How do you know you have the right purpose in life?
Imagine for a moment you had spent your whole life climbing a ladder.
This ladder represents an aspiration you hold. It could be your career, a dream home, lifestyle, or marriage. What if when you reached the top of the ladder, you realised it was against the wrong wall?
Would you have enjoyed the climb regardless and be happy enough to climb back to the bottom, pivot and begin climbing again?
Or would this be a catastrophe, the sort of disaster that spawns a middle age crisis?
"If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster." ― Stephen R. Covey.
Take this Reddit users commentary gloomily entitled 'I just want to watch the world burn' where she says:
'I have an objectively good life but I am so dissatisfied and feeling my mortality. I fight against the urge to burn it all down every day. I'm beyond sick of work, dinner, sleep, and repeat every damn day. My marriage has lost all passion and emotional connection. My kid is grown and mostly doing his own thing. How do I get off this hamster wheel, or do I keep going because of the security? I want to live, experience, and indulge the last good years that I have, but I'm tied to a little vanilla bean. Does anyone else feel this way? Am I being spoiled and selfish?'
What do you think?
Perhaps this resonates with some readers. For others, the prospect of landing there in your forties is terrifying. Could this midlife crisis be a result of the wrong ladder being climbed?
I think so.
You hear a lot of self-help wishy washiness about finding your purpose. It's often spoken about like the golden snitch, manage to catch it, and you win the game.
Purpose should be thought about more as a process. It's like the eternal carrot that is just in front of us, slightly out of reach, we may never get to it, and if we do, we eat it. After all, it's just a carrot. It doesn't solve our hunger issues forever. We enjoy the taste and move on to the next. The process of chasing it is where the growth is. It's precisely this we should learn to derive pleasure from.
What is your purpose?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a bin man. Like a budget version of batman, cleaning the streets and making friends as I go. As my sense of smell developed, so did my understanding of what was possible. I remember feeling at the time this was my purpose. But my bubble was small. I only knew of jobs I had seen with my eyes, and your job was your whole purpose. Capitalism really did a number on my impressionable, young mind.
Oddly my perception of my purpose hasn't changed much it is still largely centred around helping others while growing as a person, just with some more nuisance and fewer bin bags.
There is an interesting concept the Japanese use to describe purpose. Ikigai.
What is Ikigai?
Ikigai – roughly translated as a reason for being or a sense of purpose.
Regardless of how successful their careers are or how they appear on the outside, many people are still seeking a sense of more profound meaning and fulfilment in life. But, unfortunately, a great deal more have drifted and barely considered it. They may be climbing someone else's ladder or have not begun a climb of any description.
What are the components of Ikigai?
Ikigai has four components:
- What you love.
- What you're good at.
- What the world needs
- What you can be paid for.
When all of these sections overlap. That's Ikigai.
I can hear the cynics saying, 'no wonder there's no word in the English language for that'.
Cynics aside, it's a concept that can help you make decisions and quantify how fulfilling something will be ahead of time. The more strongly something intersects multiple areas, the more likely it will lead to fulfilment.
How do you find your purpose?
To avoid identity crises, regardless of where you are in your journey, it's essential to work on climbing the right ladders.
To find your purpose:
- Experiment with new things.
- Explore what takes your interest.
- Don't be afraid to learn.
- Embrace that you're a complete novice.
Ask yourself what values are important to you, and what can you do to uphold these on a regular basis.
Be honest with yourself. It's not what other people want. These are your passions and values.
Reflection, introspection, and journaling will help you to identify the above and get more joy out of the process.
How does reflection benefit you?
"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts." Marcus Aurelius
Getting clear on the elements that contribute to a fulfilling purpose can allow you to set goals and systems in your life, which means you can climb a ladder that's both enjoyable and aligned with your values. In addition, it gives you a guiding north star, which maintains motivation, resilience, and overall well-being.
Tips for incorporating Ikigai into daily life
- Set goals
- Define your values
- Prioritise meaningful relationships
- Seek out opportunities for personal growth
- Reflect regularly as your priorities change and evolve
Are you on the right ladder? Which ladder will you climb next?