Every time I hear the question “What is your purpose?” I want to ask “What do you mean by purpose?”
Most of us are challenged by this question, and I was too. Researching the topic, I realized that three myths that stop us from finding and answer and recognizing that we might already experience purpose in our lives.
Myth 1: It has to be big!
When we think about purpose, we often think about “saving the planet” or “ending slavery.” But a purpose does not have to be big. At the end of the day, purpose is about believing that your action contributes to what Prof. William (bill) Damone (Stanford University) calls “super goal” or “ultimate concern”. In comparison to everyday goals, purpose can never be achieved and it goes beyond personal interest. As such it has to be about other people and you believing (and feeling) that what you do has an impact. This could be you supporting your kids with homework, contributing to your community by shopping local, or you volunteering at a local organization that works towards a cause you recognize as meaningful.
Myth 2: There is only one purpose.
Research by Damone has shown that only 20% of people can identify a single purpose. 80% have either none or multiple purposes. So yes, you can work on gender equality and support your kids and find both purposeful. Further, it means that you don’t have to have a purpose, although it might benefit your motivation and give you a feeling of meaning in life.
Myth 3: You can rationalize it.
Various exercises seem to suggest that we can rationalize our purpose. These exercises can indeed help us increase the chances of finding purpose. After all, researchers have found ways to assess purpose which allows us to understand some of its “components”. However, rationalizing purpose is no substitute for experiencing it. Experiencing purpose is also about an emotional response. That response is hard to conceptualize and is mostly experienced in the moment. Thus, in case you have a hunch of what it is, be mindful the next time you work towards your “super goal”. What you feel will help you to understand if you are on the right path or not.