Purpose: What is it? How do I find it?

On the inaugural Expanding Circle we debated the topic of “Purpose”. What is it? Is there such a thing as Purpose? And if yes, how do I find it? It was a very engaging evening and fifteen people from different walks of life actively participated in the discussion and heated debate. These are some of the thoughts that were shared and discussed by the Circle:

One of the things we discussed was if purpose was something we have to look for until we find it. Do we have an epiphany moment when we finally find it and after which our lives make sense and become more fulfilling?  Or is it something that has been with us all the way along and we just need to connect with it?

Some Expanders said that we are born with purpose but that it is life and people around us what clouds our understanding of it and force us to comply with a traditional lifestyle that castrates our deepest passions and innate need for authentic self-expression. Some participants argued that as we become adults we realise we have been living a ‘script’ that was not written by us and that finding our purpose is really a journey of return to our authentic true selves. In a way, a dichotomy, as we are trying to find something we already knew or have.

We talked about purpose having different layers; one of them being what we do in life and another or raison d’être on earth. The former is more in line with the choices we make to express our authentic inner self and the latter is probably more in line with a ‘collective purpose’ shared with all other humans on earth and normally related to the need to experience love and connection and our contribution towards advancement and the continuation of life.

The circle also asked themselves the question: Is purpose something than we discover through an epiphany or is it a choice we make?  Some Expanders argued the former is correct and other Expanders challenged them by saying that if that was the case, then we would be bound to wait for something external -an event in life or a message from a God above-, to tell us what that is? The ones that believed in the former said that it was not necessarily the case, but that it was more the need to pause and think but also that sometimes these pauses are not necessarily created by ourselves but are the results of life changing events such as the diagnosis of a terminal illnesses or the passing of a close family member.

In regards to the question of choice, the circle asked itself if the moment when we supposedly find our purpose was an unconscious choice we make in order to create a psychological illusion that gives us that craved sense of direction or belonging to something bigger than ourselves?

What is the difference between purpose and our occupation, duties and responsibilities? Is our purpose something that we do or is it an emotion we experience? Can we have a purpose in life that has nothing to do with what we do for a living? If yes, do we experience more fulfilment and contentment when these two are aligned or can they be two independent variables?

Some people argued that purpose is something we have to search for until we find it, but others said that purpose is an inner state that we achieve when we are truly authentic and when we are in touch with our gut feeling, intuition and inner consciousness; and that what we do is that we do is to discover different ways of manifesting that inner being through a series of activities, career and occupations.

Most Expanders in the circle talked about purpose being the emotion or sense of fulfilment we achieve when we experience happiness through authentic self-expression and when we are in the zone that will eventually allow us to be creative and leave a legacy. This led me to relate this to the concept of ‘flow’ popularised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Mihaly argues that flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he is doing. Some people mentioned that when we are in flow not only we experience contentment and fulfilment but we also the most likely to perform better, be successful and leave a legacy. We then went to ask ourselves, is our purpose to be in flow? This reminded me of a quote I read a while back that says: “the purpose in our life is to live a life of purpose”

When asking Expanders if they knew what their purpose was, some said that although they might not know what their purpose was, they do know when they are getting away from their purpose. They argue that intuition and gut feeling tells them when they go off track or are doing something that betrays their life’s path.

We also talked about the difference between purpose and meaning. What are we here on this planet and what is our mission? Do we all have a purpose as human beings? We also discussed the relationship between purpose and destiny. Do we have a destiny? Did we come here with an assignment or a pre-defined role? Or do we really have the power and freedom to choose and design our future? The views in this were broad and diverse, but the one thing that emerges as common theme was the need to surrender to purpose and to let life express itself through what is. When we resist life, we suffer and resist our purpose.

The relationship between purpose and surrender to find out what our purpose is and to link that to a career or an occupation can be the result of the ego. It is the ego in the person that wants names, a sense of identity, achievement and separation. Some Expanders said that there is a moment in life when we must ‘surrender’ for purpose to take over, that if purpose is an inner feeling we experience, by looking for purpose we just keep thinking about something that take us far from it. A participant also said that for him purpose is in everything he does, as long as we do the things we do with purpose life has a meaning. In this case, his definition of purpose was more in line with presence, being in the moment and allowing ourselves to be part of life itself and what it is.

One of the things I seem to have understood from all the opinions shared within the circle was that purpose has different dimensions and layers. At the very high level we find our shared or collective purpose as humans on earth, why are we here. The need to learn, to contribute towards the continuation of life and the innate desire to experience love and connection. In the following level down we find our individual purpose, the inner self and the journey towards authenticity, who are we as individuals and what makes us tick? The next level down involves the manifestation of the inner self through what we do (our occupation, career and passions); and finally, the integration of purpose into everything we do, through being present and mindful.

[Circle hosted and report written by Ernesto Moreno]

Here are some additional resources on Purpose, to keep your thinking going:

Five reasons why most people never find their purpose by Shelley Prevost

How to know if you are working and living with purpose by Shelley Prevost

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret of happiness

Oprah and Ianla Vanzant talk about surrendering to purpose:

Oprah and Steven Pressfield talk about how the four questions to find our calling:

Oprah and Caroline Myss on Purpose:

A TEDx talk by Adam Leipzig: How to knoe your life purpose in 5 minutes

See the upcoming Expanding Circles topics and dates and RSVP your place by clicking here

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