The myth we tell ourselves about purpose

I have such a love hate relationship with the word purpose.

Such an emotionally heavy word, we attach so much meaning to having a purposeful life, a purposeful job, a purposeful relationship, it goes on until all I can think is that perhaps my purpose is to find my purpose (perhaps its hanging out in a bar waitlife-not-twerk-quote-pics-quotes-picturesing for me).

I remember when I was the CEO of a victim support group, people would remark that I had ‘found my purpose’, like it was something out there hidden to be discovered. I would nod and agree, desperately wanting to reassure them that I actually had some idea what my purpose was but actually the truth looked more like “I am in a job that I love right now, and when I stop loving it I will find another one that I love, and on that will go”.

Because thats just it… purpose is not some stagnant object that once found can be ticked off a list.  Its not ‘out there’ waiting for you (damn, I was slowly working my way through every bar calling its name).  Its not a destination that you arrive to and stop, and its certainly not a particular career.

The reality is that purpose is dynamic, and there are moments we’re really in the ‘flow’ of life, times when we’re living in awesome alignment to our values. And there are times when we feel like we’re losing our way, but to quote Chris Martin “just because we’re losing doesn’t mean we’re lost’.

Making the decision to resign from my CEO job was one of the hardest things I’ve done (yep, one of the hardest!)  I’d worked there for eight years, and loved it for seven.  In the eigth year, despite the fact that my career was at an all-time high, I didn’t feel connected to the work anymore.  I kept myself going by telling myself lies, that this was my ‘purpose’ but that sinking feeling in my stomach grew each day.

I asked a friend of mine, if I’m not the CEO of this organisation, if I’m not this crusader for victims’ rights, then who am I..?  Her response was beautiful. And in ten simple words she’d convinced me to resign:

“I dont know,” she said “but aren’t you curious to find out?”

The day I walked away from that job I realised that I decided what my purpose would be.  Not some random twist of fate, not a happy coincidence that I fell into the right job, and certainly not someone else’s notion of what it was I should be doing.

That was the day I started to worry less about ‘what’ I would be when I grew up, and started to care more about ‘who’ I was going to be.