Having purpose and meaning in life is vital to living. Without a clear purpose, we drift from day to day like zombies, not knowing what we are doing or why. Without a clear path to follow, any path is just as good. Under such conditions, it is no surprise that we end up making poor choices that lead to problems and regrets in the future. But what makes a purpose inspirational? How do we find or create such a purpose for ourselves? While purpose is highly subjective and dependent on the individual, here are a few broad guidelines that might help you to create a worthy and inspirational one.
The Backbone of Purpose: Value or Harm
I am not a big fan of the terms good or evil because I find them a little too narrow and limiting. Instead, I feel it is better to look at the value or harm that our actions bring to the lives of others. When it comes to purpose, it helps to have a goal that creates genuine value instead of harm. If we bring harm to others, we will not have an easy conscience. To worsen matters, our actions also create resistance and tension both internally and externally. Over time, we will find it harder and harder to act naturally or to pursue our purpose. And in the end, the full repercussions of our actions will snowball and return to haunt us. There is a price and consequence for everything that we do. To me, it is more prudent to add value instead of bringing harm to others.
In making the world a better place for others, we have to listen carefully to the needs of the people we want to affect. True value is what people really need instead of what we think they need. Done right, we will derive much satisfaction and goodwill from it. Most importantly, we have a clear conscience that makes it easier to persist in our purpose. Having an altruistic purpose does not mean that we will have an easy time ahead. It just means that we do not create needless resistance against us the way harm does. Broadly speaking, the more selfless our goal, the more powerful our purpose is. But here we should not be too overly dependent on appreciation and recognition. People will never be able to satisfy our need for approval if that is what we live for. Instead, we should be happy knowing that we have brought true value and made a real difference in the lives of others.
The Greater Purpose
1. A Greater Cause
To strive actively to achieve some goal gives your life meaning and substance. –Bruce Lee
Each of us is unique. Our experiences, likes and dislikes ensure that there will be no other like us in this world. Each of us brings our unique nature to unique circumstances creating a unique opportunity. Therefore, it is no surprise that each of us has unique roles to fulfil. What that role is depends on our strengths and challenges. In creating this cause for ourselves, it pays to notice our circumstances. Many people have found their calling by flowing with their circumstances. What challenges do we face? What opportunities lie therein that we can use? How does all this align with our nature and values? Pay careful attention until you find something that intuitively feels right.
Take the example of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her story is the story of Burma’s struggle for freedom. For most of 1989 to 2010, she was under house arrest in Burma. But during these long years, her purpose gave her the patience and perseverance to endure her loss of freedom. Although the ruling military junta offered her freedom if she left the country, she refused. She would not take the easy way out and leave her people to their fate. Instead, she chose to stay on to fight for democratic reform and freedom in Burma. In 1991, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle that her son accepted on her behalf. Again, she would place her people first and used the money to set up a health and education trust for them.
As we can imagine, the personal costs of her struggle have been great. Separated from her family for years, she did not see her husband for the last time when he died in 1999. Yet she holds on for the sake of her people. This driving purpose keeps her going and makes her life meaningful. With so many people looking to her for hope and inspiration, she cannot falter.
2. Living to Protect and Nurture
To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage. -Lao Zi
Living for ourselves can only take us so far. Without anyone to share our achievements with or to attain success for, it is a rather empty existence. But for those who have loved ones to live for, they have strength and courage beyond measure. In truth, living for others is one of the most powerful purposes we can have. Having loved ones around multiplies our joys and reduces our sorrows. Having loved ones to protect and nurture gives us purpose like no other.
Take the ordeal of Lara Logan in Egypt for example. As she came close to death during the barbaric attack, she realized that she had to live on for the sake of her two young children. No matter what the mob did to her, she had to survive. And so, with admirable courage, she yielded to her attackers to stay alive. Such resolve could not have come about if she did not have someone or something to live for other than herself. Her wounds would heal, but the emotional scars would remain. Yet as long as her children need her, she will find the strength and the courage to be there for them. Life has a beautiful and an ugly side. When things turn ugly, we need to have a clear and powerful purpose to get through it.
The Soul of Purpose
Living for a greater purpose allows ordinary people, like you and me, to do extraordinary things. It gives us that extra ounce of strength to go the extra mile. No matter how battered and bruised our bodies are, we have a reason to keep on getting up even when we cannot. For the sake of our purpose, we will persist against all odds until we reach our goals. In extreme cases, we can make great sacrifices and even give up our lives without regrets. Having a greater purpose makes us keenly aware of what is important to us. Not only does it make adversity easier to manage, it magnifies our joys tenfold as well.
So do not settle for wanting to be just rich, successful or happy. Go deeper and ask why, what and how. Reach deep within and find someone or something that matters deeply to you. What are you willing to fight and die for without regrets? When you find this, you will find the soul of your purpose and your source of strength. Some people are lucky to have a few purposes in life to keep them going. That is well and good because in the end, your life is yours to live and create.
Here it is important to note that a meaningful purpose does not have to be grand or complex. In fact, the simple things in life are often the most important and overlooked. What is vital is that you find out what this is for you. But even if your purpose does not come readily to you, do not be discouraged. Just keep on improving daily as you keep your eyes open. If you do not give up the search or the urge to create that purpose, you will find it one day.
What are your views about having a greater purpose in life? Apart from having a greater cause and living to protect and nurture, can you think of any other greater purpose? Do share your thoughts and comments below.