5 Non-typical Methods for Rediscovering Your Life PurposeJul 30, 2023
This month marks one year since retiring from a 30+ year career in education.
I thought I would miss it. After all, I considered it my purpose in life. But in all honesty, I don’t.
Maybe it was because the first few weeks seemed no different than the many summer breaks I experienced as a teacher.
Or maybe it was because I filled my days with family or working on long-put-off projects.
I was enjoying a newfound flexibility in my day. No strict schedule to follow. No deadlines for grades or IEPs. No required, pointless meetings to attend.
As the novelty of spending the day doing what I pleased sans makeup, shoes, or bra began to wear off, I started questioning myself.
Shouldn’t I miss teaching, at least a little? What happened to my guilty feelings about leaving my students as I was planning my retirement?
I thought for sure I should feel some kind of void.
Questioning my purpose
Not only was I wondering why I didn’t miss the classroom, I was also feeling scattered.
Although I had plenty to do to keep me busy, I felt unproductive. I lacked the focus I needed to stick with one task before starting another especially if I became frustrated or bored.
The battle between doing what I wanted to do, what I needed to do, and what I should do was taking a toll on the initial joy I felt about retirement.
I realized I needed to find a balance and a reason for doing the things I was (or wasn’t) doing. I needed to put meaning behind the new life I was living.
Was teaching my life purpose? If it wasn’t, what is? Does your life purpose change over time? Or does it just look different as you age?
These are the questions I began asking myself.
Why we need to find our life purpose
Wondering about the meaning of life is a universal human experience.
Think about the young child who innocently asks, “ Why was I born?” Or the teenager, pushed to make a decision about career choice, exclaiming, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life!”
As we age we find ourselves revisiting this question many times over.
Life events such as retirement, the unplanned loss of a job, or serious medical issues will challenge our sense of purpose. It’s important for us then, to rediscover what brings meaning to our lives.
Having a strong understanding of our purpose in life helps us gain focus and can point us in the direction we need to move in order to find fulfillment and happiness.
Once we find purpose in life we are more likely to have clarity in decision-making. We are less likely to be sidetracked by the ideas and opinions of what others think “would be good for us.”
Knowing your purpose improves your motivation. This is so common sense that we often miss its importance.
When the work we do is personally meaningful, we want to engage in it and are willing to push past the obstacles that challenge us.
And finally, connecting to our life purpose helps us feel more joy and contentment in life.
In a world that confuses possessions, and power with happiness, it is good to know there’s an alternative.
5 Not So Ordinary Ways I’m Using to Rediscover My Life Purpose
In school, we take aptitude tests to help us discover where our skills and interests support a future career. We are given the impression occupation equals life purpose.
This is not always the case. Your purpose in life could be outside the work you do to pay the bills.
Or it could be indirectly related.
How do you know? Especially as you get older, when you think you should know.
Aside from tests, journaling, meditation, or counseling (the more typical recommendations for discovering your life purpose), here are five other ways I’m working on redefining my life purpose.
1. Dreams can provide clues to life purpose
The specifics of my dreams aren’t as easy to recall these days, but the emotional feeling of it continues to stick with me. I make note of that feeling — happiness, overwhelm, fear, longing, loneliness, curiosity, or excitement.
I believe my subconscious mind is trying to tell me something about what is currently going on in my life. Then I try to connect the dots between what I can remember from my dream to my day-to-day experience.
Dreams are helpful in gaining perspective, revealing fulfilling or not-so-fulfilling experiences, inspiring creativity, and solving problems.
2. Volunteer work can point to your purpose in life
Volunteering is frequently part of the “find your purpose” advice. It is suggested you determine what it is you love to do so much that you are willing to do it for free.
However, we need to examine our volunteer work in a deeper context to get closer to understanding what makes it meaningful to our lives.
Volunteering is not just about what you are doing. It’s a peek at the who, the how, and the why of what gives you a sense of purpose.
Consider these things:
- the structure — I prefer small, local programs. Large organizations seem impersonal and leave me wondering where the money goes.
- the expectations — No long-term commitments and endless meetings, and please, I would rather not speak before a large crowd. I am happy to be one of the worker bees.
- who does it serve — I feel more satisfaction if the work I do serves people I know, local families, or local organizations.
- the purpose of the work — Typical volunteer work for me focuses on feeding struggling families and the elderly, helping with medical expenses/care, or providing healthy and/or educational programs for youth.
I believe looking at the volunteer work you do (or would do if you could) in this manner lets you in on a few important insights regarding your purpose in life.
3. Synchronicities as hints you're on the right path
Synchronicity is a coincidence that seems to carry more meaning than just luck or happenstance.
Many people don’t believe in synchronicity. I’m not one of those people.
I think we should be open to the possibility, at least. Our intuition is a powerful thing and it works well with synchronicity.
Here’s a real-life example. Remember, I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to live a meaningful life after retirement.
I was listening to an inspirational video on YouTube while cleaning the other day. When the video was over another video automatically started.
It was a tarot reading which just happened to be specifically for my sun sign. I was only half listening, but my ears perked up when the reader mentioned something about meeting up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.
Then she stated there was a good possibility of returning to work in a former career.
I shut off the video and laughed. Not likely.
Later that day I went to the hardware store and ran into Jim, the school psychologist with whom I used to work. He retired and then began working part-time for a small, rural school district.
Jim asked me if I would be interested in returning to work part-time. His district was in desperate need of a good special education teacher with enough experience to mentor new teachers, set up programs, etc.
It sounded similar to my teaching experience in Montana. I loved that job.
As we parted I realized how uplifted I felt. I couldn’t understand it at first. Yet I allowed myself to imagine it and took careful notice of my body’s reaction.
I don’t know if I will return to the classroom, but our brief meeting left little doubt that teaching in some capacity is related to my life purpose.
Was it more than chance that brought us together?
4. Revisiting old pictures provides clues to life purpose
I’m from the generation that keeps photographs in plastic albums or tattered shoe boxes. It’s nice to have those tangible images to hold as you revisit the memories they bring up.
Reminiscing over old photos helps to recall activities and experiences we enjoyed as youngsters.
One of my old black and white photographs shows my cousins, siblings, and I putting on a Christmas play for a family gathering.
Of course, I wrote the script based on a story I had just read. It was a reminder that reading and writing have been an essential part of me from an early age.
Many of the photographs we take and/or keep have special meaning to us. Pictures of ourselves over time provide further reminders of events and activities that made us feel good.
It can also lead us to discover what is holding us back. We just need to ask ourselves why we no longer participate in the work or activity we were once so drawn to.
5. Walking in nature helps to discover meaning in life
The world is such a noisy place. So many distractions. So many people telling you what you should be doing. Free, unsolicited advice is everywhere.
Taking a walk in nature allows you to escape the noise and opinions of others. It provides the opportunity for mind-clearing. It allows clarity to slip in and start organizing the whirling thoughts.
Walking is good for your physical well-being. When you feel good physically it affects your mental and emotional health in a positive way. It boosts your ability to think clearly and in a positive light.
Taking a quiet walk by yourself is a good time to reflect on your dreams, synchronicities, and what you may have learned about yourself through past and present activities.
The perfect opportunity for rediscovering our purpose in life
Society leads us to believe our life purpose is connected to our careers or the work we do to pay the bills.
That is not always the case.
Because responsibilities are one thing. Living a meaningful life is another.
For sure they can and likely do intersect.
But when we reach a point in life where a job loss or health problems change our working situation, how do we move on in a way that brings us some sense of satisfaction and happiness?
We need to look at this time as the perfect opportunity to rediscover our life purpose.
You and I now have the time to explore the who, what, why, and where of a meaningful life.
It’s then up to us to create it.
Feel a bit guilty for not taking better care of yourself?
Wish you had more time for it?
The Self-Care Mini-Workbook will help you discover what you are doing or could be doing to enhance your self-care practices? Give it a try for free!
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