Why “Find Your Purpose” is Bad Advice and What to Do Instead

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” ~Pablo Picasso

I was fifty-two when I found my purpose. I wasn’t even looking. It literally just smacked me upside the head. That’s a funny thing about life. It throws things your way, and you either grab them and run with them or you turn a blind eye and walk on by.

I used to turn a blind eye. I don’t anymore. These days I’m taking in all that life tosses my way. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

How My Purpose Found Me

I had just left an abusive relationship and declared bankruptcy. You could say my life was a complete mess. I had also just hit rock bottom and was starting the grueling climb out. It was frustrating and exhausting.

During my healing and self-discovery journey I did something that changed the entire course of my life. I started volunteering at a homeless shelter.

I’ll be honest with you, I did that for two reasons. One was selfish. The other, humanitarian (and sincere).

I desperately needed to take my mind off all my problems, and I figured the only way to do that was to surround myself with people whose problems were way bigger than mine. And it worked. But something else happened.

I fell in love with the homeless people I met and found a deep sense of purpose. Phew! I sure didn’t see that coming.

I then made it my mission to do more of that. Help people, all people, even animals. I just wanted to help everyone and everything anyway I could, as often as I could.

I had found my purpose, and that was to do my part to make the world a better place.

I Never Understood the Meaning of “Find Your Purpose”

I honestly thought that phrase was overrated and overused.

It seems to suggest purpose is something outside ourselves that we miraculously stumble upon someday. “Oh, did you hear? Mary found her purpose today.”

And it also creates a lot of stress and pressure to hurry up and figure it out. “I’m still looking for my purpose, and I’m frustrated that I’m having such a hard time with this.”

I couldn’t understand why everyone was desperately seeking their purpose. I was just trying to navigate life the best way I knew how in order to have inner peace and be happy, while others were searching for this holy grail.

I questioned myself. Should I be looking for this too? Do I need to find it before I die? Will my life be incomplete if I don’t? Will I die with regret then?

I was confused. What’s the big deal about finding your purpose? It was starting to freak me out.

My Aha Moment

After my first night at the homeless shelter, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Just give and serve and make people happy. I wanted to turn frowns upside down and get hugs and make people’s lives better, any way I could.

Did I finally discover my purpose without even realizing it? Was this what everyone was talking about?

I assumed it was. I assumed that this was it! I’d found my purpose and now my life was complete. Or was it?

I was puzzled by something.

Isn’t This Everyone’s Purpose?

I couldn’t understand why me serving homeless people and helping humans and critters in any way I could was some special purpose.

Shouldn’t we all be doing that? As humans sharing the same planet in the galaxy, shouldn’t we all be doing our part to help other human beings (and critters)?

It’s more than that, though. It’s so much bigger than that. It’s about finding joy and peace in knowing you did your part to make the world a better place.

That’s what the definition of purpose should be.

Stop Looking for Your Purpose

Maybe we should just ditch the word purpose and replace it with something that doesn’t sound so foreboding. Maybe instead of saying, “I’m trying to find my purpose in life” we should try saying, “I’m doing my part to make the world a better place.”

It just has a nicer ring to it.

There’s so much anger, hurt, hatred, and frustration in the world today. The world needs more love. People need more love. When we see things and people through the eyes of love and compassion something magical happens.

We understand, we don’t judge, we feel for each other, and it brings us all one step closer to having inner peace and joy.

So how can you make the world a better place?

What special gift, talent, or skill do you have that you can offer the world?

It doesn’t have to be what you do for a living, though that’s clearly the ideal, since we spend so much time at our jobs. Maybe it starts as something you do on the side and grows over time. Or maybe it doesn’t, but maybe having something that fills you up will help make your 9-5 more tolerable.

The important thing is that you find some way to help people that leverages your unique passions and interests. Then even if you don’t love your job, you’ll feel a sense of meaning, and you’ll feel good about yourself and the difference you’re making.

Maybe you love animals and can volunteer at a shelter.

Maybe you make people feel good about themselves by simply sharing kind words to strangers.

Or maybe you’re passionate about  knitting or sewing or singing and you can find ways to use those talents to brighten other people’s lives. I mean, the possibilities are endless.

We need to do more things that spread joy, hope, and love to the people around us, even if it’s something small. Sometimes it’s the smallest acts that have the biggest impact.

If you’re stressing about the fact that you are getting older and haven’t found your purpose yet, stop. It’s overrated. Instead, find ways to serve and in turn, inspire others to serve.

It’s not about finding your purpose. It’s about living your life to the fullest and knowing at the end of the day that you did your very best to make someone else’s day brighter and better. It’s about doing that every day until you die. That’s a life well-lived. And if you want to call that your purpose, so be it.

About Iva Ursano

Iva is a self-help blogger from Ontario, Canada who now resides in Guatemala. Her two goals in life are to inspire people around the world with her blogs and to feed hungry bellies in the poor town she calls home. Sign up for weekly inspiration here or check out her self-help eBooks You Are Amazing. Her new course “The 21 Day Challenge” is now available. Use coupon code TINYBUDDHA for $60 off!!

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