Should You Figure Out Your Life's Purpose
Maybe you think about it all the time, maybe it never really crosses your mind, or maybe you only occasionally ponder it. Regardless, pondering your life purpose can seem like a big undertaking, especially if you don’t feel called in any direction.
I’m here to tell you it’s okay to not feel called in any direction. Culture or society or your family or friends may put a strong emphasis on figuring out how you’re supposed to spend your life, but it really doesn’t need to be so stressful (or upsetting, or anxiety-inducing — whatever your adjective of choice is).
A main source of stress in figuring out your life’s purpose stems largely from comparison. In a world where everyone’s lives are on full display (or at least the good sides of their lives), it can be easy to fall into a pit of jealousy and empty despair considering how you feel about your own life.
There are so many other things you can do instead of comparing yourself to other people and worrying about what your life’s purpose is!
Comparison culture and why you should leave it behind
Only in the past ten or so years have you been able to see what a million other people are doing with their lives at any given moment. With the click of a button, you can see Lori from high school is married with two kids already. Or you can see Sam got accepted to a super prestigious school. Or how Melanie is now an influencer living the life of everyone’s dreams.
But also in the past ten years has there been an increase in rates of mental health issues unlike there has ever been before! In fact, a recent research paper maintains, ‘there have been increases in adolescent depression and suicidal behavior over the last two decades;’ and interestingly, these increases directly ‘coincide with the advent of social media!’
While correlation may not equal causation, it is compelling to consider research showing social media negatively impacts mental health by decreasing face-to-face interpersonal interactions, exposing adolescents to online bullying, promoting addiction-like behaviors, exposing more people to self-harm stories that create a sort of contagion effect, and increasing your propensity to compare yourself to others.
The idea of ‘keeping up with the Jones’ has become a powerful factor in determining how we feel about ourselves as individuals, and it’s been amplified by technology and social media. Clearly, this amplification of social comparison is having a detrimental effect.
I propose instead of looking around you and considering what your life’s purpose is, you take a step back and enjoy life as it is coming to you and let your purpose play itself out. We are each here for a reason, but we can’t always know what that reason is. And while technology and social media are not going away any time soon, there are steps you can take to escape this culture of comparison and to act a bit more independently on our own behalf.
What to do instead of figuring out your life’s purpose
1. Enjoy the beauty around you
When trying to figure out what we should be doing with our lives, we often get caught navel-gazing.
A litany of negative thoughts never seems to be far away, especially when we are comparing ourselves to others.
Instead of giving in to negative thinking, take a step back, even if it is just for a moment.
If you’re able to, get outside and in the fresh air. If it’s cold where you are, bundle up! Take a look at the trees, the plants, the little pieces of grass growing in the cracks of the sidewalk, the carefully designed and built buildings around you. Put your thoughts to the side and just consider how awesome nature is. If you try, you can see beauty in anything.
2. Mindfully accept closed doors
A shut door can wreak havoc on what you thought your life’s purpose was going to be. Instead of letting a shut door bring you down, consider this truth: Doors always shut for a reason.
There is little that is within our own control, and everything in this world has the potential to be taken away from us. What we do have control of is our response to these changes.
Getting fired from your job can be upsetting, and might make you feel like your purpose in life is escaping you, but you can reframe your thoughts in a situation like this. Instead of focusing on how a change is impacting your perceived purpose, consider the idea that maybe you weren’t meant to be in that situation at this time.
If you don’t get accepted to the college of your dreams, it is not a commentary on what your life’s purpose should be; it is an indicator you just weren’t meant to go to that college. The same goes for losing a job or being broken up with (or any other typically painful change).
When a door is shut, mindfully acknowledge it and its associated pain, but don’t dwell in it. Move on knowing that situation simply wasn’t part of your life’s progression, that closed doors don’t define you, and that doors close for a reason.
3. Mindfully consider doors that are opening to you
When one door closes, another one always opens (or has been open for a while but you just didn’t realize it).
Sometimes, when we’re caught up in what we want our life’s purpose to be, we shut ourselves off from opportunities that are right in front of us. We may have one vision for how our life would go, but sometimes going with the flow means our life will go another way that would turn out even better than we could have ever imagined.
This is when it is important to be open-minded and consider options you may otherwise not have considered. One path may be years of hard work (such as taking out a loan to get an education) while another path may be less ideal but easier to achieve (such as getting a full scholarship at a university you may not have preferred).
When a door is flung open for you, it may be the opportunity of a lifetime you could seriously miss out on. All you have to do is decide to walk through it! And as you walk through it, your life’s purpose could be following you.
4. Get off social media
Or at least try to reduce your use of it. Social media is a huge arbiter of comparison and can pressure you to feel the need to work out your life’s purpose.
You can try a social media fast. Start small; maybe you’ll choose to meditate for five minutes instead of scrolling Instagram right when you wake up. Build yourself up to choosing a whole day on which you don’t use social media at all. Or maybe you’ll go a whole week without it… or a month… or delete it altogether!
Reducing social media use will certainly decrease your propensity to compare yourself to others you see on there, but it will also give you more free time to explore other avenues in your life! It may prompt you to get outside more, or to assess the opportunities presenting themselves to you with a less-cluttered mind.
So, instead of worrying about your life’s purpose, take a step back. Enjoy the sunshine. Take a social media break. Let your life’s purpose follow you instead of you chasing a purpose down!
Grace Engels is a registered dietitian and content writer based in the Greater NYC Area. As an anti-diet dietitian specializing in eating disorders, Grace believes that all foods fit and that everyone deserves respect no matter what size their bodies are. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.