Jun 052011
Martin Luther King Jr by US Embassy New Delhi

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

Aung San Suu Kyi Protests by Total Out Now

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.

Happily Learning to Walk by Delta Mike

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.

Taking Action

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. :)

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  18 Responses to “The Soul of Meaningful Purpose”

  1. That was a beautiful article. I don’t suppose there are too many people, in numbers, who get handed the choice to make such huge sacrifices in honor of many as did those you have pictured above. There are many who would live and die for their children, myself included. I like to imagine that most of us have our one tiny cause that we stand for come what may – and then, in numbers, we are quite strong.
    Julie | A Clear Sign recently posted..The Blessing Of Small Children and A Little Celebration Of MenMy Profile

    • Hi Julie,

      Thank you for your compliments. :)

      I believe that we all have our roles to play here on Earth. Not everyone is called upon to make such huge sacrifices. But it is also true that there are many who put their children and loved ones first. Love is a powerful force that we can all draw strength from. Having a cause that we hold on strongly to makes life worth living.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  2. Irving, I was so moved by this article. The examples you gave are humbling and inspiring. I wonder if I would have taken the offer to leave the country so that I could see my family again. Maybe I would rationalize my choice by telling myself that I could do more good for my country on the outside. I don’t know. Or would I put myself in harm’s way to be a reporter? Probably not. I have stood up for the right thing in circumstances that cost me socially, but I have never been called upon to put myself in danger like the people you described. So what is it, besides my children, that could inspire such commitment and courage in my spirit?

    It would be easy to get demoralized about my own shortcomings in the courage department, but instead, I like to think that reading about remarkably brave people who achieve extraordinary things because of their commitment to a purpose, will inspire me to more alert to the small ways that I can change my little corner of the universe for the better. We all face choices as we go through our lives to take the high road or the easy road.

    Thank you for an article that will keep me thinking for days to come.
    Galen Pearl recently posted..Complaint Free ChallengeMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      I am glad that you enjoyed my article. Since this was a more inspirational article to me, I did give my examples some thought before I chose to share them.

      It is an interesting question isn’t it? For things that do not matter too strongly to us, we are only willing to go so far. But when it is something truly dear that we cannot live without then we get to see superhuman feats of courage and endurance. Such is the potential that all human beings have.

      You have already made great sacrifices in bringing up your children so I do not think you are lacking in the courage department. There are different kinds of courage and not all of them have to be dramatic. Yours would be the courage to persevere in the face of adversity for the sake of your kids. While it is not overly dramatic, it has certainly made a difference in their lives.

      It always help to read about the courage of others and the stories they have to share. Doing so helps us to broaden our horizons and reminds us of what is possible to achieve. If we believe it can be done, we are more likely to do it. Let us work towards taking the high road when it matters.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

      Irving the Vizier

  3. In regards to my purpose…I just follow my heart. Following my heart requires me to FEEL what is right for me and to recall what makes my soul sing and rejoice.
    Kenya recently posted..Intuition Versus JudgementsMy Profile

    • Hi Kenya,

      Following your heart is a great and courageous way to live. Not everyone is brave or determined enough to follow what their hearts tell them to do. As such, they do not really live satisfactory lives. But when we do what our heart feels is right, it does make our soul rejoice and sing. That is something we would do well to remember.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

      Irving the Vizier

  4. When I finally found my purpose, I discovered that I became more alive. I would wake up with a burst of energy, and very often, I cannot wait to get started on a brand new day. It is like what Kenya said about following the heart. There is passion and there is purpose.
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..111 Ideas For Your Bucket ListMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      I know what it feels like to have purpose and passion for something. That energy has kept me going for hours without sleep. On other days when I am uninspired, I usually have difficulty getting out of bed. Finding and creating purposes that we are passionate about is truly the best way to live.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

      Irving the Vizier

  5. Irving,

    Man you have outdone yourself with this one. I am standing up at my desk at work as you completely captivated my attention and have me thinking deep as always. I am a huge fan of understanding purpose. If you don’t have purpose you are wasting time doing things without a desired outcome. In my own life I have added the practice of asking myself a simple question every time I make a decsion. That question is, Why? If it doesn’t have a deep enough meaning I prefer not to waste my time with it. Life is way to short to waste time doing things that don’t matter. I want to make a difference like the people you mentioned. It may not be as grand of a scale as they did it but I want the world to be a better place because I existed on it. Great post!

    • Hi Frank,

      I am glad that my article has had such a profound effect on you. :)

      Knowing our purpose does indeed make all the difference in the things we do. Like you, I have also made sure to find out the “why” of everything that matters before I do it. This has helped to keep me focused on the things that truly matter.

      I will be the first to admit that it is cool to save the world like superheroes. But making a difference doesn’t only have to be on a grand scale. The little things matter more deeply in this case. It is the ordinary people going about their everyday lives and doing what is best for their loved ones and the people around them that is truly heroic. For all these little difference add up on a cosmic scale to fulfill a universal purpose – to make the world a better place than we found it.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  6. Irving, this was an extraordinary read, thank you for sharing!

    As you know, I have my driving forces which provide me with inspiration and fuel to keep plowing on. But my greater purpose is something different. It’s a strong desire to help change the world. I follow this motto:

    “If I can leave the world in a better place than when I found it, then I can die satisfied”

    And I keep striving to fulfill that motto, it’s my greater purpose in life. Without something like this, I fear I would be drifting like a zombie, as you put it ;-)
    Stuart recently posted..The Force That DrivesMy Profile

    • Hi Stuart,

      I am sure everyone who has read your blog knows who the driving forces in your life are. ;) This forms the stable foundation upon which you can create and contribute to the world at large in a bigger way. I am glad that you aim to help to change the world and to leave it better than you found it. Such a task is hardly easy, but it is something we should all strive towards in our own ways. (It also helps that you have your driving forces to draw strength from.) If everyone makes an effort in this direction, I am sure we will set a greater change in motion.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  7. I admit I don’t have any one purpose in my life. I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in that regard because I love so many things. However, I do have a 9 month-old daughter I love without reserve and would do anything for. If I had extreme circumstances like you mention here, I know the benefit of my daughter would keep me going when little else could.

    Delena Silverfox recently posted..BabyCurls Discount CodeMy Profile

    • Hi Delena,

      I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. Being a jack-of-all-trades is clearly no coincidence. I am sure that one day your unique skill sets and knowledge will come in most useful when it matters most. So in the meantime, do make sure you are good at the things you love. :)

      It is always heartening to see the love that parents have for their children. I am sure you daughter is in good hands with a bright future ahead of her because you would be willing to make sacrifices to ensure her well-being. :)

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  8. Thank you for this fine article Irving. What a remarkable example you are in your own expression — in this article for instance – of creating genuine value instead of harm.And there is something else you demonstrate I’d like to mention, and this is generosity.

    Every time I read one of your posts I am so touched with the generosity of spirit that they reveal. You don’t stint with your offering, you give it everything you’ve got. And, of course, you take such care with your offerings. Well done. Well done.
    Christopher Foster recently posted..How fear can open a door to wholenessMy Profile

    • Hi Christopher,

      Thank you for your kind praises. It never occurred to me that I was generous in my articles until you pointed it out. I guess I have always been a perfectionist to a degree and wish to ensure that I say all I know about a particular topic. Since it is likely to have some impact on my readers, it is something I have to put great care into.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

      Irving the Vizier

  9. Wow…really amazing post Irving. I totally agree with you that it is imperative to find your soul’s purpose. I think that no matter how long we have to search for it, we need to continue until we discover it, because once we do, the stars just seem to align. I thought what you said was so true that once you find it, you have all the extra passion you ever need to push forward and overcome any obstacles. Great post.

    • Hi Sibyl,

      No doubt it takes great effort to find our greater or soul’s purpose. But the end goal is indeed worth all that time and effort. As you rightly put it, “the stars just seem to align.” And what a difference that makes when it happens. With that driving purpose, we have the strength, courage and determination to face whatever stands in our way to reach our goals.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

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