Living on purpose, as I define it, is to become aware that we were all created to serve some specific function in life. Some of these purposes might be lofty, attracting the accolades of the world. Some of these purposes may be down-to-earth, such as raising a child, teaching or engaging in some other activity that may not be as acknowledged by society but is still significant.
The pursuit of your life is to come into that purpose. And the waste of your life is to miss that purpose. The problem, though, for most of us is discovering what our purpose is. Here are a few mistakes we make while looking for it, ones that can distract or misdirect us.
1. The “But I Love It” Mistake
For a few years, I was involved in music. I was a choir director, and I played the piano. I noticed that when our choir got ready to sing, people got more blessed out of me introducing the song and talking about the song than they did from the song itself. Gradually I began to realize that the tail was wagging the dog. I love music to this day, and I have a fairly good understanding of music and theory and how they operate. But that’s not why I’m here on earth.
Just because you admire something doesn’t mean it’s your purpose. Don’t let yourself be distracted by something that should be a hobby. If you, like me, enjoy music, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be the one directing the song. Buy some CDs or enjoy music on your headset, just don’t let it take your focus.
2. The “But That Drives Me Crazy” Mistake
Usually, when things drive us crazy, we’re taught to walk away or ignore them. But sometimes it can help to take a closer look. For example, if somebody does something incorrectly, and their error drives us crazy, we shouldn’t criticize the person—we should look at what our inability to tolerate their error can show us. What you cannot stand to see done badly is exactly where you ought to work. If you can’t stand it when the church programs are done incorrectly or when the invitations are not sent out in time—if you want things in order—maybe you should consider working in an area of administration.
Other people might not even be bothered by these things, but your inability to put up with anything less than excellence means that you have an interest there. You need to recognize, “This is an area I have passion about.”
3. The “But My Dad Told Me to…” Mistake
Sometimes your purpose may be totally opposite to the preparation of your life. It may be that you got a degree in one thing, but it’s not fulfilling to you because it’s not the thing that you were really created to do. It may be that your family and friends have misdirected you to where they have a need. So your education, your background, your circumstances, your job end up restricting you from finding your fulfillment.
This happened to me. My father owned a janitorial service, and it was his dream for us to own another family business together. As an adult, my brother started a windows-and-siding company and invited me to be a part of the it, but when I tried to twist myself into what my family wanted me to be, the business ultimately failed. I had substituted everyone’s happiness for my own, trying to live up to my brother’s dreams because I loved him and trying to live up to my father’s expectations. But in reality, my purpose was in a completely different arena than anything they could have imagined.
This happens to so many of us. Every day at work, you might be like Jonah in the story in Bible, right when the ship hits a storm. Jonah knew, “I’m really going in the wrong direction. I’m going into the mouth of a whale.” You know the exact same thing. You have to have the courage to withstand other people’s opinions and ideas and to flow into your own purpose.
4. The “Do Something—Anything” Mistake
The lives we lead do not always lend time for inner reflection. We’re so busy that we don’t make space for prayer, for mediation. We don’t really examine. We throw ourselves into this busy-ness so deeply that we don’t take the time to pause for even a Sabbath, if you will.
Everything else in creation has a Sabbath—a winter, a season of not being fruitful. But we’re afraid of this. Look at fruit trees: They give up the winter for the spring. It’s not healthy for livestock to produce all year long. We’re so busy spitting out project after project after project that we don’t give ourselves a chance to heal and restore and reflect and really find our internal heartbeat.
It can be hard at first to identify that internal heartbeat, but recognizing it determines what will give you fulfillment and gratification. Think of it as an inward applause for every moment where you feel in harmony with yourself, and when you hear it—be it loud and clear or soft and slightly muffled—you’ll know exactly what it is and what you’re meant to do.