I believe purpose is a deep-seated sense of the legacy that we wish to leave for the world. The deep-seated aspect means it can either feel ingrained and pervasive, or ill-defined and elusive.
Much like the oxygen we breathe, either we know it’s there on a visceral level, or it feels more like faith, unknowable and mysterious. When it feels real, it’s like the wind in our face as we live our legacy. If elusive, it’s more like breathing on a still day; we may not be completely convinced of its presence.
Some of us are fortunate to have a sense of that deep-seated purpose from an early age. Those who always knew their life’s role seem to have a focus and drive that many of us envy. The rest of us just wonder, iterating across jobs and roles, hoping we’ll know it when we see it.
That strategy worked for me for a couple of decades. I followed the path that seemed right, choosing solid and meaningful work. Tangible. Clear end points. Approved by my Chinese American culture. After 11 years of schooling and 6 years of the push to publish or perish, I ended up with the prize of tenure. Life’s purpose accomplished by age 36. Why did it feel so hollow?
Turns out, running hard is not the same as having the wind in your face as you pursue your destiny.
Stopped short, I finally assessed what I was missing. I had lost the trail to my purpose, assuming I was ever near it. How do I pick up the scent?
Turns out purpose was whispering to me all along but I wasn’t listening. Our modern society is not exactly conducive to following the breadcrumbs. We’re on our devices and in our heads, exactly the wrong places to be to hear the whispers of the soul. Turning off our thoughts (being present) and listening to our soul’s consciousness accesses deep-seated purpose instead of our mind’s superficial one.
The elusive path follows gut and heart instead of mind. It led me to work that was always right in front of me, and so effortless, it felt too simple and obvious in hindsight.
As a coaching professional, I know that we already have the answers to the big questions in our life. We don’t listen at first because our minds are conditioned to seek affirmations that quell our fears (degrees, promotions, income). Turning off our minds allows us to notice the affirmations and guidance of our soul. Instead of external validation, our soul’s affirmations present as excitement, curiosity, interest, getting lost in time, and great satisfaction.
In other words, “follow your bliss” (Joseph Campbell). It’s the way your soul calls you to its purpose.