Before you discover the work you are meant to do in the world, you need to focus on doing the work within yourself.
There’s a lot of talk around the idea of “purpose” these days, especially when it comes to millennials who are just starting their own life paths in earnest. Some people are born with an innate sense of who they are and what they need to do in life, while many others – like me – are much more confused about what exactly their purpose is.
It took me a long time to find my purpose and understand the work I need to do in this life; first I had to do the hard work on myself.
My Experience with Mental Illness
My own life path, as you may remember from my previous post on The Reply, has been a winding one (with a lot of potholes).
High school was the first clue that the “traditional” route of life was not going to work for me. There is so much pressure at such an early age to forge our “career” paths. We’re told to pick the right courses that will lead to our post-secondary education and then to our jobs, instead of exploring all our interests and trying new things.
I tried to follow the rules, but when mental illness struck at the age of 14 it became increasingly difficult to play along. I had no skills or abilities to cope with this new illness.
…What I needed most was time and space to heal.
But still, I worked hard in school and did well enough to do what many other millennials do after high school: go to university. I struggled a lot with the new pressures of living on my own, meeting new people and keeping up with academic requirements. My depression came back and I decided to leave, after only one month.
What I needed most was time and space to heal. I needed to do the work on myself first and accept I really was.
For the next year, I visited a cognitive-behavioural therapist and slowly learned better strategies for coping with my mental illness and dealing with negative thoughts.
That year was a struggle, but eventually I began to consider going back to university. This time, I applied to a different institution where I had more connections. It was a small step in the right direction.
My four years at university were good. The time I took to focus on myself had certainly paid off. I was able to succeed academically, and prosper with my friends and the community. But my mental illness continued to show up, and there wasn’t a year that went by that I didn’t have at least one major depressive episode. I still felt disconnected from the people around me.
I still felt disconnected from myself.
At the time, I was majoring in English with a minor in Art History, and while I absolutely loved learning about those subjects, I still had no idea what I was going to do when I got out of school. I was having a hard time deciphering who I was, and what I needed to do in my life. I gained confidence in my intelligence and mind, but felt lost in my feelings and soul. There was still work that needed to be done, and no one was able to do the work but me.
My Experience with Meditation
I tried desperately to find my purpose and determine a career path that would be best suited for me. I read career books and personality books and everything in between. But I found the more I stared the question of purpose in the face, the further away I got from the answer. Instead, I was swallowed by inadequacies and self-doubt, and I sunk, once again, into a depression.
What saved me was the decision to move to a new place, where I could have the freedom and space to explore my interests and find out who I was. I met new people and had new experiences. Observing how I reacted and what I did in this new environment revealed a lot about who I was.
But it wasn’t until I decided to go to meditation classes that my work revealed itself.
I met myself in meditation and learned to accept myself fully.
Years ago, through my own experiences with yoga, I was introduced to meditation, but I practiced it sporadically and was still unsure about the end “result” I was supposed to be achieving. It turns out, there’s no goal to reach in meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is meeting yourself as you are and staying open and curious enough to observe who you are and how you react.
This means sitting with our habits, our fears, our discomfort and our thoughts just as they are – no sugar coating, no distractions.
I can’t pinpoint a particular moment exactly, but somewhere along the way, I met myself in meditation and learned to accept myself fully. That was when the work I needed to do became clear.
Finding Your Purpose from Within
The work you need to do in this life is not going to come from some outside source – not from a professor, nor a career guide, nor an online personality test – it’s going to come from the very innermost center of yourself, the truest you.
I call this “the work before the work,” and the aim of this is to meet and reveal yourself to yourself. It’s sounds simple in concept, the tricky part – and where the work comes in – is getting to a point where that meeting can actually take place. It means exploring our barriers, resistances and belief systems that we’ve built around ourselves over the years, and eventually revealing what is true about ourselves.
Whether or not you’ve experienced a mental illness, we can all relate to the experience of suffering in some form or another because we’ve all experienced resistance to doing what truly satisfies us. For me, my experience with mental illness was a gift because it opened me up to finding an alternative path for myself that was authentic.
When searching for your purpose from within, learning to be compassionate and kind to both the resistance and the suffering is the perfect place to start from. Suffering can be an opportunity to explore what really serves us as a human beings. If we can do the work within ourselves, we can then do the work we were born to do and live peacefully and authentically in the world.