I Lost My Purpose. Can You Help Me Find It?
One huge thing they forget to tell you in the midst of all the unwarranted advice that comes your way post college is that the next chapter, well, is kind of one huge whopping mess. It isn't chunked out neatly into four year spans. There isn't a nationwide test for all adults so that you can assess how much better you're doing at life than everyone else. And most confusing of all, there is no end date—no point of assessment where time stops and you get to sit down with your advisor and regroup on what's working and what's not.
Deep down we're all creatures of habit. So it's no surprise at all that the self help world did what it does best. It created a new way for us to "help ourselves" to the lives we all think we should be living. A short cut for skipping over all the crappy bits and waking up in our dream lives 10 pounds lighter and thousands of dollars richer.
It has become a new way to check in on how we're doing, to compare our own joy with the seemingly unrelated joy of others. A way of assessing whether or not our pain is "worth it" or at least worth blaming on something eerily just beyond our control.
And it's name is purpose.
If you've picked up any kind of magazine, watched any shows or movies remotely related to adult success you've probably heard some rendition of the purpose conversation. It's usually tucked away in a monologue or catchy tweetable that sounds a little something like this: "Find what you're really meant to do on this Earth. Find the reason you were put on this planet at this time and pursue it at all cost. Because that's what the world needs. We're all depending on you!" Okay I added the last sentence, but you get the point.
The new benchmark for success is essentially finding "work that doesn't feel like work at all" because as fate would have it, it's our true purpose for being alive. And until we find it, we're doing our loved ones, ourselves, this world a giant disservice.
Cue my what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life crocodile tears.
While the notion of purpose is filled with positive intent, it's also pretty soul crushing in its own way. Not only does this perspective imply that 95% of the population is a total failure but drinking the Purpose-Aid can actually deter us from the very learning experiences we need to discover and ultimately pursue our life's work. It hinders our creative ability to learn from mistakes encouraging us, rather, to avoid them altogether. And worst of all, it puts the entirety of our self worth in our careers.
Honestly, from one 20 something to another...how many people do you know that really love their jobs? Not parts of it, not when they get to travel or when their office throws a crazy holiday party, but every, single, last second of their job?
I work for myself and I don't love my job a huge chunk of the time. I love portions of it and I do my best to cherish those pieces as much as I can. Knowing that when I have the opportunity to change the not-so-great-aspects of it, I will.
It's the best I can do right now. And I'm finding peace with that.
But the more I sink my teeth into this whole adulthood thing, purpose becomes less and less relevant. I'm finding that the big question of life isn't what I want to do, it's who I can live with being not 10 years from now, not on my dream board, but today, this second. As much as I'd love to be a New York Times Bestselling Author meets international philanthropist meets coolest, hippest (because I totally won't be embarrassing...not) Mom someday, today I just want to be the kind of woman who gets her life together enough to wear matching socks.
Because maybe the real testament of success as isn't about finding your purpose, it's actually about learning to love yourself reasonably. Not the badass giving speeches on stage, juggling in promotions left and right, scoring the dreamboat spouse version of yourself—she's pretty easy to love. It's learning to love the haven't showered in five days, just quit her second job in 3 months, totally unromantic, socially awkward, pit stained, gray haired Self.
It's learning to love her so damn much that she's reminded how worthy of having those big dreams she really is. It's loving the living crap out of her so that she knows that taking big leaps always comes at the risk of falling real hard—like Cady Heron into the trash can hard—but getting up is always an option.
While college continues to become a blur the more years I spend away from campus and inevitably lose touch with old classmates, I have one memory that stands out as vividly as ever.
My senior year, I decided to shop a class with the new professor on campus. I, along with 50 other students, assumed it'd be an easy A—given the limited reading list and 3 paper syllabus.
Within 5 minutes of entering the classroom she quickly addressed the assumptions that preceded her. She wrote her name on the board and began her introduction without any sign of over-anxious giddiness, eager-to-be-liked new professors so often led with.
She quickly explained that her grading scale was simple: C's would be given to papers that demonstrated mastery of the subject matter. B's would be awarded to students who had exceeded mastery by using the material to explain an unexpected point of view. And simply put, A's would be rewarded to students who taught her something new.
Just to be clear, she had not only written a dissertation in her subject matter but had spent the previous 15 years teaching it to hundreds of students. At Harvard.
For whatever reason, I stayed along with 5 other students. I received a C, a B, and after many office hours talking through and debating the content with her, I finally walked away with my coveted A minus. To this day, it is one of the best papers I have ever written.
Strangely enough, I knew it was an A paper before I even handed it in. Her approval was simply icing on the cake. And perhaps that was the point.
Maybe adulthood isn't much different. In many ways, learning to love ourselves, the good and the bad, involves a passing of the torch. One in which we strangely become both the eager student and the discerning professor. Playing student in search of the world's approval comes naturally. Learning to reward and push ourselves accordingly? That's foreign territory I'm still working my way through.
Because maybe, just maybe, the love and acceptance we keep searching for in the name of "purpose" doesn't come from bosses, parents, spouses or friends. Maybe it was never theirs to hand out in the first place. Maybe the hidden secret is that we are all the master professors in our own life waiting with bated breath to hand out—and dually receive—that coveted A minus. The simple mark that ensures us all that this life of ours? Really is getting along just fine.