We’ve all been told to follow our dreams. To do what you love. That message is embedded in stories and movies and preached by motivational speakers. It’s an important message; too many of us have been told just the opposite, that our dreams don’t matter, we’ll never make it, even that we’re not worthy of achieving that which we desire. Following your dreams is more than a romantic notion; it makes sense. Doing something that you are passionate about is going to be way more sustainable than plowing along at a job you hate.
I believe that all of us have this spark inside of us, that knowing deep down that we can create meaningful change in the world. That spark is called purpose. For some of us, it’s like a fire that’s always been there, allowing us to bask in its warmth. For others it’s just a little flicker, needing to be discovered, and then tended and nurtured. For others still it’s like a wildfire, all consuming, needing to be tamed at times. And it can change. Sometimes we think we’ve gotten there, just to find out it’s morphed and transformed into something completely different, something which beckons us to follow it with even more intensity.
For some of us, our purpose is clear. For example, maybe you’ve known since you were 6 that you want to be a doctor. The path may be challenging and uncertain at times; maybe you don’t how how you’ll pay for all those years of college (and, you know, do stuff like eat!), maybe you’re uncertain how you can handle the course load, or what you will specialize in. But at least you have that end goal in mind. Or maybe you know you’re life’s calling is to be a mother, but you still haven’t met your soulmate and you feel your clock ticking with heavy hands.
For some of us, myself included, our purpose is a bit more “cloudy”. I’ve always known that I wanted to help people, to be creative, and do work that makes me feel energetic, spontaneous and alive. But I haven’t always been quite sure what exactly that looked like. I knew what it felt like, but I had to dabble around in different things and do a little self examination and a lot of soul searching in order to gain clarity. Some days, I still feel like I’m in a bit of a valley.
Whatever form it takes, we all have experienced having a dream, and having to live in that valley in between where you are and where you’re going. It can be so frustrating hearing the message to just “follow your dreams,” when you’re trying, really trying. It’s said so nonchalantly, as if you can just change lanes, just like that, and everything will magically switch. The reality is, that even when you know what your passion is, the road can be long and bumpy, filled with potholes and dead ends. It will test the limits of your patience, strength, creativity and just about every other resource you’ve got.
Your purpose is right now
I know it’s kind of cliche, but you’re a human being, not a human doing. Your purpose may seem like it’s tied up with your career, or some other role that you’re meant to fulfill. But that doesn’t mean that what you’re doing in this moment right now isn’t just as meaningful. While you’re waiting for that moment when everything falls into place and you can finally be happy, life is going on. You’re moving in and out of relationships. You’re affecting other people and the world as you go. You’re working and going to school and contributing to life. Don’t get too caught up in waiting for that one moment where you’ve made it. Most likely, the thrill of whatever it is you are trying to accomplish won’t last as long or be as amazing as you think, anyway. Don’t waste all your time and energy wishing to be somewhere or something else. Read books, spend time with people who make your soul sing, paint, go to movies, take up a new hobby. Just don’t waste your right now!
Change your perspective
Maybe every setback you’ve faced isn’t because you’re not ready, maybe it’s the world that isn’t ready for you! Keep honing your talents, keep learning and growing, but go easy on yourself. Sometimes there’s no way to rush it; your time will come in its own time.
Volunteering, or doing anything to help others, can benefit you in a lot of ways. It can help take your mind off of what you’re going through, help you gain clarity on what your purpose is, help you make connections, and give you valuable experience. It’s basically like free school! And you’ll feel good knowing that you’ve helped out. That rush of endorphins will help you gain focus and clarity. Besides, giving back should become a lifelong habit for all of us!
Have some fun!
Trying to figure out who you, what you’re good at, what your purpose is and how you’re going to fulfill it is overwhelming work. In some ways I believe, at least for myself, that I’ll always have a little of that ache inside of me. Self- realization for most of us is life long work. We’re constantly growing and changing and being thrust into new situations that make us question everything. I’m trying to actually get comfortable with the not knowing, the uncertainty. It means my journey isn’t done yet.
So I’d suggest just relaxing and having fun and forgetting about doing any sort of self work. You can pick it up after you’ve gone to see that movie, gotten a manicure, or had that cheeseburger. The trick here is to be really present while you’re doing your fun thing. This is the hardest part for me; I want to tackle all of my own problems and the world’s all day long. But this approach rarely works. It’s way better to think about things with a calm and relaxation mindset. This puts you on the wavelength of the solution, not the problem.
Sometimes it feels like you’re stagnating. You see others succeeding, but year after year passes by and you still haven’t written your book, started your family, or traveled to that place you’ve always wanted to go. It’s like being stuck inside while others are having fun at party you weren’t invited to. And it’s lonely. And depressing.
I truly believe that we each have our own unique path to walk. No matter how focussed and dedicated you are, no matter how good a visualizer and creator you are, I think that there’s this little element that is beyond all of our control. Sometimes your time just comes when it comes. One person might hit their stride at 16 and be a millionaire by 20, while someone else might not even know what they want to do til 40. In light of our entire lives, who cares. I imagined my life to be different by the age I’m at now, but it is what it is. I needed to learn certain lessons. I needed to experience heartbreak, loss, poverty, and rejection to grow. Those experiences helped me get clear about what I really want, and helped me become a more compassionate person. I have to remind myself to relax and just breathe sometimes. I know that there are great things in my future, and I’m just getting started. I just won’t let the promise of tomorrow overhadow my today.