What Happened When I Started Thinking About My Life Purpose

It’s harder than you’d think

Have you ever been curious about and then gone to the trouble to investigate and document your life purpose, which is essentially the reason you are on this earth, in this body, in this life?

While I am an introspective and purpose-driven person, a life purpose inquiry was something that had never occurred to me. I was originally introduced to the concept by my husband, after he came up with his own life mission as part of an activity for a men’s group in which he was participating. So I began to ponder what my life mission might be. One of the given parameters of this particular life mission exercise was to keep it to only a few words. At the time, I was in (what I later termed) my “late-30s beneficial mid-life crisis.” I’d been spending lots of time looking at how I showed up in the world, who I was meant to be, and what I saw as my unique gifts. As a result of that prior work, I landed in the general arena of my life mission fairly quickly. What I came up with, after much word-smithing (I am a writer after all), was “impactful presence.”

I wanted to matter, thus the “impactful” aspect of my mission. The second word was a bit trickier. as parts of “presence” didn’t feel so true for me. As an introvert, I am not comfortable speaking in large groups, I don’t consider myself much of a storyteller, and I don’t have that magnetic, outgoing and charismatic personality that makes one the obvious center of attention in groups. I also knew that I am much better at being than doing. However, I really enjoy talking to others one-on-one. When I listen, I am fully present and I care about other people’s stories: who they are, what motivates them, what have been the significant milestones and turning points in their life, what their family means to them, etc. These are all questions that I love to ask in order to get to know someone better. And I often remember many of these shared details. There have been countless times when someone has said to me, “I can’t believe you remembered that!” All of those traits combined got me to “presence,” and thus “impactful presence” became my answer.

This personal mission provided some clarity and informed some of my subsequent decisions. It also made me feel better about who I was and that what I offered mattered in the world. Living in a society that values extroversion so highly had actually made me feel that my unique gifts were not gifts at all, and this feeling had started at a fairly young age. I assumed that everything I was gifted in were things other people could do easily as well, since many of my gifts were not very tangible and therefore difficult to measure. I felt badly about all of the things that I perceived that most other people could do much better than me. It took me years to realize that I was shortchanging myself on both sides of this coin.

I am now in my mid-40s and, after more soul-searching, have decided to embark on a new career in co-active coaching. Recently, I participated in a multi-day day workshop that is part of coach training. And the topic of life purpose came back around again. I felt very confident as we started the exercise, as I knew that I already had my life purpose all figured out. However, this time, instead of just creating a life purpose from my own seeds, there were several visualization exercises in place to help inform life purpose. In a nutshell, the exercises involved: visualizing yourself on stage in front of a crowd, crafting your message for a billboard and creating your own planet. The takeaway questions were about what you envisioned, your impact, your message and what was important. During the three visualizations, I noticed several themes for me: my light, presence, and impact; and other people having a sense of their own divinity and beauty. I realized that my original life mission was still quite relevant for me, but it needed to expand into a more aspirational, visual picture. The training stressed that life purpose should be a calling forth of the greatest expression of ourselves. We were given the format: “I am the  ______ (metaphor) that _________ (impact).”

Where I landed was “I am the radiance that illuminates inner beauty and joy in others.” I feel really happy saying those words. But it’s also a bit scary, as I think our life purpose is something were always growing into; it should be a bit of a stretch, and if it’s not or it becomes simple over time, it may be time to modify it (again). I know that my life purpose will always have foundational pieces that are part of the life mission and life purpose that I’ve stated here. But I also love that I’ve been given permission to continually tweak it and have it evolve as I evolve.  As the world is in a constant state of change, it seems right that my purpose on this earth should not be totally static either. It will require a continual curiosity, about myself and the world around me. But it feels really good to again have put a stake in the ground and to have a focused point of reference that can be used to inform my short-term and long-term choices. If something is not at all serving my life purpose, or worse, is in contradiction to my life purpose, it does beg the question, Why am I doing this? And, Who am I being right now?

As I spend more time with my new-and-improved life purpose and the visualizations that enhanced it, I now understand that presence does not have to involve speaking in front of a large group or being the center of attention. Presence can be witnessing the beauty in others and being curious about someone else’s story. It can be found in the writing that we put out in the world or the beliefs that we hold about others. It can be how we show up for our families. And impact really only matters one moment, one person at a time. There is a big part of serving your life purpose that seems relevant to living a fulfilling life. I find that when I am in alignment with my life purpose, I feel at peace. My life purpose has relevance in all areas of my life, from parenting to professional work. Activities, achievements and possessions that honor our life purpose have real value and feel less hollow than those that don’t.

In the coach training session, we all shared our life purpose in front of the group. There were certainly some similar themes, but everyone’s life purpose was uniquely different and suited them in a special and obvious way. What felt really true for one person would’ve felt inauthentic for another. So instead of running around being informed by what our society, our family, or our expectations of ourselves dictate as our life purpose, it’s important to see what really feels true when all of the other chatter and expectations are stripped away. It is there where we can find who we are meant to be, and it’s helpful to approach it with inner curiosity rather than outside expectations.

Photo by Emily Bergquist 

holstee_logo_2Originally posted on Holstee’s Mindful Matter, the best place to read stories and tips on how to live life fully.

Heather Buck is the Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at what will (probably) be named InStill Coaching. She is currently in the process of aligning her life’s work with her life purpose. Sharing her writing is a part of that alignment, as it’s how she makes sense of the world and her place in it. You can find more of her writing on her blog Any Moment (Now).