“Ready, set, go!” I shout. My best friend and I dash down the street as fast as our little legs will take us. “To the stop sign!” she yells, “You’ll never catch me!”
I lengthen my stride, pump my arms with all my might and propel myself forward. I stare at the sign ahead and spur myself to get there as fast as humanly possible.
Seconds later I leap across the imaginary finish line and raise my arms in victory. “And the crowd goes wild!” I holler between panted breaths.
“Ugh,” my friend mumbles, “best two out of three?”
“You’re on!” I say smiling.
‘My Why’ as a Child
My best friend and I whiled away endless summers racing on the quiet, dead-end street that separated our two houses.
Why did we run? We ran primarily for the pleasure of racing, but we also ran to become better versions of ourselves.
We dreamed of breaking our previous records and running farther than we’d ever run before. In fact, we believed we could sprint faster than the wind and put every once of energy into proving it. We also ran against one another; two friends giggling and laughing as we competed.
‘My Why’ Now
Why do we do any of the things that we do? What drives us to make certain choices or to follow a particular path in life?
“Have you ever wondered what your purpose is,” a friend recently asked, “your why?”
What is my purpose? I have no clue. You might as well ask me what is the meaning of life?
“Do those two things have to fit together?” I asked, “because as soon as my why gets linked to my purpose I feel stuck. I can’t come up with an answer.”
“I’d like to separate the two,” I told my friend. “My why is to search for joy. I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out what my purpose is, but joy might help me find it.”
Seeking Joy as a Young Adult
As a young adult joy helped forge my path in life.
Why did I chose my alma mater? For adventure. In high school my best friend and I snuck out to see a rock concert at a local college. It was my first exposure to underage drinking and partying on a college campus. It was also the first time I’d ever smelled weed. Months later I applied to that university and spent four years earning my degree there.
Why did I marry my husband? Because our first interaction was filled with laughter. The first time we met I smiled so hard that my cheeks hurt for days. I fell head over heels for him and married him seven years later.
Why did I chose my first job after graduation? For pride and excitement. I chose a software engineering job even though I had no experience coding. The company that hired me narrowed down a pool of three hundred applicants to a tiny group of sixteen. When I received that offer letter I ran down the halls of my dorm beaming with pride. Twenty years later I’m still proud that I made the cut. I was excited to learn new technologies and thrilled to leave the subjective world of English literature behind.
When I reflect back on those big moments my heart still swells with happiness. I can relive those euphoric feelings as if they just happened. It’s been more than two decades since they occurred, but those deep-rooted joyous moments never dissipate from my memory.
Disconnecting From Joy
Think back to your own childhood or early adulthood. What did you love about it? Can you recall specific memories that still make you smile?
What sparks that same level of excitement for you now? Do you find yourself feeling stumped for an answer?
Are you suddenly contemplating your most recent moments and wondering why you feel so utterly disconnected from joy?
What happened to that feeling?
Think about exercise for a moment. As adults we run to stay fit. We lace up our sneakers, set a timer on our watches and plod down the same paths day after day. Why don’t we run for pleasure anymore?
Is it fun to feel your heart pounding and your legs burning? A few of you will say yes, but many of you will say, “Um, I don’t think so. It takes a lot of effort to exercise.” That’s why we stay away from the gym and fail to hit the trails outside.
Thankfully children don’t view exercise as work. It’s enjoyable for them, but why isn’t it pleasurable for us anymore? Why do we lose our zest for the simple pleasures of life as we age?
Losing Our Zest For Life
Now I know what you are going to say. The answer is obvious. We lose our passion when we begin to pay our own bills. Many of us work in unfulfilling jobs that suck up our energy and leave us too tired to pursue our passions and pet projects.
We fail to find joy because the day to day motions of life simply aren’t enjoyable.
Okay, I hear you, but you can’t use this an excuse for the next thirty years. You only get one chance at this life. Do you really want to waste it sitting on the sidelines complaining and grumbling?
Losing Sight of the People and Activities That Matter
Children have clear visions of the people and activities they love. Tonight I asked my son, “What is important to you? What do you care about?” Without hesitation he answered:
- My Family
- My Friends
- Marble Races
- Math (This really was one of his answers.)
- My Soccer Team
My son can often be found inventing math games at the dining room table or creating elaborate marble races in our basement. You can also find him snuggling up with his dad and I or playing games with his little brother.
If I asked you the same questions could you rattle off a list of people and activities you care about? If you answered yes, how much time do you spend on the things you love?
Could I look at your calendar or daily list of activities and immediately determine what you value? If you love something shouldn’t you find time for it in between your busy, daily routines?
And what about those of us who can’t even answer the question? Those of us who have lost sight of our passions. Why don’t we spend time asking ourselves what we care about? Why don’t we focus on these important aspects? How do we bring joy and excitement back into our lives?
Find Your Passion: Find Your Path
There is no time like the present to refocus your energy on the people and activities that bring you joy.
Step one: Find your passion. Begin by asking yourself the questions below:
Which Activities Make You Lose All Sense of Place and Time?
Sometimes I become so focused on an activity that I lose all sense of place and time. Has that every happened to you?
As a software engineer I spent much of my day writing code. My husband would come home to find me hunched over my computer still wearing my pajamas. I forgot to shower, dress or eat lunch. In fact, I often forgot to turn on the lights when it got dark outside.
I have a passion for solving complex problems. I took on the hardest tasks and volunteered to learn the latest technologies. Every day I strived to stretch my abilities and improve my skills. It was thrilling to write code, compile my applications and watch new features come to life before my very eyes. I was so engaged that I didn’t want to take my eyes off my computer.
I left software eight years ago, but the same thing happens now when I write. I’ll sit in a comfy spot without budging. I become so entrenched in my stories that I have no idea how late it is or when I last moved.
Do you become so intensely involved in an activity that you fail to pay attention to the clock? Do you love something so much that you don’t care at all about what’s going on around you or what time it is? If so, this may be your passion.
When Do You Feel Happy or Inspired?
Think back to the last time you felt happy and inspired. What were you doing to make you feel that way?
Were you spending time with loved ones, working on a creative endeavor or getting together with friends? Were you contributing to a group project or working alone?
I recently met a woman who discovered a passion for party planning. She threw a few baby showers and engagement parties and realized she felt incredibly excited when planning events for those she loved.
After some time she began to wonder what it was about party planning that she really loved. Was it choosing the food or party favors? Was it arranging all of the little details?
It turned out not to be any of those things. It was watching the people celebrating that brought her joy. Now she arranges low-key get togethers with friends, family members and coworkers.
“It’s not about the money or the size of the event,” she said. “It’s about seeing everyone smiling, laughing and having a good time.”
“Why wait for a special event?” she asked. “When we can celebrate just being together.”
If Today Was Your Last What Would You Regret Not Doing?
Okay so this topic isn’t exactly a pleasant one, but thinking about death can reinvigorate our passion for life. Picture yourself lying on your death bed when your friends and family come to say their goodbyes. Before you close your eyes for the last time what will you think about? Will you have regrets of anything that you failed to do throughout your lifetime?
I hope that I live a very long life, but above everything else I want my children to know how much I love them. I would regret dying without leaving them with a lasting legacy of my love.
To ensure that doesn’t happen I maintain a special journal for each child. I started it when they were three months old. Every few months I write a letter to my children. It details their current activities, adorable things they’ve said and how I feel about them during this current phase of their lives.
I’ve turned my passion for my children into a written record; a legacy of sorts. If I leave this world unexpectedly my husband will share those online journals with them. I hope they will read them and recognize how deeply they are loved.
Think carefully about this question before moving on to the next one. If you’ve always wanted to learn to paint, cook, give back to your community, learn new skills, learn a new language or travel the world now is the time to plan for those possibilities.
When my ninety-four year old grandmother passed away she had a few regrets. One was that she never visited Paris. To this day I wish I had taken her on that trip. By the time she reached her early nineties she was no longer able to travel.
If you can’t come up with a list of passions, ask yourself ,”What would I regret not doing?”
How Do You Want to Be Remembered?
Oh no another death related question. Yup. This time think about your death from the perspective of your spouse, friends, family and and children. What would you want the them to say at your eulogy?
Would you want them to stand up and say, “[Your Name] binged on her favorite Netflix shows?” Or would you prefer, “[Your Name] contributed to a greater cause and made an impact in the lives of others?”
Wouldn’t you want them to say you had a passion for life? That you were a problem solver, a lover of the arts or a life-long learner?
How about simply saying, “[Your Name] loved her family and his friends. She spent time on the things that really mattered.”
What Would You Do In A World Without Screens?
Imagine a world without screens of any kind. What if you threw your smartphone and laptop out the window and tore your television off the wall? Think about a world where you can’t reach for technology. You cannot waste away your days watching Netflix or playing video games.
What would you do? If you aren’t sure separate yourself from your gadgets. Step outside, breathe in the crisp air and ponder the idea.
Would you exercise, start a community garden, visit with friends, study a new language, travel, fix up your house, learn to quilt, paint pictures or do something else entirely?
Whatever pops into your mind first might be your passion. It’s tough to muster up enthusiasm for life with a screen in front of you. Discover your passion by stepping away from technology for a little while.
What Did You Love To Do As a Child?
Think back on those prized childhood memories. What did you love to do? On those quiet summer days that stretched on for hours where would you have been and what would you have been doing?
My dad recently found a pile of old stories in a forgotten dresser drawer. I wrote those stories in my room, (late at night), when I should have been sleeping.
Some kids stay up late reading, but I stayed up inventing gory tales that helped me work through the complex thoughts and emotions in my ten year old brain.
I’ve always needed a place to dump my thoughts. My passion for writing bridges my love for psychology, (introspectively examining why I think the way I do), with my passion for seeing the printed word.
What did you love to do as a child? Did you draw, sing, play a musical instrument, perform in school plays, get involved in community initiatives or play sports?
What did you love to do? Think back on those activities and decide if you still have a passion for any of them.
Reflect similarly on your childhood dreams. What did you want to be when you grew up? Try to gleam your passions from your past.
Who Inspires You?
This one might be a little more difficult to answer, but who inspires you? Throughout my childhood I had two amazing English teachers who spurred my creativity and made me a better writer.
As a result, I have a passion for writing and teaching. It’s one of the reasons I became a teacher’s aide when I was in high school. I also mentored co-workers throughout my career and currently volunteer at my son’s school.
My husband and I love to cook together. We laugh, dance and sing in the kitchen while we chop up ingredients and create amazing flavors. I’d like to further my passion for cooking by taking classes or going to culinary school.
My husband often talks about his grandmother’s baking. About the pies and recipes she prepared around the holidays. It’s easy to see how family members can pass on an early love of cooking.
Can you recreate the beloved recipes that your parents and grandparents prepared for you? Even better, can you enjoy this passion with those you love?
Think back on your life and ask yourself who inspires you? Then ask yourself what did they do? Can you recapture their joy by doing something similar?
What Random Thoughts Pop Into Your Mind When You Take a Shower?
Sometimes our brains presents visions that we choose to ignore. What do you think about when you take a shower, drive to work or mindlessly run on the treadmill?
Is there a recurring theme or idea that keeps popping into your head? Something that seems fun and exciting, but that you’ve never carved out time to try before?
A friend of mine kept dreaming about running. After fantasizing about it for weeks she decided to sign up for a 5K. She’d never run in a race before, but she’s been running in races ever since.
She turned her dreams into a passion. Do you have any recurring thoughts that you can’t seem to get out of your head?
My Passion May Not Be My Purpose
For more than a decade I’ve considered this blog to be nothing more than an online journal, but the past few months have shown me the power and value in my posts.
After writing about my follow-up mammogram other women reached out to tell me similar stories. I’ve also received heart-wrenching emails in response to my thoughts on financial favoritism.
I am not writing entirely for myself. In fact, I am writing so others can say, “I am not alone.”
Is this blog my purpose? I have no idea. Do I have a passion for writing and maintaining it? Yes. Does it bring me joy? Most definitely.
Does that mean this blog will help me find my path in life? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t really matter. I write here because I love to.
Some of us can forge a connection between our work, purpose and passions. Others cannot. If you can tie them together celebrate that victory, but don’t feel pressed to make them all fit into one tiny box.
Before I end this post I want to write a little about fear. I am a fearful person. In fact, I am often driven by fear. I’ve written about this many times before. In fact, fear propelled me to become financially independent. Whether I like it or not fear is often “my why” in life.
It is a motivating factor for me like no other, but fear can also cause me to get stuck. Sometimes I don’t pursue my passions, because I don’t think I will be good enough. I permit fear to prevent joy.
In order to find your path in life. In order to find joy, excitement and inspiration you’ll have to cast your ego aside.
Think about running down the street as a kid. Did you let fear stop you from running? I didn’t. I tightened my laces and took off for the finish line.
Live Your Best Life
When I pursue the activities I love with the people I love I reap the reward of a life well lived.
Are you pursuing your passions? Are you searching for joy? If not, what are you waiting for?
4 thoughts on “Use Your Why to Find Purpose In Life”
I saved for the same reason you did- I have a deep-rooted fear of being helpless. We probably saved too much, but I no longer worry about running out, or a need that we can’t pay for. And my passion? Thanks to my job, the things I love have been pushed to the fringes of my life- the little time I have left after working all day. I love reading and gardening and puttering around the house and learning new languages. I can’t wait to find out what else I love. 111 days till my official notice. I’m excited- and nervous.
We definitely saved more than necessary, but now that we’ve already built up the funds I’m happy to have a buffer when the market falls. 111 days! That’s amazing. I hope you discover many new passions once you call it quits.
I love this post. You are a gifted writer. Glad I finally learned of your blog recently! I do still enjoy many of the same activities that brought me joy as a child but, ya, they are not my purpose for being on earth. Beyond embracing my personal roles, I’m figuring out what’s next for my upcoming years. Thanks for the questions!
Hi Carol, thanks for such a kind comment. I really appreciate it. I think all of those existential questions are so heavy and weighted. I hope these questions will help you find some new passions to explore!