly how we are contributing to the lives of those around us, but we do. The concept that a person’s worth is in direct proportion to his/her output is a lie. A newborn baby in the ICU brings tremendous value, even though he isn’t doing anything but fighting to survive.
- Life is Primarily About Today
It is good to have goals and dreams. Setting priorities helps us make good decisions. For example, if I want to become a lawyer, I need to work hard in school so I can get into college and then law school. However, it is unwise to dwell too much on the future. No one really knows what tomorrow will bring, and often we spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying about things that may never happen. When concern over future events prevents us from fully experiencing reality, our perspective needs some shifting. The majority of our energy should be directed toward the task and needs of the present.
- The Inner Voice Matters
Everyone faces external expectations. These can come from friends, family members, employers, community groups and elsewhere. Sometimes, we allow a longing to fulfill the expectations of others to drown out our own desires. Each individual really is different, and we all have passions and interests. Furthermore, it is unlikely that any course of action will be universally pleasing to everyone in your circle. Resist the urge to feel guilty if you aren’t doing what “everyone else” is, or what others think you should. We all have something that tugs at our heartstrings, and acknowledging this a good place to start. Reality may dictate that we can’t earn a living pursuing our passion… sometimes we need to work in one job while cultivating an interest on the side. Nevertheless, true joy may prove elusive if we regularly suppress our inherent intuition and inclinations.
- Honest Work Is Honorable
Ever feel like what you are doing with your days isn’t as worthy as what others are doing? Maybe your Dad had a “big “ job and yours seems insignificant. Perhaps you have chosen to stay at home with small children and wonder if you are wasting your talents. Maybe a friend seems to be racing up the success ladder while you are trapped in what seems to be a dead-end position. When professional doubts creep in, remind yourself that any job you are performing matters, and all genuine effort is worthy of praise. Societies thrive when people fulfill different roles. What would the world be like if we had only bankers and no farmers, dentists or plumbers? Avoid the habit of talking down your own accomplishments. If you want to move into a different career, make a plan and work towards it. In the meantime, give your all to the work you have now.
- Integrity Breeds Contentment
One of the surest paths to discontent is talking one way and then living another. At the end of the day, each of us must go to bed with our self. It is a wonderful feeling when we can put head to pillow feeling proud and thankful of how we lived the day. In contrast, when we know we aren’t “walking the talk,” we begin to feel as if we are perilously straddling two personas, often fearing the moment when we will be found out. True joy comes when we have confidence that we are living in a way that is consistent with our values, even when no one is watching.
- Filter The Critics
Everyone benefits from a trustworthy circle of close friends and/or family who truly care. Valuable wisdom can come to us through these sources, both positive and constructively critical. At the same time, there will always be a plethora of people who are more interesting in hurling commentary than contributing to our welfare. Often, hurtful words and unsolicited advice reveal more about the critic than the recipient. Discerning a prudent path becomes easier when we filter out the ill-informed (even if well-intentioned) comments of the masses, and give thoughtful consideration to input from the trusted few.
- Resist Comparisons
Now more than ever, it is possible for us to peer into the lives of others. Social media has granted broad access to what other people are saying, doing, achieving, experiencing and taking pleasure in. It is almost impossible to be exposed to these “best” moments of our peers’ lives without letting it erode our sense of self. We tend to react in one of two ways, each of which is damaging. Either we believe we are doing better than others, which leads to pride. Or, we decide we are falling short, which saps our confidence. We are all vulnerable to these reactions, so we need to be mindful of what we take in, and always cognizant that we are seeing but a glimpse of another life. We may never know what others have overcome, are dealing with or will face in the days to come. When screen time leaves us feeling worse, it is time to shut it off.
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Have you struggled with your purpose in life? Do any of these truths resonate with you?