The pursuit of purpose

The pursuit of purpose

MEANINGFUL LIFE

The pursuit of purpose

At some point in life, you will face the dreaded question: What do I want to do with my life? The earlier you answer it, the better. Spiritually-inclined people call it the higher purpose in life, some call it ‘life purpose’, while many of us simply remain clueless right into our middle age and then romanticise the confusion by labelling it ‘midlife crises’.

This is that moment in life when we realise how little time we have in hand, how we have spent all these years earning money, while destroying our health and neglecting our family.

Valmiki, the sage who wrote Ramayana, found his purpose when his family refused to be a part of his sins; he looted people as Ratnakar, the robber. Days spent at Gandhiji’s ashram provided a lifelong purpose to a wealthy lawyer like Baba Amte, who decided to dedicate his life for the welfare of those affected by leprosy. Elon Musk, engineer and inventor, made it his life’s mission to put the US on Mars and to free the world from the dependence on oil for fuel. His business ventures, SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City, are all part of that plan.

Clear the clutter

George Mallory is counted among the few stars to have conquered Mount Everest. But he is also the stalwart when it comes to the fine art of knowing ‘the purpose’. When asked why he climbed the mighty mountain, he had a simple retort — ‘Because it’s there’.
Purpose is much deeper than reason.

It involves a personal

contribution and commitment, unlike reason — which can often be rather superfluous. Companies today spend a lot of money on drafting the right vision and mission statement and ensure that it is ingrained in their employees, as they define the company’s expansion plans and strategies. Even a school textbook lesson starts with the learning objectives; why we ought to learn what we’re set out to learn in the next few pages. Interviewees are often asked about their career objectives. Why do we then not have a clear purpose for our whole life? Or do we?

Finding purpose early in life helps unclutter. Our wants and wishes turn subtle and sober. When you realise that above everything else, you just want to be happy, then anger, jealousy, fear and competition begin to dissipate. The unending queues bother you less,
disgruntled colleagues hardly matter and the fancy cars don’t entice you as much (for happiness is made of other stuff).

Asking ‘why’ helps. ‘Why am I doing what I am doing?’ is the question that can clear doubts, aid course correction and even steer us in the right direction, in case we’re straying away. ‘Why don’t I wake up early?’ ‘Why am I eating this when I know I shouldn’t?’ ‘Why am I still sitting hunched on the computer in my office when I know my family needs me?’ Having a purpose gives meaning to life. Questioning oneself at every step helps assert the purpose.

Beyond the goals

Long ago, I had read somewhere the difference between goal and purpose. A goal is something which we strive to achieve, while a purpose is what defines our goals. Goals, simply put, cannot be the purpose.

On a recent visit to a non-profit foundation in Hubli, it struck me hard that the purpose of the initiative was to help children gain education without having to worry about food. It was not just a goal or an objective. The purpose was so huge and so meaningful that everything that was being done there just seemed to fall into place effortlessly. The purpose was much higher that the goal — if ever there was one to just feed the children. Similarly, the mother who cooks every day at home for her kids would have a goal of satiating their hunger, but her purpose would be to help the kids grow into healthy and happy individuals.

Unfortunately, most of us have so many goals and objectives that we don’t find the clarity of thought to chalk out a purpose. Success, wealth, promotions, these are all trappings of a less-defined life. Steven Covey once befittingly said, “If the ladder we take isn’t leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster”. There are people who change career tracks, life partners or their minds on just about anything with as much ease as they’d change their outfits. Most of these instances occur because of a lack of conscious decision-making that leads to a sense of purpose.

If you are a part of WhatsApp groups, you would certainly have experienced the deluge of messages, most of them being sent repeatedly, even within the same group. When asked why, the person says that he forwarded the message simply because he had to forward something! Lives today are also being led in a similar way. I live because I’m not dead — that’s the common unspoken refrain.

Making them align

Suppose you want to paint your house in a particular shade of pink. You bring in tins of paint in all shades and hues —  blacks, browns, reds and blues. And then, you start to apply brush strokes of all the colours on the walls. What do you get? Your shade of pink on your walls? That’s exactly what happens with most of our expectations from life.
We put in efforts in all directions, plenty of them, but few are aligned with our
purpose. A purpose defines all our actions — big and small — and provides meaning to life. Then things that do not align just don’t matter. Then all our actions are
directed towards that purpose. It’s a conscious thought. It helps us prioritise what’s needed and what’s not.

Have you seen that ad on TV where the boy tells his mother that he does not want to research just for medicines, but wants to find a cure so that nobody has to take medicines ever? Now that is purpose. It may look hazy but it defines his goals. It determines how far one can go without giving up.

Former model and actor Anu Aggarwal may seem like an unlikely poster girl for leading a life of purpose. But if you read her autobiography Anusual — Memoir of a Girl who Came Back from the Dead, you’ll be amazed by how this woman — definitely vulnerable and flawed, to some extent —  always knew what she wanted from life and how she plans to get it. She led a life looking at herself outside in. And that’s how she could endure through difficult relationships, knotty spiritual callings and also survive a near-fatal car crash. Her life was far from simple, but since she knew her calling, it all seemed to align.

In order to live a truly meaningful life, you got to find your purpose. For as Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman philosopher, succinctly put it, “When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”

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