I enjoyed our recent conversation that revolved around one of the toughest questions. What is having a purpose in life and how do you know when you have discovered it? You were so full of energy the other night flying through the list of all the things that you want to do in the next few years, but still far from making any decisions. Relax. It will unfold as all our lives unfold ultimately.
Finding your purpose is touted as the panacea to all ills. Your generation are being fed the story that if you haven’t discovered your purpose by the age of 25 years, then you are led to believe that you could be doomed to a subservient life. If you haven’t been successful by 25 you are never going to be able to realize the potential of your youth with its drive, energy, stamina and enthusiasms to take you to the realm of the free. As a young person, you are made to feel that you must break into fame, success, or notoriety to earn the significant amounts of money that ‘living the life’ demands. You must acquire the perfect looking partner to fit the lifestyle, with the perfect ‘arm candy’ or be seen to be driving the most desirable car on the other side of 100,000 dollars.
Actually, around 25 is just about the age when the pre-frontal cortex, that part of our brain function that leads us into our higher selves, is finally formed and functioning. It is when we switch on to a whole slew of new skills- critical thinking and decision making being among the most important. It is the beginning of self- actualization but just the very beginning. But that important process gets swallowed up into the society-wide obsession with achievement and performance.
There is very little reporting or mention of the unmerciful pressure of being in a goldfish bowl exposed to the eyes of the world at all times. There is little allusion to the social isolation of these rarefied beings in continual performance mode separated from family and community. We allow performance animals some quiet time in cages or dark places to refuge from the cacophony of demands but we don’t give any sort of freedom to our performing humans who spend years moving around the world in their gilded open cages until they succumb to some mind-numbing device to blank out from being continually exposed.
You are more, I suspect, in the second group of young people expected to jump from the high levels of dependency of living full time at home, where the ever-stretching years of certification and diplomas that renders you subject to the whims of parents and family to excel academically and leap from graduation at third level to spectacular jobs and earning power. That myth has also been superseded.
Finding one’s purpose is a lifelong endeavour. I don’t think we get the full picture until the last few moments of life in a blaze of images that transcend time. Purpose for me is the myriad process of unfolding of decisions that lead to adventures and on to achievements. And it is uniquely different for each one of us. There is no one path in life. Just as each one of us has our own design so does our path. It’s a heady combination of nature and nurture and opportunity.
In the past, we were led to believe that our genetics governed most of what we could expect out of life. Our inherited traits were not just the arbiters of our lives but the decision makers. Thankfully we have moved on to understand that the environment we grow up in has a major part to play in our abilities to nurture us and provide the roots for our flowers and fruits.
But it’s more than that. Each one of us can develop great practices in life, the arts of appreciation and gratitude, the powers of proactivity, the reaching out of lovingkindness.
I’ve just finished a book called The Boy who was Raised as a Dog. It’s one of those books that you wish you had read as a teenager. It talks about one person’s work with very damaged children. This person’s journey was a confluence of interest and opportunity and a passion for children. He didn’t write the book on his own because he is not a writer so he joined forces with someone who can tell a story well.
That is an important point because we all need some meaningful relationships to help bring out the best in each one of us. We don’t have to be in a family, or a partnership but we have to find members of our tribe, those people who resonate like we do, who understand where we are coming from and who wish the best for us and who cheer us along. It takes a while to recognize those people and when we do we need to work with them for our own development and to help them to achieve their potential.
That is a very important part of our design as human beings. We all, have our flashes of brilliance, on the dance floor, in an exam, walking the dog, explaining an idea in a conversation. It’s what we do with the flashes of brilliance that matter. The brilliance comes from within, that wonderful place of enormous potential deep inside each one of us. It’s a moving chain of energy that slides around in us and between us. We can feel it only if we give ourselves the space to be, on our own, often in quietness and sadness. When we are always with others in social situations we are so busy with the doing- the talking, the sharing, the laughing and joking, the physical exchange of energy that we are not truly in touch with the deepest part of ourselves.
Some people call it being present to ourselves but it has had a lot of labels down through the centuries. Some people call it prayer, some call it meditation. What matters is that you get to develop a practice of being on your own, without distraction for a few minutes of every day listening to your breathing and turning off your mind. Yes, that’s right you gotta learn to stop thinking, breathe in and out consciously and when the thoughts come you notice them and don’t chase them. Let them go. This is the time for the non-thinking space and it’s the time for the clear part of you to emerge like a light that shines out and allows you to see the wonderful path ahead.