When I talk about purpose, some people are hungry to jump into the conversation and some people stare a little bit and blink a few times. They’re a little lost without much to say or add.
My blinking friends aren’t alone. A lot of people struggle to find their purpose – to find meaning in their life. They know they’re more than a mom, or a dad, wife, husband, son, daughter. They’re not just a top executive, grocery bagger or sales rep. We’re all more than Netflix binges, long commutes, managing diaper blowouts, or beers with friends on the weekends.
When we strip away the tasks and habits and rituals of daily life, many of us feel a sense of longing. A knowledge that there is something else, something more that they should be doing. But what?
It’s the not knowing that sucks. It’s the not knowing that creates a hidden stream of sadness.
Sometimes I wonder if we make too much of our purpose. You don’t have to quit your job to become who you were meant to be, although I suppose sometimes you do. It should be simple, in my mind. But it’s never simple. We grapple, we fight, we have self-doubt. We overthink it until it’s lost all meaning.
Kind of like when I say my name over and over. Anna. Aaaaanna. ANNA. Anna. anna. AANNAA.
I just made my name weird. Real weird.
I can’t help but wonder if it’s not a true struggle to find, determine or unravel our true purpose, we’re just focused on the wrong thing getting us all jumbled up. We’re focused on an emptiness or a void we think needs to be filled. A void we think our purpose should go, when in reality, it’s simply a lack of self-esteem or confidence that’s left the void in the first place – not a lack of knowing our hearts desire.
I know a sweet little girl, about 10 or so. She asked for a guitar and lessons from her mom and dad. They granted her wish to see if this was a true passion, something she really wanted to do. She practiced at first, even making videos of herself singing to Taylor Swift songs. There was really no raw talent there, other than a precious little girl with a precious little voice trying to imitate her favorite artist.
A couple weeks went by and she wasn’t really into all the practicing required to learn the guitar. When told by her instructor she would need to practice more to become the musician she really wanted to be, she was almost annoyed by the insinuation. “I don’t want to be a musician,” she told him. “I just want to be famous.”
Oh, the sweet, refreshing honesty straight from the mouth of babes!
Her passion and her purpose was not a desire and undeniable drive to sing or write songs. She didn’t wake up at night startled with a lyric or melody that she must quickly scribble down on a piece of paper before it escapes her thoughts. No, what she wanted was to be “a big deal.” Loved, idolized, important, unique. Maybe even worshipped. Like Taylor Swift.
Yes, I’m talking about a little girl and there’s definitely plenty of naiveté and immaturity to help create this scenario, but let’s be real, adults play this mind game too, we’re just sneakier about it and usually not so hilariously honest.
Our low self-esteem and desperate ego can get it all twisted. We start to desire and work towards things that could give us attention, not fulfillment. We take shortcuts for praise sacrificing our true calling that we fear may not give us any attention at all.
Sometimes when we realize we’ll never be Brené Brown or the next George Clooney, we just stop dreaming, slip into “normal” and stop being curious about what we’re made of.
We should never, ever stop being curious about what we’re made of.
None of this means we shouldn’t desire acknowledgment, celebrations and praise for our talents and dreams. When I write my book, I want more people than my mom to read it, thank you very much.
But here’s the deal – am I writing because I want to be the next JK Rowling? To be on the New York Times Best Seller list for 5 long, glorious years? To be rich and travel and have my own little writing getaway in Tuscany?
Or am I writing because if I don’t, a piece of me is missing? A part of me feels lost? I must do it or feel the ache of atrophy and the sadness of time lost doing what I love?
I’m happy to say it’s the latter.
Well, ok fine. It’s the latter – most of the time.
If I’m feeling a little insecure, perhaps a little bored, maybe even a little jealous, my thoughts don’t linger on creating, writing or helping to make something better. No, my thoughts linger on the physical “book.” Big and beautiful, loudly displayed at the entrance of Barnes and Noble. Envisioning the fruition of my goals is a powerful tool, but it can become a massive distraction when I care more about the accolades than I do about actually writing the damn thing.
When it isn’t about the joy, or help or healing my work may have brought to others, then it’s about having a life sized cut-out of myself next to my book on every display where books are sold. And for the record, in my cutout I’m about 20 pounds skinnier wearing Versace with my hair blown out.
My book would be so amazing I would get my own cutout, people!!
Jennifer Lawrence would mention it in an interview. So would Angelina Jolie. And Bono. Oprah would ask to interview me. We’ll have such an incredible time, she’ll stretch it out for a month long series.
I’ll just have to hope that when she interviews me she doesn’t ask, “Anna, did you always want to be a writer when you grew up?”
“Well Oprah, according to my thoughts lately, I think I just wanted to be famous.”
We might get jealous of celebrities and the success of others, but the world would be in BIG TROUBLE if we were all meant to be famous Taylor Swifts. No roads, no one to build our homes, no phones, no clothes, no food, no restaurants, no nothing. Why? Because we’re all writing songs about our ex-boyfriends and having public cat fights with Katy Perry.
That’s what is so fascinating to me. We’ve all been born with something special, something different, something unique – and when you put us all together – we make the world go round. Not one is more “special” than the other – just different, doing their part to bring something to the table.
If you start to worry that your talents and your purpose don’t have enough “glitz,” force yourself to stop that ego train before it wrecks. Glitz is a facade, your purpose is your soul.
Pretty big diff.
For my birthday, my mom and I ordered a cake from Whole Foods. This particular one has a talented cake artist. She’s not back there making life-sized fire trucks made out of fondue or anything – just beautiful, delicious cakes. Our instructions to her were “Use fall colors, just make it pretty.” You know, real specific like.
When my mom and I arrived to pick it up, she showed it to us and we screamed. It was so beautiful. We lit up, took a picture and grinned real big. We. Were. HAPPY.
Is that weird? It’s just a dessert, right? No, it isn’t. It’s something beautiful for my birthday, that not only tastes delicious, but helps celebrate – me. It’s special and it meant a lot to me.
As we went on and on, the artist had a big smile on her face. I hope it felt good to see our reactions. Being a cake decorator in the back of the Whole Foods bakery isn’t getting her recognition like Duff from Ace of Cakes. It isn’t providing clean water to those suffering in Africa. She didn’t cure anything, become governor or sell out an arena.
But her art – her work – is so, so good. Her talent brought me, a stranger, joy. Her gift has immense value. It shouldn’t be devalued because it lacks superficial glitz. She should be celebrated for what she is – a talented, artistic woman – using her gifts to bring joy to others. Maybe not to the masses just yet, but on that day, to me.
Don’t overthink your purpose. Don’t let your ego devalue it, or even worse, make you ask your parents for guitar lessons.
Focus on your craft, your creativity. That’s your only mission. Wake up and nurture it, everyday. And who knows, maybe someday you’ll have a cardboard cutout of yourself next to what you created. Except, by then, you won’t even want one because that would be kind of embarrassing. Or awesome. I don’t know, I need to see it first, ok!?
You owe to yourself to give your purpose all you got. Your dream is not only good enough, it’s perfect. Let the universe worry about the glitz.
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