Today’s post is inspired by my reading “Finding Your Way in a Wild New World” by Martha Beck (who also wrote the excellent “Dark Side of the Light Chasers,” a very accessible book that explains how we deal with aspects of ourselves that we don’t like and offers solutions to the dysfunctions that can crop up when we do). I came upon this sentence early in the book:
“Freedom and health for your deepest, truest self is essential for thriving in this strange, unprecedented time”.
I often encounter a variant of this belief in my clients, i.e. that they have a mission, that they were put on this Earth for a very particular purpose, and that they need to follow a very particular path to accomplish that purpose. But it’s a path that they cannot seem to discover. Needless to say, this causes an awful lot of unhappiness and frustration. Imagine being assigned to carry out a mission without knowing what the mission is. That unhappiness and frustration tends to work against the very process of trying to discover what the path might look like, a process that should allow for the openness, the “breathing room,” necessary for creativity.
I need to note here that I don’t fully subscribe to the idea that each one of us has purpose to serve, mission to accomplish, or “deepest, truest self”because that suggests that the goal is already sitting out there and we simply need to figure out what it is and then how to reach it (or, alternatively, that there is one true self within us that we must allow to emerge. I see “purposefulness” or “being true to oneself” as something that is discovered THROUGH EXPERIENCE rather than through mental activity – sticking one’s toes in a number of different pools. What’s more, I’ve come to believe that most people have multiple “purposes,” “missions,” and “true selves,” and that some of the most important and gratifying work that we can do in our lives is to explore and flesh those out.
The danger in the notion that there’s only one truly right answer to the question of “who are you REALLY, and what’s your TRUE mission or purpose?” is that it can push you towards perfectionism; after all, if there’s really ONE thing we’re meant to be doing then we’d better be sure that we’ve chosen correctly, and that all the appropriate boxes are checked.
Significant career shifts are increasingly common (particularly at midlife, however one chooses to define “midlife,” but also early on prompted by the realization that a wrong choice was made, or towards the end of one’s working life when priorities are very different). I myself have had three-and-a-half different careers, and although the much bandied-about number of seven has no statistical backing, the increased flexibility that technology allows (working from home, internet businesses, distance learning) certainly is fostering a move to a greater number of lifetime pursuits. It is also allowing more people to pursue multiple callings simultaneously. So, while some people may indeed have one mission in life, one purpose that is the ideal reflection of their “true selves,” I’m a fan of exploring and engaging in multiple paths. It can be challenging and even scary, but it can also help you develop new skills and passions and keep your mind engaged and alive.