Life’s Purpose

Scenic trail

I have seen a couple of interviews with Oprah Winfrey since the publication of her new book The Path Made Clear about finding our purpose in life, Emma Thompson brought up the same subject on the Ellen DeDegeneres Show right after I’d seen the interviews and then it came up a third time over dinner with a friend.

I always feel slightly “lacking” when I hear people say things like, “This is exactly what I’m meant to do,” or “I’ve always known this was my path.” How do they know that? Sure, I’ve had several times in my life when I was doing something I’d pursued for years and loved it, but did that necessarily make it my “path?” I suppose the underlying question is probably, “What defines a life path?” Is it something you enjoy? Is it something that leaves a lasting legacy? Is it something that makes life better for those around us?

I loved my dancing career, worked hard to get there, hated having to retire and have never found anything where I felt as comfortable. But was that my life’s path because I enjoyed it? If our lives are about our contribution to this planet we live on, then I’m not sure I achieved much on that path other than being happy. That didn’t do much for improving anyone else’s life or contributing to the planet we inhabit.

So is life about that old saying, “You only live once” and it’s only about enjoying yourself while you’re here or is it about what you leave behind? I believe the path changes as I grow and learn, and so that moves me in different directions which, of course, brings new challenges and new lessons, but my question remains. What’s my ultimate purpose? If I’m meant to save humanity, I missed the turn.

And if life is all about what I learn along my path, does that knowledge benefit me somehow when I reach the end of the road? If reincarnation is real, then I guess those life lessons will benefit me on the next go around. On Ellen DeGenerese’s show, Emma Thompson commented that she was about to turn 60 and she found it a little disconcerting because she felt like she’d done the things she set out to do, and wondered if she was meant to carry on or move on to something else.

In Oprah’s book, there is a contribution from Wintley Phipps that says, “When you watch the things you dreamed of as a kid come to reality, those are moments of destiny. But I’ve realized that moments of destiny are moments for which you were created but they’re not the reason you were created.” If we’re happy with those moments of destiny, then what are we missing?

I haven’t found my ultimate answer yet but I know this: I don’t believe the people we cross paths with are there by coincidence. So that means that the ones I like are there to teach me something (or help point me in the right direction) just as those I dislike are also meant to teach me something. Although I don’t yet know what I’m meant to take with me at the end, that doesn’t mean I don’t continually move forward and find goals that inspire me. What if the ultimate purpose is to take the lessons from those around us to make us teachers for others?

I think retirement and age combine to add to this conundrum. You work all your life (usually for someone else) hoping you’re making a difference. But then you retire and you realize that things go on without you exactly as they always have. So did you contribute anything at all or were you only there to learn something for your own path? Were the obstacles you encountered worth it? And if not, you may be old, but you still have life left in those old bones so what are you meant to do now? If you’re still here, then your destiny isn’t complete, right?

Is the ultimate purpose inward reflection or outward giving? Or maybe inward reflection leads to outward impact. In any case, I’ll keep pursuing the goals that bring me a sense of contentment and happiness and wait for things to become clearer.

Fallen tree path