From the moment we begin our school years, we start dreaming about the future will hold. Maybe you scrawled a picture of yourself in a firefighter’s uniform, or teaching at a chalkboard, or on stage in front of a crowd. Even as a child, you were probably asked on many occasions, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
And while you may have replied with a number of things, it’s unlikely that “Whatever makes me money” was one of those responses. That’s precisely because the young mind has a clearer picture than many adults do of what the root of that question was.
A child knows that that question was really asking “What is your purpose?”
As we age and college and careers are at the forefront of our minds, it can be hard to sift through all of the noise from media, friends, and family that tells us what we should be.
Here are some things to consider if discovering your purpose is weighing heavily on you.
Author Frederick Buechner once said, “The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger coincide.”
Each of us has been endowed with a valuable set of skills and interests that we can use to fulfill the holy responsibility of stewardship over creation– the world and its people.
While living a life of faith does mean rejecting self-indulgence and vain ambitions, it doesn’t mean ignoring the desires of your heart. Joy is a gift from God and the things that bring you joy are often interwoven with your purpose.
Ask yourself: Where do I find true, meaningful, eternal gladness? And how can that gladness meet the world’s deep needs?
The intersection of these two can help point you to a purposeful vocation, rather than just a paycheck.
Purpose Beyond Career
It’s important to note that, while “career” is often the underlying idea when people talk about purpose, job and purpose are not always synonymous.
Depending on your circumstances, your job may be precisely that: a job, a means of financial support.
While careers are often romanticized as the realization of dreams and chasing after passions, there is nothing wrong with being a bit more pragmatic about your choice. There is still an economy to sustain, businesses to run, and services to provide that may not be as wistful career choices as others.
Sometimes, serving your purpose is actually found outside of your career. Perhaps the way in which you meet the world’s deep need is through volunteering at an after-school program, or serving at your church, or even by being more intentional with your family.
Remember that, while a career is an important part of every person’s life, it is truly one part of a multifaceted life. Your career may exist in one arena of your life, but purpose covers all areas.
Viewing your purpose as more than just a career is especially helpful when you consider how much you will change over your lifetime.
It is estimated that the average person will have 12-15 different jobs in their lifetime. If the entirety of your self-worth is wrapped up in the career you have, you’re signing up for some real emotional turbulence.
Many people may experience feelings of anxiety or hopelessness when careers shift and their sense of purpose is lost. And that’s why it is so important to find your purpose in more than just what you do from nine to five.
You are going to change a lot over time. You’ll develop new skill sets, discover new passions, and maybe the specifics of your purpose don’t feel the same as they used to.
This sort of change is painful, to be sure, but it is also reflective of the beautiful ways we all grow and change throughout our lives.
Whether it is due to the loss of a job or natural changes in personality, don’t feel like a new vision of your purpose means you have failed. Embracing the changes as they come may help calm feelings of anxiety and empower you to move forward in the next phase of your life journey.
It would be nice if discovering your purpose could be boiled down to a list of bullet points or a five-step guide, but that simply isn’t the case. If the vision of your purpose is still blurry, you’re certainly not alone. Sometimes you just don’t know.
In times like these, it can be helpful to reach out to a friend or mentor who can provide some outside observations to help guide your discovery of purpose.
Whether your idea of purpose is crystal clear or feels miles away, the undeniable truth is this: you were created to do much more than just exist. Being made in the image of God means that you are now and have always been here for a reason, even if you haven’t discovered it yet.