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Meaning and Purpose Musings Self-Help Thoughts

3 Questions I Asked Myself that Revealed My Life’s Purpose and Meaning

What do I enjoy doing?

This is my purpose.

I did not know my purpose until probably mid-college or maybe even within the last five years. And right now, that’s OK for me. In college, I studied Computer Science in one of the leading universities in the Philippines(I don’t want to start a uni-battle here, so I won’t be claiming anything, lol). At around 3rd year, I thought I wanted to shift to Political Science, and maybe I really did want that, during that time, and at that same period in my life, I was also into movies/film. I knew I liked watching movies, I imagined myself directing and creating films, even imagined myself holding an Oscars trophy and I knew the careers of award-winning Hollywood and Filipino film directors, both old and new. Then real life came, and family responsibilities kicked in and the rhythm of corporate jobs threw me into directions I didn’t want to take at that time. There was this parallel life inside my mind telling me that I should be achieving greater things had I only had the courage to pursue my “passion”. Then, there were major failure points in my career like getting low ratings in Assessments and this made me think about purpose and meaning more seriously. Not that these events were the exact catalysts, but they were major contributors. I read books and articles about meaning and purpose and I also got into organizing my learning categories. I’ve read close to 30 plus paperback books, if I remember correctly, related to career, meaning, purpose etc. So to cut the story short, and not to bore you too much, there is this one specific idea that made me find my purpose, discover flaws in my old thinking patterns and achieve a balance which for me is the most logical definition of purpose and meaning, and how these two ideas relate to my life. That idea was learning to love what I have and really questioning and writing down why I am thankful for the things I have. In short, GRATITUDE. I learned to love my career in Information Technology because I realized that so many people struggle to find jobs. I realized I was lucky to have a stable job that pays for me and my family’s needs. It’s like a career that I “learned” to love. I know this may sound defeatist to others, but this period in my life also made me question old thinking habits. For example, I questioned if I really love “making films” if I haven’t made a film in my life. Not even a short film! Maybe I just loved watching films. In analogy, I know people who love reading books but they are not really into writing books. I learned to dissect my own thoughts and this was also catapulted by the habits and learnings I accumulated through the years of “research” and readings. Cut to right now, I already know that my purpose is writing, BUT I also know this may change. I am also passionate about honing my leadership and project management skills in the IT industry. This is related to a quote from a book I’ve read: “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl:

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”


What is the underlying meaning in my purpose?

This is my “why”.

There’s another book I read entitled: “The Power of Meaning” by Emily Esfahani Smith where she differentiated “meaning” and “purpose”. Purpose relates more to “work” and what we do and meaning relates more to “why” we do that work. 

Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker,  said: “Begin with why”. This is exactly what happened to me, even before I learned about Simon Sinek’s mantra. I started questioning the why, which in my case became these specific questions: “Why do I not love my current job? Why do I love my current job? Why do I love writing? Why do I love film? As I mentioned, I have come to love my job as IT Professional because it afforded me stability, and then after that, I started thriving in what I do. I learned and come to love the things I love about my job instead of focusing on the things I do not love about it. 

We usually have this “rosy” picture in our heads that a “dream job” is this perfect role or business or career where we get to enjoy the tasks 24×7 and earn millions of money doing it. To some people that might be the reality, and that’s not bad. That indeed sounds like the “dream job”. Based on my experience though, the “ideal” job would be a job which has meaning. Meaning arises out of a roller-coaster of experiences – successes and failures – and overcoming the failures along the way. This is why purpose has to align with meaning. Purpose might be what you “usually” enjoy doing, but without meaning or the “why”, you will quickly lose fuel. The “meaning” part allow us to keep going even if we get to the hard aspects of what we “love” doing. I might be beginning to sound like just blurting out empty platitudes but I really mean every word I have just said. 

Going back to “my” meaning, in terms of writing, it’s somehow related to my frustration with film, or realizing I don’t actually love to be a film director. This line of thinking made me realize that there was one activity I have also been doing since college, and that was and still is: writing. I wrote for filipinowriters.com and emanilapoetry.com around 2005 – 2010 until these sites died down(I think). I also had several draft novels which are now just in dusty boxes somewhere. I’ve also gotten into reading novels during my break times during college. I talked about my fiction writing story here. I read classics mostly and fell in love with Dostoevsky, Dickens, Orwell, Salinger, etc. I thought, if I used the same logic, on why I love writing, it’s because I’ve actually been doing it for a long time. I know I love the feeling of having written something, even if just to be read by me. I didn’t even care if someone will read my writings(at that time) – I just knew I loved the act itself. 

To summarize, “meaning” is the fuel to “purpose”. The “why” to the “what”. If my top two purposes right now are “writing” and “IT”, my meanings both converge into: “to help other people”. 

In IT, as project manager, I see my role as helping clients through exciting new technologies and developing talents through my leadership and people management skills. In writing, I relate to the LGBTQIA+ people so I intend to write about LGBTQIA+ stories and other marginalized groups, with topics such as poverty and corruption. I also gravitate towards writing self-help especially topics surrounding purpose and meaning and share my realizations and learning journey about them. These are meanings I know very well because I went through these experiences. They were and still are personally and culturally relevant for me. I want to write stories that will help our society gain more acceptance and understanding of the challenges that LGBTQIA+ people go through because I underwent the same challenges and would not want others to undergo the same. I’d like to help tell “our” story and change the narrative towards more acceptance, not just tolerance. I want to continue to write self-help articles that I have personally tried and tested and hopefully guide and discuss with others to help them and to continue to learn and validate the lessons in the process. I believe these purposes can change, but “usually” you would have one or two meanings already set, based on your unique life story.


How can I earn money doing the things I enjoy?

This is sustainability.

This last, but definitely not the least, is related to the common pitfall in Self-Help, or in “motivational” Instagram accounts that repeatedly tells you to just “Follow your passion”. There is a danger here, especially for young people who still lack the life experience to “actually know” what they want and what they love and what’s meaningful for them. They dive into “interests” they know nothing about and which might sometimes not be practical in terms of sustainability. There are success stories and overnight fames, of course, but statistically speaking, what percentage of the “success” pie were they really? This logical flaw was discussed by Rolf Dobelli in his book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” and it is discussed under the first chapter entitled “Why We Must Visit Cemeteries”. On that introductory chapter, the cemetery is a figurative symbol of looking at failed attempts at endeavors, like the real ratio of the number of artists and singers who actually succeed over the number who ultimately fail. This may sound “defeatist” but it helps put the idea of purpose and meaning into perspective. 

We have a limited time in this world, and it would be good to reflect deeply about things that might consume years of our life, in pursuit of some “ideal” job, career or calling. This third point is not to discourage people who have strong beliefs about what they want to do, though it might be worthy to ponder upon especially if you’ve never actually experienced the job. Maybe do it, and do it often, and yes, go through that journey, but maybe don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Have a plan B, maybe pursue it first on the side and grow your experience on it, and then look back after, armed with hands-on experience, and then confidently arrive at an answer to the question: “Do I really love doing this”. After that, ask the next question “How can I continue doing this” (ie, how can I transform this into an actual job, ie, a money-generating endeavor.) Let’s be real, we need money to buy food, pay the rent, support our families, etc. You may think of it this way and ask another question: “Will I be happy doing this for a long time even if I am struggling to make ends meet?” If the answer is Yes, then no one has the right to judge. Your meaning is unique to you and if you believe it 100% then no one can question that. If the answer is No, then the next question would be “So how can I make this activity/endeavor a sustainable earning opportunity”? For me, I started blogging and I am also currently writing a novel that I hope to publish soon. I am also currently employed as an IT professional, so right now, this is my bread and butter and I just love it equally for reasons I already discussed above. 

 

In conclusion, these are the three questions I asked myself in order to discover my purpose and meaning in life. They helped me achieve clarity on what interests to treat as merely hobbies. I do have many interests as well, like painting, travelling and also entrepreneurship. I am not closing down different paths and it’s probable that my purpose will continue to change in the future. I embrace the possibilities, and for me, this is what makes life more exciting. My meaning(s), on the other hand are clear to me now. There might be more questions and techniques out there so don’t be shy and share your thoughts in the Comments section!

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