Finding your purpose seems to be a veritable Thing these days. Inspirational coaches abound, promising untold riches and boundless supplies of energy once that elusive Purpose is found. You just have to pay extortionate amounts of money to do the course that will unlock your true potential. Hmmm. Limitless funds I don’t have, so unfortunately these things are off the cards for me.
For as long as I can remember, I have been searching for meaning, for purpose, to feel like I’m doing what I was put on earth to do. This goes hand in hand with having a disastrously fragile sense of self, which has led to untold amounts of mental health issues. How do I know what to do if I don’t know who I am? This should probably be my epitaph, although I would hope that I will have a slightly better idea of who I am when I eventually cark it. The problem until now has been that this lack of self has brought me dangerously close to carking it far too soon, as the suicidal impulses or self-destructive behaviours that arise when I am feeling particularly rootless are so strong as to drain me of all energy to do anything else but cling on for dear life and fight them, to the detriment of anything else. From the outside this makes me look like a lazy drifter, but I can tell you, inside I’m working so, so hard. It’s just invisible to the naked eye and more often than not, I have nothing to show for it at the end, aside from the fact that I have lived to tell the tale.
This sense of rootlessness, of purposelessness, seems to be a by-product of the times we find ourselves in. Many of us have now woken up to the fact that the capitalist system in which we live is anathema to living a fulfilled life. We work to get money to pay the bills and go on holiday to escape the fact that we are working to get money to pay the bills, and round and round the wheel we go, ad nauseam. The fact that many of these jobs are directly or indirectly destroying the planet is a potent reason for them to feel not just meaningless, but positively destructive. The heart has been lost from many types of work and so many people are quitting their soul-destroying jobs to do the thing they love, that makes their heart sing, that gives them a sense of true purpose. Which is great – good for them. I just have to confess I melt with envy when I see people who’ve found that thing, as I’m simply not there yet.
I’ve recently succumbed to Instagram, having avoided it for years due to being a recovering Facebook-addict. The hashtags that follow each picture smack of a desperation that I can’t quite bring myself to take part in. But a chilling recent article about our addiction to social media and the dystopia it is creating made me want to delete my entire virtual presence and bury myself in notebooks and pens. The sense of connection to the world through social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can connect you to like-minded people who share common interests or who suffer similar ailments as oneself. The benefits of social media for highlighting the difficulties of living with a mental health condition or disability through sites such as The Mighty are huge. However, this can quickly spiral into overwhelm for those particularly sensitive to the less than perfect world in which we live. I regularly have to restrict the amount of news I ingest or the number of upsetting articles that I read about sexual violence/ environmental devastation/ political instability and so on, as all it does is highlight my powerlessness to do anything about these things. I am one tiny person in amongst seven billion on this overcrowded planet – what the hell can I do? Signing petitions and making ethical choices helps up to a point, but comprehending the vastness of the state we’ve got ourselves into is enough to send anyone over the precipice.
So I’m learning to find a balance between overwhelming despair at the state of the world and accepting that, by making myself miserable about it, I am only contributing to the negative side of the scales, which ain’t gonna help no-one. So what can I do to add to the positive side? Writing helps. I’ve started writing short stories, which is something I have had a complete mental block about since my school days. I’ve always written poetry off and on, and non-fiction blogs like this feel easy enough to do, but the challenge of making a life experience interesting enough for someone else to read by fictionalising it is an altogether different kind of challenge. So we’ll see how that goes.
I’ve also restarted the journey to find paid work. Hence the poignancy of this quest for meaning and purpose, as it’s been four years since I’ve been paid regularly for any kind of work, which I had to quit due to mental health constraints. I’ve reconciled myself to my dependency on my other half for bringing in the bacon and am extremely thankful to have been able to do this for so long, but the feminist in me is screaming. The wonderful employment advisor who is helping me find meaningful work asked me to do one of those personality tests yesterday, which I always love doing as they’re so insightful. It said writing was a good thing to be doing, so I’m barking up the right tree it seems. As Martha Beck says in her inspiring webinar, ‘Five Paths to Purpose’, by doing that all-important listening to your gut and doing what feels right, and ignoring the voice that tells you that you can’t, that it’s impossible; you can slowly edge your way towards finding your purpose and doing something meaningful.
So if you’ve found your purpose in life, I applaud you. It’s not an easy thing to do, rubbing up as we are against the constraints of the crumbling edifice of capitalism. I know there’s no such thing as a quick fix and am learning to be patient until the right thing comes along, which for an Aries/ascendant Taurus/Chinese birth-sign Ox (yep, that’s a lot of horns) is excruciatingly difficult. However, I’ve learnt the hard way that scaling the wrong mountain in high winds will only lead to burn-out and danger of certain death. Moreover, this sense of questioning the world and our place within it seems to be playing itself out on a grand scale, as explained in this insightful talk by Lee Harris. Therefore, I’m slowly starting to accept that embracing the Taoist concept of Wu Wei, the art of non-doing, that whole go-with-the-flow thing, is a much healthier way to live. I may not have the answers today, but I try to live by Søren Kierkegaard’s maxim that ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’