A few years ago, I dated someone who, whenever I mentioned a friend or relative, immediately asked what he or she did for a living. It always made me laugh because I, too, wondered that when I met new people, even if I didn’t always have the nerve to ask right away. At the time, though, I was looking for steady full-time work, and I had a heightened awareness that what someone “did” for a living didn’t necessarily define who they were as a person.
For years while my children were younger, I beat myself up about not being more of a career go-getter, but when I decided to become a mother, I made the choices I felt led to make. I’ve kicked myself a little bit since then (even though doing that is never helpful), because when my ex-husband filed for divorce, I had been fully immersed in being a stay-at-home mom. My youngest daughter was only 5-months-old, and it took me about a year to get a full-time job. But one of the things I do for a living, one of the things I live to do—and for which I don’t get paid—is be a mom.
I thought of this when I recently watched a video by Adam Leipzig on how to figure out your life purpose. He relates a story of going to his 27th college reunion in which so many of his Yale peers are unhappy with their life choices, full of regrets instead of elation despite their big houses, hefty salaries, and fancy careers. What he discovers is that many of them have had life purposes not to help other people, but to help themselves. And when you’re only looking out for yourself, day in and day out, you’re not going to find happiness, no matter how many material things you own.
Leipzig lists five questions to help everyone find his or her life purpose:
- Who are you?
- What do you do? (But, more specifically, what do you love to do? This means that your answer does not have to be what you get paid to do.)
- Who do you do it for?
- What do those people want or need?
- How do they change or transform as a result?
What I love about these questions is how open-ended they are, and how little they have to do with how we make money, even though it is fantastic fortune if a person is able to make money doing what they love to do.
I answered the questions fairly easily, without having to think much. I’m Jana, and I love to write and be a mom. There are other things I love to do, too—teach literature, teach yoga, meet with friends, edit essays, study spiritual texts. But these two—writing and mothering—are the two most important things in the world to me.
Who do I do it for? Well, the mothering part is easy. I do that for my kids. When it comes to writing, I do it for myself, but I also do it for other women and moms, even though plenty of other people might read my work. I’ve always felt a special bond with women and have wanted to use my talents to connect with them as much as I can.
What do those people want or need? I think at root, people want to feel connected to others, empowered, inspired, and able to love themselves so they can fully love other people.
How do those people change or transform as a result? What I hope is that they grow in self-love and self-compassion. In fact, if all of us could be a little better at this, the world would be a much happier place, because we’d naturally spread that compassion to other people.
What about you? What’s your life purpose? Leave comments in the comment section. I can’t wait to hear!