Welcome to Episode 22 of The Midlife. If only I had a nickel for every woman who’s told me her biggest challenge in Midlife is finding her purpose. Like we are all Indiana Jones and on a quest for the Holy Grail. If we only can find our purpose, we’ll be happy. And so a billion dollar industry has been created to set you on the yellow brick road to purpose. And if you don’t find it, you must have done something wrong. Try again.
I get very frustrated by the lofty ideals that are spewed forth by people who hold themselves out as gurus and thought leaders. The concept of “finding your purpose” is one of those things.
Finding your purpose leads you to feel that if you don’t have some driving calling or altruistic impulse to save the world, you are failing as a human.
There are people that know what they want to be from the minute they’re born or have some incredible talent that no matter the circumstances would bubble to the surface to be shared with the world. Those people are extraordinary and I admire them. I’m even a little jealous that it’s intrinsic to their being. But I think it sets a standard for the other 99.9% of us that is impossible or at a minimum, very unlikely to achieve.So you flounder about, directionless, waiting for inspiration to strike.
We humans have a funny little little piece of software installed called self-importance. It serves a lot of good and is somewhat critical for survival. I do absolutely believe that we should all have a little Aibilene Clark voice inside telling us on the hour you is good, you is kind, you is important. And I do think you should be doing good, being kind above all else and that the things you are doing are important. But also, are we all really put on this earth because every single one of us has a spectacular contribution to make to human kind? The concept of finding your purpose tells you that is a truth and it’s a little narcissistic, don’t you think? It leads you on a never ending quest to fulfill some destiny that you believe is written in the stars. For you. Only. And ultimately, you do nothing. Total inertia and then a feeling of inadequacy and failure.
What if finding your purpose is the equivalent of finding the leprechaun’s gold at the end of the rainbow? It’s an impossible target and focusing only on the endpoint assures you that you will miss the colorful beauty of the journey.
Instead of finding your purpose, may I suggest that you find your purposefulness instead. This is much more attainable and in fact, is right under your nose. No more impossible quests and crushing pressure. Sound good?
Start by just doing what you’re doing. Yup, I’m serious. But I want you to pay closer attention to what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how it’s making you feel. I strongly believe that you’ve ended up in a very unhappy place here in Midlife because you have been living on autopilot. Where’s the challenge in that? Sure there are mundane responsibilities that we all have to suffer through but how about remembering why you do it. Hate doing the dishes? Maybe. But do you love having a clean kitchen? I do. That makes it a little easier to get it done AND to get it done well. Keep yourself in the moment and switch off the autopilot. Your time will feel a whole lot more valuable when you are purposeful about the daily things you are doing. Even the have-to’s.
Now maybe there are things in your life that you can find no value or purpose in doing. Have you ever stopped to consider if whatever it is absolutely needs to happen? Would the world stop spinning if you stopped doing it or can you delegate it to someone else? We are trying to increase the daily pleasure that you experience. Instead of dying on the sword over things that don’t’ please you, try ditching them or pass them off to someone else. Freeing up your time creates space for purposefulness.
Now are there things in your day-to-day life that are fun? How about doing more of this? It doesn’t just have to be the specific activity over and over either. Can you break down the activity and pinpoint what exactly about it brings you pleasure? How about activating some of your creativity and following tangents off those activities?
Intertwined with the elusive “find your purpose” is the idea that what you should be doing must be rewarding. But let’s talk about that concept of rewarding. When people say something is rewarding, a lot of times, it’s just a humble brag. “Oh Jeanette, how did you manage to save the orphans from the fire, update all their vaccinations and feed them their first thanksgiving dinner.” “Well, you know, I just do it because it’s so rewarding.” Let me actually dissect that feeling for you without taking anything away from Jeanette who did do something wonderful. An activity feels rewarding when it returns the energy you invested or even more than the energy you invested and it does NOT have to be something charitable. I’m not being cynical, I’m just keeping it real and giving you some room to expand your idea of what are purposeful activities.
Let me give you a real world example; this podcast. It takes a lot of time and energy for me to map out weekly topics, record, edit and promote an episode. But rather than feeling drained when I upload all my files, I’m pumped. I have a huge feeling of accomplishment and I’m excited to hear what you think about it and to watch my download numbers grow. Is my podcast going to save the world? No. But is it rewarding to hear that so many of you are feeling a positive shift in Midlife because of it? Yes. Is this a rewarding activity that I want to keep repeating? You bet.
Now let me get hardcore honest with you. Rewarding, the feeling of reciprocated or bonus energy, can be derived from getting paid. You are allowed to find purposefulness from making money. Our ideas and conditioning around money do us a huge disservice. I can’t tell you the number of female entrepreneurs that I have had to help rewire their brains that they are allowed and entitled to get paid for the talents and benefits they bring to the marketplace. Money is not dirty. It’s not bad and it’s absolutely OK for use to use it as a benchmark for success and purposefulness.
Here’s another way to find purposefulness in your life. Do something you WANT to do. You are a grown ass woman, You don’t need permission. I know instantly, an alarm goes off in your head telling you it would be selfish or you couldn’t possibly. I’m not buying it. If there are legitimate obstacles, find a creative workaround and do it.
I posted a quote on my pages last week that’s attributed to Larry Page, one of the co-founders of Google and not a women in Midlife Crisis. Nevertheless, I think he gave us some very relevant advice when he said, “I know it seems like the world is falling apart but in all actuality it’s a great point in your life to get a little crazy. Follow your curiosity and be ambitious with it.”
Turn that into practice. Follow your curiosity. Learn anything. Try anything.
Most importantly, anything you do or try, whether hobby or new career, PLEASE remember, you are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to use that dreaded four letter word: QUIT.
Women tell me all the time that they’re not 100% sure what they want to do. What an onerous standard to hold yourself to. Why do you have to be 100% sure? Certainly moving in SOME direction is better than languishing in no man’s land where you are now?
I know we as women are planners. We like to have the entire plan mapped out and a contingency plan for every possible uncertainty. So we think, and spin, and think and get sad, and think, and eat, and think and…well you get the picture. Your “plan”, the one we all followed by the way, brought you here. So let’s loosen the grip on the plan. Think of purposefulness rather than purpose and start being deliberate in your day and decisive in your decisions and even up your risk tolerance a few notches to follow a trail off the map.
And a funny thing happens when you start learning, moving, doing. New opportunities magically appear in front of you. You may start to walk down one road and discover a fork that takes you in another direction. That’s ok. It does not make you flighty to be fine tuning your plan along the way… as long as you’re being purposeful in your daily living. I guess I’m feeling quotey today because I love this one from Wrinkle In Time author Madeline L’Engle: Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it. Now “I’m not 100% sure what I want to do” starts to sound like an excuse and a defense mechanism. I’ll take 35% from you, just give it a whirl.
Can you start to see how searching for a purpose locks you into a narrow constraint if it’s a forced situation whereas just being purposeful allows you flexibility. Purposefulness emphasizes the journey, not the destination. Because PS, there is no endpoint except death. Sorry for that cheery thought but there is no ribbon across the finish line. You need to live, love, learn, create, experience and enjoy yourself right now! Purposefulness keeps you here in the present, rather than focused on some elusive future.
I’m a little bit of a science nerd so pardon the use of Newton’s First Law of Motion which states that an object in motion stays in motion. What does that mean to you? It means start moving, start being purposeful and stop believing in this elusive constraint that demands you have a purpose.
If the stuff I’m saying to you is making sense, but you need guidance implementing it in your own life, you need to be part of my program Midlife Re•Imagined. Enrollment is now closed but will reopen towards the end of the year. You can go to my website, www.themidlife.co and join my interest list or join our private Facebook Group Muddling Through The Midlife to stay updated on workshops and enrollment
And as always, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM with any thoughts or comments.
That does it for this week. I really appreciate you listening and hope you’ll share with friends who may find this podcast helpful as we all navigate and hopefully thrive in The Midlife. Now go be purposeful.