Over the course of time, philosophers, psychologists, thinkers, and spiritual leaders have tried to tackle the age-old question: 'What is the reason for our existence?' The question itself has been presented in different ways, including ‘What is the meaning of life?’, ‘What is my purpose here on Earth?’, ‘Who am I?’, and ‘What is my passion in life?’
Some believe that we control our destiny by determining our own purpose while others believe that our destiny is prewritten and purpose predetermined. But though we are exposed to many ideas about how to answer such questions, it’s clear that our search for answers about our purpose, or the reason for our existence, is a universal one.
I, for one, was first introduced to these questions about the meaning of human life at a young age. I was also taught one way to answer this question: that the reason for our existence is to find a spiritual path towards God by fulfilling our true duty on Earth, without expecting anything in return. This particular school of thought stems from the idea that we are all born with a purpose which we must use our lifetimes to fulfill.
As I grew up, I began to read about different approaches to these questions. More recently, I came across a new theory around purpose-seeking. Angela Duckworth, American psychologist and pioneer of the study of Grit, believes that purpose is not necessarily predetermined, but rather developed through the lifetime. According to her, though our talent may be somewhat determined by our genes, finding our passion and purpose is a journey of making choices.
Over the years I’ve learned that the search for meaning is more than just a factor that makes us human at a philosophical level; it is also a strong motivator for individuals to lead productive and energetic lives.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and author of Man’s Search For Meaning, found the power of meaning and purpose during his experience in Nazi concentration camps. According to him, humans have a purpose regardless of the circumstances they are in. He developed a form of psychotherapy called logotherapy based on the philosophy that individuals can endure any suffering through the discovery of their purpose, and their motivation to live stems from a desire to find meaning.
Whatever the particular approach or theory may be, we are clear that the search for meaning as well as a sense of purpose are strong drivers of human motivation, and are important in feeling fulfilled and content with our lives. Further, a sense of purpose can positively affect physical health, improve our relationships, and even promote resilience! So if finding and working towards your purpose is so important for a healthy and satisfying life, why is it so elusive? What exactly does a search for meaning and the process of discovering your purpose look like?
Forbes contributor and New York Times bestselling author MeiMei Fox discusses six steps that we can take to find our purpose and start to live by it every day. She believes that the journey of finding purpose involves understanding ourselves better through a process of reflection and action, and shares exercises and reflective questions within each step that can help you discover your purpose.
One major obstacle to living a fulfilling life for a lot of people might be that it’s simply not feasible to follow their passions and devote their lives to developing a sense of purpose.
However, an approach to bridging the gap between your passion and your line of work can be to find your ikigai. The Japanese concept of ikigai is a state of being where your own passions, the needs of the world, your skills and strengths, and your line of work all meet. Many people describe ikigai as their reason to jump out of bed every morning. Check out Harappa’s Discovering Purpose course which focuses on helping people not only find their ikigai, but also plan their journey towards living a more fulfilling life.
So far I’ve discussed ways to find your purpose and find congruence between your purpose and the work you want to do. But finding congruence between all these aspects of your life is not the only approach to living a more fulfilled life. Kabir Sehgal is an American author, composer, producer, navy officer, investment banker, and financial executive. He wrote an article in Harvard Business Review about why we all should have at least two careers. He says he doesn’t dwell on the ‘how’ of getting time to do all these things, but rather, he makes time because of the ‘why’ that he sees in living this kind of life.
He believes that having multiple careers has allowed him to have financial stability and at the same time practice his other passions, leading to a more fulfilling life. Further, dipping his feet in different fields has allowed him to be creative as well as help people in various fields by connecting them with each other based on where they’d find value.
The search for purpose can be short for some and a lifelong journey for others. In fact, according to psychotherapist and author Amy Morin, you may not even have just one purpose throughout your life. It’s possible that your source of meaning will change or maybe you’ll find more than one.
But either way, the journey is usually not a simple or linear one. During different periods in our lives, specifically transitional periods, we may start to feel a stronger need to question the reason for our existence and the struggle of finding something we love to do. We may face what is commonly known as an ‘existential crisis’. Such moments in life can prove to be turning points if we use them effectively. We can move closer towards our purpose and further our search for meaning by beginning a journey of self-reflection and action, by finding our ikigai to align our purpose and the work we want to do, or even pursue multiple different career paths. Some that fulfill our financial needs, and some that fulfill us personally.
This blog is part of the series on #EmotionalIntelligenceAtTheWorkplace. Read other blogs in the series here and here. Explore more blogs in our Harappa Diaries section to learn what is emotional intelligence, examples of emotional intelligence, and the components of emotional intelligence in our Harappa Diaries section and take charge of your growth.
Haripriya Dalmia is an Associate with the Learning Impact Team at Harappa Education. She is a recent graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied Psychology and Economics. She loves to sing and enjoys watching documentaries and reading books on social issues in her free time.
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