Words by Paula Coogan
January 8th, 2018
Those two words, ‘purpose’ and ‘passion’, always seemed so huge, so far away, so unattainable for so many years and I would render a guess that that’s how you would describe them too! Well, the good news is that discovering your purpose and passion in life isn’t as difficult as we would have been led to believe. It’s actually very straight-forward…
This is why many people don’t actually believe that they’ve found it! Because they have this idea in their head that when they finally find the holy grail that everything will fall into place and there will be a bolt of lightning in the sky and a big booming voice will say, “Paula, this is what you were meant to do with your life”. As handy as that would be for reassurance reasons, unfortunately, it doesn’t happen like that.
It’s much more subtle and therefore, very easy to miss. In fact, for many of us, our purpose and passion will be staring us in the face but because they don’t have bells and whistles on them, we may not have noticed!
I’m sure that you have at some point had the thought, “ Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? What is my passion? Where do I go from here?” These are some of the most common questions that people ask and the most common questions that people struggle with. So let’s explore them a bit more.
What is purpose?
We spend so long searching for it, but do we even know what it means? I think most of us make purpose too heavy, too mysterious and too serious! Viewing purpose from that viewpoint can act as a roadblock, as a barrier.
In my opinion and from the research that I’ve done over the past few years, I’ve come to believe that the best and most powerful definition for purpose is: Authenticity.
My belief is that purpose is about finding your authentic self and setting the intention to live in a way that honours whatever it is you find. What would that mean for you?
Passion is another word I think is often misunderstood in the context of career and life purpose. Often when I work with clients to help them find their passions, they are expecting it to be something that they will be obsessed with, something that would give them bucket loads of energy and have them jumping out of bed at 6 am in the morning raring to get started! What I’ve found for myself personally and for other clients who have found their passions is that passion is much softer, it’s quieter, you embrace it, you do it for hours without realising it, there’s no fanfare, no bells, no whistles – just you doing something you love. The best way I have found to describe passion is that when you’re passionate about something, it feels like a yes.
I believe that each of us has a purpose and an authentic way of being and living. Identifying, acknowledging and honouring this is perhaps the single most important action that truly happy people take. They take the time to understand what they’re here to do and then they pursue that with passion and enthusiasm. Or in other words, they take the time to understand themselves, to connect with their authentic self, lean into what feels like a ‘yes’ (even if it’s scary) and they set the intention to live in a way that honours themselves.
You see, without a purpose (without being your authentic self), it’s easy to get sidetracked as you go through life. It’s easy to wander and drift accomplishing little. But with a purpose, everything in life seems to fall into place. To be ‘on purpose’ means you are being yourself, doing what you love to do, doing what you’re good at and accomplishing what’s actually important to you. It’s using your personal resources of time, energy and money on things that you really care about.
So the main question here I suppose is, how do you connect with your authentic self? How do you know when you’re on purpose? Over the past number of years, I have come across many teachings, books and articles which talk about us having different ‘selves’. The concept that resonated most with me and with most other twenty and thirty-something women is the idea of the ‘authentic self’ and ‘the social self’. In order to truly discover your purpose and your passions, you need to get to know your two selves. Let me introduce you:
The social self is that part of you that has been influenced by your culture, your environment, your peers, your family and society as you have grown up and throughout your life. It has taught you to value the same or similar things to most other people in your circle such as a stable job, being financially secure, owning your own home, meeting a partner, having a family, having a pension, looking after your parents – being a ‘good girl’ shall we say!
The authentic self is the part of you that knows your preferences for everything; it knows what you enjoy, what you’re passionate about, what brings you joy and what you love to do. The authentic self knows that you want to order dessert in the restaurant whereas the social self will tell you not to be a piggy as no one else is having anything! The authentic self is that part of you that is spontaneous, curious, fascinated with the world and playful.
Having a well developed social self can be a great asset, however, when it is too dominant, it can essentially cut us off from our authentic self who has all the information that we need to discover our true purpose and our true desires. The metaphor I use for this is that the social self is the car but the authentic self is the destination. The car might work perfectly but if we don’t know the destination, it means we’re wasting a lot of time driving around in circles.
A lot of us rarely consult with our inner selves and most of the time we steer our lives based on the instructions of other people (who do often have our best interests at heart) but who really have no idea what we’re passionate about and therefore they have no idea how to help us find our purpose. As a result, naturally, we end up driving in the wrong direction.
How do you know if you’re going the wrong direction?
If you feel completely disconnected with your life/career, anxious, frustrated, angry or bored then I would hazard an educated guess that your two selves aren’t working very well together!
Word of Warning: My advice to everyone who is in a job that they are unhappy in is to stay where you are until you learn to reconnect with your authentic self. The reason for this is because the chances are really high that you will simply jump ship into another job that you don’t like and your social self will take the reigns even more and tell you to keep your head down, your mouth shut because work is supposed to be hard and miserable.
I’m curious, are your purpose and your passions staring you in the face? Take some time to lean into what feels like a ‘yes’ and you’ll start to learn what your true desires are. For now. This is a key point so listen carefully. Most people resist their passions and what they believe their purpose to be because
they don’t have certainty that this is what they want to do forever. They don’t have a crystal ball and they can’t check that it’s the right choice. Does this sound familiar?
The Impermanency of Purpose
One of the most important things that I have learnt about purpose is that it changes, just as our authentic self changes. Who we are changes. At different points in our lives, there will be different things that are important to us. We change, grow and develop based on our experiences in life and in our careers. We’re always changing and learning new things, forming new ideas about what’s possible. For example, when I was contemplating my purpose as being to work with women in their 20s and 30s, it was staring me right in the face but I wasn’t sure if it was the right choice. I hesitated, I second guessed myself and I doubted because logically I thought, I won’t be able to still work with that group when I’m older. I thought, “When I’m in my fifties, no one in their 20s is going to want to work with me. That can’t be right.”
But then I learned that my purpose could change. As long as I was able to connect with my authentic self and know what ‘yes’ felt like, I’d always be able to find my new purpose if I outgrew the old one.
Say for example, right now your purpose may be focused on career and making a difference through your work but in a few years that may shift and your purpose may be focused on your family life. Our external purpose changes to reflect our inner. So purposes are not permanent. Nothing is. When I stopped looking for the one thing that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, it got so much easier! I let go of so much internal pressure and I was able to allow myself to do what I felt was right for right now. If we’re trying to find something that will last forever, we will never have the certainty that we need for us to actually go after it in the first place! But if we embrace that our purpose can change according to how we change, it frees us up to make decisions knowing that we’re making the best decision we can for ourselves in the here and now.
Paula Coogan is the founder of The Quarter Life Coach – a vibrant career and life coaching company aimed at empowering women in their 20s and 30s to practice courage, figure out their true desires both personally and professionally and then, to make it happen.
Her work is delivered through several live group programs and Masterminds including Career Breakthrough Mastermind and The Wisdom Circle. She also works one-on-one with clients who are ready for big transitions in their relationships, careers and businesses.
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