I’ve struggled in my retirement transition with the concept of Life Purpose. It is not as simple as answering the question, ”Do I have a life purpose?” I struggled so much with it that I abandoned the term in favor of Personal Development! See previous posts on Life Purpose, A Purpose-driven retirement and key life domain questions, where Life Purpose is a mere subset of Personal Development. Instead of figuring out my Life Purpose, I focused on spiritual development and that’s been a good thing for me, leading me into Putting Positive Psychology into Practice and new learning areas to explore.
But, I continue to read claims that finding and living a Life Purpose is THE key to long life and wellbeing. Too often, when I (and others?) think of Life Purpose, what comes to mind is a big, earth-shattering, legacy-leaving, high-impact purpose. While it’s pointed out that a life purpose is “the reason you get up in the morning” and “what you were meant to do or be”, it’s also often talked about as goals and achievement and our impact on society. While it’s “based on your personal values and interests”, it’s also talked about as contributing to the world in some important way; of helping to solve major social problem; to make your mark on the world; to give back in ways that matter to you (assuming this is a value you should have); and to help, inspire and support others (assuming this is another value you should have). All of that description feels so grandiose, so outward focused, and in many ways, so masculine (Yang) in mindset.
When I think about a grand Life Purpose, I quake. I’m not making an impact on the board of some non-profit. I’m not devoting hours to volunteer work. I’m not teaching my grandkids about life (having no kids means no grandkids). I’m not mentoring, nor coaching. I’m not an influencer-level blogger. Yes, this is feeling like a big Compare & Despair moment. I feel very much “”not enough”!
A comment from a reader made me consider, How am I thinking about Life Purpose right now, at this point of my retirement journey, in my current state of personal development? I began to wonder, “Is having a life purpose just a socially imprinted should?” Or am I just making it too big a thing?
This summer I am researching (dabbling really) in religious literacy – pushing to better understand what beliefs are out there to help me decipher what I truly believe. I’ve been socially imprinted with Christian monotheism, but also know that for many years I struggled to align with the Church’s (Roman Catholic) teachings. I’ve struggled with the patriarchal mindset, the intolerance, and the concept of God as a father figure who approves or punishes. As I look at alternate religions and different ways of thinking and living, I wonder if the concept of life purpose is tied to the Christian theology (which is also tied to the American cultural mindset).
In my reading on religion, I also noted this thinking on purpose, based on Taoism: Find your purpose in a harmonious pattern of what you like to do (your true interests) and live life fully in your own rhythm – be present in all you do, find value in everyday activities, avoid negative thought patterns (gossip, resentment, judgment), harmonize with nature, affirm your “wholeness” (balance of feminine yin and masculine yang).
Maybe it’s not about a big Life Purpose (capital lettered, grand impact, achievement focused) but making a small little ripple (more the Butterfly Effect) in every day living.
I’ve never made a big impact. At work, I had individuals I mentored, projects I moved forward, businesses I helped build. But I had no major business impact. I’ve not had kids to raise nor long-term mentoring relationships, so no big family/social impact. Why do I think that at this point in my life I will suddenly start to have a big impact? Yes, people will point out the individuals who wrote their first (best selling) book after age 50, became renowned painters in their 60’s, made significant discoveries in their later years. But those are individuals. When it comes to the masses, we are not making tsunami waves of impact! Maybe, we can just hope to make a small ripple.
When I was looking for more on the concept of Life Purpose, I found couple of sites (see these links: Live Bold & Bloom and Happier Human) and liked that they had a series of Life Purpose examples that were not all about goals and achievement! Yes, a Life Purpose can be outwardly focused OR it can be inwardly focused. It can be about others (raising family, empowering others, giving back to community, supporting a cause) OR it can be about individual living (living healthy, mastering a new skill, exploring personal development, finding authentic self). It can be small (becoming a vegan, living simply) OR big (being an activist, mastery in an art form).
Excerpts of examples I especially liked:
- “The purpose of my life is to be my true self, uninhibited by fear. I want to inspire others to live authentically and with passion.”
- “The purpose of my life is to be a source of light to other people and radiate positivity. I hope to find peace and model that for others.”
- “My purpose (goal) in life is to love others unconditionally and foster meaningful connections with people. I want to walk through life with an open hand, being available to form new friendships.”
- “I envision a life where I take things slowly and stop to smell the roses. I never want to miss out on an opportunity to find joy in the little things. I will explore my world with open curiosity and be fully present with all experiences.”
- “I will prioritize taking care of myself by putting my health first. I will take care of my physical and mental health needs by being mindful of what I put in my body, and focusing on my emotional and mental well-being. Self-care activities will be a part of my regular routine.”
I wonder if living a retirement lifestyle on my own terms, and being a role model to others for doing that (here on my blog and with my book), is enough of a Life Purpose. I know it’s not saving the world, but I hope I have made a small impact (a ripple) on one or two people.
Is my Life Purpose then “Living with intention my retirement lifestyle vision – active body, connected heart, creative spirit, contemplative mind”? Is that enough?
What’s your current thinking on Life Purpose?
Picture: tonights sunset from the patio