Quora: How does one go about discovering or defining purpose?

This question was originally posted here on Quora.com.

How does one go about discovering or defining purpose?

My response:

That is definitely a tough question, hence very appropriate for this venue. I will start off by simply saying, regrettably maybe, I don’t know. How do you like that for honesty? Regardless, maybe just talking about this topic can help rather than being given an answer. If we dig around some together, maybe something significant will arise. Who knows?

First, I’d like to say I love your choice of verbs, ‘discover’ and ‘define’. The ‘discovery’ of a thing suggests that it existed objectively prior to one’s search for it. Like the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans. This land was here prior to any European’s experiential knowledge of its existence.

But, when we ‘define’ a thing, especially an abstract or intangible notion such as purpose, we are usually engaged in its creation. Where once purpose did not exist, now it exists because I have chosen its creation.

Do we stumble across or create our purpose in life? I believe neither possibilities are mutually exclusive. Yes, for some, purpose falls almost randomly into their laps, while for others it is the result of dedicated research and creative activity that brings it about. Yet, even when purpose seemingly falls out of the sky and into our lives, we must still engage in sustaining its existence, in a sense, engage in its continued creation.

So it seems we have a choice. We either wait around for purpose to magically appear, or we start to engage in the process of the creation of our life’s purpose. Don’t let my tone fool you. I do sincerely believe that for some purpose does magically appear, so this is indeed a valid option in my opinion. Yet, how nerve-racking it would be to sit around and wait for something to come about that may never actually come about. And really, for those who suggest that they indeed discovered their purpose almost randomly, I have a feeling they weren’t just sitting around waiting for this to occur. I have a feeling that they were already engaged in the process of determining or defining their purpose when its discovery took place. There’s a lesson in this, I think: Purpose may come about, or be discovered, as a result of engaging in its creation, or definition.

Maybe, just maybe, start defining it and you may discover it.

So then the question becomes, “How do I define my purpose?” That’s a tricky question, really. It might even mislead some to think that the definition of purpose is an instantaneous act or event. As if the answer should be posed as something like, “I define my purpose as…” But that’s not the sense that should be expressed by that question. I do not believe the definition of purpose is an instantaneous event. Maybe the question would be better posed, “How do I start defining my purpose?” Or, “How do I engage in creating my purpose?” I think these examples better express the process involved in coming to one’s purpose.

Now that the grammar is out of the way, how does one engage in creating purpose? For me, that’s the toughest question of all. Really, it’s a daunting prospect. It takes courage and a willingness to experience failure. It means trying new things, even those things that we may find boring or trite or not worth our time. It means doing some sincere soul-searching, spending some time in solitude, asking oneself what stimulates one’s interest. It means spending time with trusted others to get their feedback as to what they think would be good for us. We need both time alone and time with others to know ourselves well.

Maybe this was not the ‘answer’ you were seeking. I rarely have them, the answers. More often, I have lots of words that may or may not lead anywhere concrete. The one thing I do believe however, is that sincere and compassionate discussion usually always helps in one way or another. I hope, at least, you found this entertaining. Be well.

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