The Purpose Of Life
Somedays I feel more like a guidance counselor than a university professor.
I savor those days, though.
I savor them, because in all honesty, I find it wild that young people trust my opinion enough to guide their lives.
Not too long ago, I was one of them. The confused soul who had done all according to plan her entire life. And then, out of nowhere, she was tossed into the real world unsure of where to go now that she was free.
A young man came into my office during the week of finals. We had a more serious talk about his future. I kept pressing him with questions about why he isn’t living up to his full potential. He met me initially with “I don’t knows,” and I’d hit back with, “Well think a little harder then, because I know you know.” Finally he came through.
“I don’t know the purpose of my life, Professor Jessop. I don’t know what I’m here to do or why I’m on this Earth.”
Boom. I can work with that.
So many of us on this planet are SO LOST. We run from one thing to the next expecting to be filled. We go on to the next thing expecting PURPOSE to unfold within us like some magic bloom and just like that, every inadequacy in our life to be cured.
I’ve been there. It was horrible. The years I spent searching for my “purpose” were painful. They were painful until I realized that in all we look for on this Earth, purpose is probably the easiest to find.
Around 2011, I set out to find my purpose. I took long walks. I drove to far off places. I talked to wise people. I shifted my focus. I may or may not have started going to yoga. I was SO LOST and I was looking for that one reason why I was here.
I wanted to find a BIG purpose for my life. Cure cancer. End poverty. Win a Pulitzer Prize. Spend some time in Hollywood.
I wasn’t willing to settle for mediocrity.
It’s no secret that I’m a Christian and I get most of the guidance for my life from the Bible. So during this period, that’s also where I turned. And before you stop reading now if you aren’t a Christian, hang tight with me for a second.
It wasn’t until I really started searching for my purpose in the guidebook for my religion that I found my purpose. And in studying other religions and spiritual practices, I’ve found the same purpose in their texts. Judaism. Hinduism. Yoga. You name it, it’s there, too.
In my search for purpose, I learned one big thing: The only purpose we are on this planet to serve is to love others.
I’ve searched high and low, and I haven’t found anything that says, “Your purpose is to create the next big thing!” Or, “Your purpose is to work yourself to death to stack up a bunch of cash.” You can look everywhere and you will never find those answers if you are honest with yourself and reading truly inspired texts.
Rather, the purpose is so simple that it should smack all of us in our faces. When we look around, wherever we may be, the purpose for our lives should be seen with our eyes.
As humans, we are not born on deserted islands. Rather, we are born on a planet filled with billions of people! We are birthed by another living being that gives life to us. At the least, our mother is with us when we are born. From the very beginning, we aren’t alone! More than likely, though, other people surround us. Fathers. Family members. Friends. Hospital workers. And then, when our parents cart us away, we go into inhabited cities and towns and suburbs. There is no silence, no solidarity even from our beginning. All of this isn’t a coincidence! The universe did not script life this way for some undefined reason. No, this is the way life begins–the way it all plays out–because from our waking moment, our purpose is exposed to us. We are here on this planet to fulfill one simple purpose: Love.
When you get to it and break it down, life’s purpose is so simple: LOVE OTHERS.
But if you really dig yourself into it and if you really set out to LIVE YOUR PURPOSE, you realize it’s the hardest thing you will ever do.
Loving others freely, fully and truly can be heartbreaking. There’s a handful of people, believe it or not, that I’d LOVE TO HATE. The universe or for me, God, though, tells me not to, though. In my ear, it whispers, “Love, Alicia. Just love them.”
Love looks different in different times and different places. There’s friendly love. There’s parental love. There’s romantic love. There’s forgiving love.
They all serve a purpose. And that purpose is your life.
I got the biggest smile on my face when the young man told me the only thing he was looking for was his purpose. I think he felt mocked when I almost giggled when he said that’s what he was looking for. I quickly said, though, “Look, your classmates are usually looking for a front office job in the NBA or NFL, which I can’t find for them as easily. You, though? I’ve got you.”
I told him, “Here’s how you find your purpose. Go home. Look around your house. Look at the people there. Go to your fraternity. Walk around. Look at the people there. Walk outside of this office. Take a stroll around campus. Look at the people there.”
He was beyond annoyed at this point. I like to talk, though, so I kept on.
“When you think you’ve seen everyone in your life that matters, I want you to go home. And I want you to go look in a mirror. And I want you to realize that you’ve found your purpose. Your purpose is to be a good person to all of those people. Your purpose is to LOVE THEM even when they are at their worst. Love will look different in every season through which you walk with them, but let me tell you something, if you can LOVE THEM through every single one, you will have served the greatest purpose on Earth.”
He stood up. Shrugged his shoulders. Kind of shook his head at the ground and said, “Have a nice summer, Professor.”
I didn’t give him what he wanted. I didn’t tell him his purpose was to obtain some grandiose job or to live a life of luxury. I didn’t tell him that the universe expected him to kill himself with stress and burden to fulfill his purpose. I didn’t tell him that he needed to keep searching.
All I told him, was the truth.
And sometimes, the truth hurts.