It is common to believe we were all wired to be something special, but does this mean it is just one purpose for every lifetime? Is this special something connected to a career or accumulating wealth? These two questions are worth pondering, especially since as parents, teachers, and mentors, we will teach new minds about how to find their life’s meaning.
Our purpose becomes greater over time
Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and they will say things like a firefighter, police officer, doctor, astronaut, pro athlete, or a teacher. Chances are the adults around them or something they picked up from watching television influenced these ideas. But the fact is that very few of the desires we had as children become our true calling.
As kids grow older and go to school, the pressures grow on them to conform to the societal rules being taught by their parents and teachers. This is how they learn to be what others want them to be. This, however, can keep them from getting in touch with their true wiring. Sorting through all the confusing stuff society, parents and mentors taught us so we can discover our true calling becomes our greatest existential dilemma. This is the path to our purpose.
A lesson from Superman about life purpose
Imagine what it would be like if everyone saw you as their savior. This is what Superman faces 24/7. It must be a real pain in the ass for him to be enjoying Easter dinner with his family and suddenly get a call from the Pentagon to stop some oncoming meteor bound to destroy the state of Montana. Yet, we can always count on Superman to save the day.
The important lesson to note is that it is not his x-ray vision, speed, and strength that make him a superhero, it is that he uses his strengths to make the world a better, safer place.
This is how it works for you. Your title, power, wealth, etc. do not determine your purpose, your efforts to use your talents to create a greater good spell it out.
A life well-lived has many purposes
Where we differ from this fictional character is that our purpose changes over time. Take former President Jimmy Carter, for example. There was a time when he provided the world with peanuts from his farm in Georgia. Then he would lead the free world as president of the USA. After his presidency, he became a builder of homes for people who needed them working with Habitat for Humanity. He still builds homes, but he is so much more! He has become a worldwide model of peace, justice, generosity and kindness for the afflicted, persecuted and the impoverished.
My life has had four distinct phases with a different purpose. My first purpose became apparent when my parents sent me to the USA as an unaccompanied youth seeking refuge from Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba. The early years I spent as an immigrant in the United States, especially the ones after my parents and I reunited, taught me the most basic of all human purposes, how to be a survivor. I had to overcome difficult life challenges with dogged determination and resilience. I shared this purpose with my two brothers.
My second life purpose arose when I became a civil engineer and became an expert in working with others building roads, bridges and systems that enable people and freight to move from point A to B. This was a rewarding purpose that also gave me a new perspective on life and humanity.
I had to learn to hone my life’s third purpose when I moved into leadership/management positions. I discovered that being an engineering expert was not enough for me; I felt a desire to learn to motivate and inspire diverse groups of people. This did not come naturally at first. I had to dig deep to push away my ego on behalf of a greater cause. Eventually, I got the hang of it. This new purpose has given me an unshakeable passion that sticks with me even now, uniting people, organizations and communities behind a noble mission and purpose.
Today, I am well into my fourth life purpose, shining a light on some of life’s great mysteries and lessons I have deciphered throughout my journey so that others may discover these gifts in their own lives. I share these revelations through my speaking and writing.
Think back on all the wonderful people you know and see how their purposes blossomed in this same way. Your life has similarly grown.
Take the time to examine your life. You will see similar patterns as I show in mine. You too have hammered out different purposes with everything you have experienced and by every decision you made. Your title, power, wealth or strength may have come and gone, but they never defined your purpose. Like Superman, the commitment and effort you made to use your talents to create a better world clarifies it for you.
Recollecting your life gives you a fuller view of the beautiful pattern you have woven out of every piece of scrap material that makes up the quilt of experiences that is your life. You will realize how you became better, wiser and more powerful. Knowing this about yourself can give you the confidence to handle everything that comes your way.