Find out who you are and do it on purpose. — Dolly Parton
I recently met with a long-time client who had spent most of his high school and college time planning to attend law school. After his first semester in law school, he came in to tell me that he had realized that it was not what he wanted after all and he dropped out. His plan was to spend some time deciding what was to come next for him. Although he was seeking validation and support, he was happy with his decision and looking forward to a new direction in his life.
I realized that there was a theme arising in the high school and college clients I have been working with lately. There is a pervasive search for direction and purpose in these young men and women. For these clients, the search for meaning and purpose in life is as much about trying to make the right choices without making mistakes or facing failure as it is about finding that purpose.
Making mistakes is a necessary part of finding out who we are meant to be. Insight cannot be found by thinking and inaction. We begin to find and become ourselves when we realize who we are already, essentially who we were born to be.
Life is not perfect and can be messy. There is potential for failure, mistakes and disappointments, but without risk there will be no reward. You may experience setbacks; embarrassment, betrayals and the loss of loved ones and love. There are the rules that those we know tell us we are to follow and the expectations that others have of us. A great way to start exploring your life purpose is to ask yourselves these key questions: What are my hopes and dreams? What is most important to me in my life? And what are my deepest values and beliefs?
Throughout the search for who you are, there will probably be emotions such as anger and grief, as well as frustration and disappointment, that will have to be dealt with. It is going to be unbelievably hard some days, but dealing with these emotions gives us life. Where challenges exist, so does growth. Life would be easy if things were black and white, and we could tell where one thing ended and the next thing began. But life is not that simple and there is always something ending and something beginning. Living life on purpose comes with risks and a need to have an open mind and not be afraid to pave a new road. It is about making choices as to how you live every day, so the life you end up living is the one you have chosen — on purpose. It is not about always making the right decisions or never failing.
In 2005 at a Stanford University commencement speech, Steve Jobs said the following: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
And as Dolly Parton once said: “If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.”
Brenda-Lee Duarte, executive director at LifeLine Counseling Center, 1033 W. Broadway Ave, Maryville, 981-7400, is a licensed professional counselor and therapist. She and Megan Rapien, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, will contribute columns on mental health issues the first Sunday of each month in the Sunday Life section.