This is part 3 of my 7-part series on how to find your life purpose.
(Image: Leonard Low)
"It is never too late to be who you might have been." — George Eliot
When you were a kid, were you told by your parents, teachers, peers, or religious leaders what you should do in life? It may be to earn a lot of money, to be successful, to be respectable, to be a filial child, to contribute to society, or to serve a higher entity.
Whatever it is, what role did you play in identifying it? Did you have a say in determining this goal? Did you brainstorm and think about all the things you want to do or who you want to be, before deciding on what you want to do?
The likelihood is that somehow, somewhere, people decided how you should lead your life on your behalf without including you in the decision-making process. What seemed like a choice was no more than a series of suggestions and conditioned messages that you received since young, creating the impression that your life choices were your choices, when they were really just instructions that you were asked to follow, or at best — a small subset of "choices" you were made to pick from.
These are false or imposed purposes — purposes imposed on you by others. False purposes are not your true purposes. They have been glossed over and packaged as unquestionable truths. Because of the way they are subtly pressed into our lives, and because of all the structures that seem to support these beliefs — from media reports to religious structures to school textbooks — few people challenge these beliefs. To them, this is the gospel truth. To them, this is the way of life.
For example, if people tell you that your life purpose is to grow up, get married, and have kids, and every person around you is doing the same, then it's pretty hard to question this. When you watch dramas, you see the same thing — discussions about marriage and having kids by the lead characters, aspirations of the same. This is especially so in Taiwanese, Japanese, and Korean dramas.
Likewise for purposes to earn a lot of money, to fit society's definition of success, to work in a major financial institution, to be a celebrity, and or to follow a religion blindly. When every aspect of your reality supports this path, you simply accept this as the gospel truth, even when life can be much more than that.
I grew up pursuing false purposes, such as to earn money, to be successful, to respect my religion (Buddhism), and to be a good citizen of society. After over a decade of unconscious adherence, I finally discovered my life purpose and began to live life consciously (I share my full purpose story in part 4).
I need to clarify that I am not undermining the merit of the paths above. For what it's worth, these paths could be true purposes for other people, and that's fine. Even though I am now non-religious, I am more conscious and appreciative of the teachings in Buddhism than when I was a Buddhist. For what it's worth, when you trace back to the early teachings of many religious gods or entities, many of them never wanted to be worshiped as a god or to turn their teachings into a religion.
All I am saying is that unless you're pursuing a path that is the result of your conscious evaluation and choice, your life has not begun. Having lived on both sides of the coin, I can say that there is a very big difference between living a conscious life and an unconscious life.
Here are the differences between a false purpose and a real purpose:
Traits of a False (or Imposed) Purpose
- Inculcated since young. A false purpose is often inculcated in you since young. This direction can come from being part of a larger community, such as a family unit, culture, society, religion, or nation. It's something that everyone parrots, so there's little room to question this or think differently. This is particularly so in Asian cultures such as the Indian culture and the Chinese culture, which are very conformist by nature. The intention of such cultures is to shape a person to fit the identity of the community, rather than to focus on self-actualization.
- Unconscious. A false purpose is unconscious. You do it because that's what you have been told to do all along. You've never thought deeply about what you want to do and all the possible options you can follow. You simply do this because that's what everyone is doing, and what's expected of you.
- Part of an expectation. A false purpose is part of an expectation. Everyone says to study and do well in school, so you study and do well in school. Everyone says to get a well-paying job in a good company, so you get a well-paying job in a good company. Everyone says to get married and have kids, so you get married and have kids. Everything you do is part of an expectation, be it your parents' implicit expectation or society's expectation.
- Driven by fear. A false purpose tends to be driven by fear or obligation to live up to others' expectations. You follow it because you want to avoid repercussions. For example, anger or disapproval from your parents. Rejection by your community. Shame from society. Being left out. Being seen as not living up to your duties.
- Is empty. A false purpose will not satisfy you in the long run. While you may feel fulfilled in the short run, such satisfaction comes from pursuing any goal. In the long run, you will start to feel dissatisfaction, like you can be doing more or that there can be more to life. For some people, their consciousness never grows beyond a sleepwalker's so they never come to this realization but live life in a mechanical way each day.
Examples of false purposes are earning money, continuing a family business simply because you're born into the family, following a religion because you were born into it or that was what you were taught in school, achieving certain social statuses, and any life direction that you never questioned but simply took as your own.
A false purpose doesn't have to fulfill all the characteristics. It can fulfill one of the traits and still be a false purpose.
Traits of a Real (or Liberating) Purpose
- Conscious choice. A real purpose, on the other hand, is something you consciously adopt. It's not something that you assume as a result of your race, culture, or birth. It is not something you choose because you have no other choice. It's something that you consciously choose to follow.
- Comes from within. A false purpose is often from outside → in, meaning it is something you were taught or repeatedly told since young, after which you adopt as your life path. A real purpose comes from inside → out, meaning it is something that you decide on your own, independent of outside influence or pressure.
- Not an expectation. A real purpose is not the result of an expectation. You do it because you want to. You were not told to do this. You are also not expected to do it.
- Driven by love. A real purpose is driven by love. You do not do it because of expectation or because everyone else is doing it. Neither do you do it out of habit or routine. Rather, you do it because you want to.
- Inspires you. A real purpose resonates with every fiber of your being. It does not make you feel pressurized or fearful. Instead, it inspires you.
- Lasting meaning. Pursuing your purpose fulfills you intrinsically. This fulfillment does not come from the reward that comes from doing it, but from simply being able to pursue your path.
Examples of real or liberating purposes are anything that you have consciously decided to do, such as growing and helping others, environmental activism (saving Mother Earth), bringing positivity to the world, advocation of peace, helping the poor and less fortunate, and non-cruelty pursuits.
Can you see the difference between the two? As you read these traits, some of them probably resonate with what you have experienced in your life.
What is your current path in life? What is the life path that you have been expected to follow since young? What are the life decisions that people around you constantly tell you to follow?
Whatever they are, question them. Question the basis behind those beliefs. How did they come to be? Who determined that this is the best thing for you? Why should these people determine your life path — have you thought about that? Have you ever thought about what you really want to do? Questioning and consciously thinking is the first step to being an active, conscious creator of your life.
In the next part, I share my story of how I found my life purpose and the two important things that helped me discover my purpose. Read Part 4: Two Important Things that Led Me to Discover My Real Purpose