Find your purpose and have Stoicism help you. Or use your Philosophy of Life to do so. The most important thing is to start asking questions. We can use philosophy as a compass because it’s nice to know what general direction we are going. The question of purpose is quite big. How do we find it or should we even be looking? These are profound topics and some of us don’t want to deal with them or aren’t ready for them. And that’s fine. Although a lot of problems we have can be solved by digging deep, asking questions, and using introspection.
Let’s look at what we understand by purpose. How we can find it and whether we should look for it at all. And if we do and happen to recognize it, how do we stay on course? And it can also go the other way around. We could find our direction and live our lives according to our purpose, without knowing it. But how does that work? Let’s try to look into it and delve into the topic of purpose.
Without a purpose we wander aroud directionless
Why does purpose matter? As we can get lost in our current society and our own lives, we yearn for direction. Some tend to cling to a career, relationship, possessions, status, or wealth, to find their purpose. But these are all externals. Things we wish to project on our future or chase to fill something within. But they are beyond our control. We can change jobs, relationships will end or new ones will arise. Many things can happen and if we lose what we are pursuing, we can fall into a deep hole. Our purpose is then lost and we wander around directionless.
To find your purpose we need to have something more solid. We can learn this from Epictetus in his Enchiridion, his handbook:
“If you take on a role that is beyond your powers, you not only disgrace yourself in that role, but you neglect the role that you were capable of fulfilling.”Epictetus, The Handbook, 37
Know where your drive is coming from
Although there are different ways to interpret this, we can see that it reflects back to what’s in our control and what isn’t. If we take what is beyond our powers as our opinions and actions, they can be used as the boundaries of our purpose. Epictetus is telling us to look at ourselves. That’s where we can find that base to work from. Then changing a job or losing possessions won’t disturb our peace too much. Because we know that these things come and go. In all that noise, we will stay on our course and can remain calm.
How to find that purpose is the next part we will tackle. But first, we need to see how we should be looking for it. Some children know at a young age what they want to become. I still struggle with that question. While for them there is an intrinsic drive toward a certain goal or job. They feel the fire from their core and aim to be the best at what they have their heart set out to become. Yet many things can happen to prevent them from reaching those goals. So, even when you feel a certain drive to a profession, it is important to know where it is coming from. Because this can still come from externals, while to us it can seem like something completely our own.
“I propose to value them according to their character, not their jobs.”Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, Letter XLVII
A purpose can help us stay more centered and balanced
That’s why searching for the purpose is important. Know what makes you tick. This requires a lot of courage, curiosity, and an open mind. And we have to be prepared that we won’t encounter it, at least not in the way we have in mind. As I’ve said, I still struggle with the question of what I want to do. But I am digging more into who I am and I can tell I’ve made progress there. To understand our purpose, and to give meaning to our lives, we must know ourselves. Without that foundation, we can’t come to any clear answers. But the good thing about this is that by asking these questions, we can address both issues at once. We can get to know ourselves better and by doing so figure out what our purpose is.
We’re all on a journey, our own one. We will come across others and some will join us for a bit. But we do have to stay on our own until the end. To do so, we need to learn how to listen more to ourselves to get to know who we are. Use our intuition as a guide to sense when we go off our path. Our goal is to live a peaceful life and if we keep that in mind, we know what to pay attention to. Increased anxiety, stress, worries, happiness, joy, and fulfillment, these are all indicators. As we recognize these feelings we can bounce from them, back to the center. This will have a two-fold effect. First, we will stay more centered and balanced. Second, we can identify our emotions better and sooner. Understanding what drives them to prevent them as much as we can.
What are you chasing?
Now that we are paying more attention to who we are, to our emotions and response, we can find our way to a more peaceful existence. We can do this at work. If one day you are offered a promotion, you can project what changes this new job would have on you. Then ask yourself how that would alter your life and whether it is something You want. Or if it is what you think the outside world expects from you. Some might see it as a lack of ambitions if you pass on it, while you view it as keeping your focus on what matters.
This is where a philosophy like stoicism comes into place. It helps you to project yourself onto future events and rationally look at the consequences. Are you chasing something for yourself or something external? How will this disrupt your peace of mind? Or do you have an internal sense of duty that this is a job you should accept?
“The wise man is content with himself.”Seneca, Letters From a Stoic, Letter IX
Your purpose might be there, calling for you
The main goal is to find that drive from within. Not to worry about what the rest of the world thinks or expects of you. Creating your own philosophy and values will keep you on your path. And they will be a good base to fight temptations and protect you from excess. But let’s start with listening to ourselves a bit better. To find that connection with ourselves. Finding our purpose is a big and difficult topic. We can make some changes in our lives now, to start working towards it. Besides listening to ourselves, we can determine our values and priorities. When we are anxious, we can ask ourselves what the true cause is. And how this can be resolved or prevented.
What is the purpose of all of this? Of our lives, of the universe? There’s a big chance that we won’t figure this out anytime soon, thus we can best focus on ourselves. If we live according to nature and have the best and most peaceful life we can have, how can that then not be in line with the bigger purpose? We might not know it, but we can live it. And that’s the beauty of being alive. That’s why we mustn’t forget to live while we can. Rethink your actions and opinions. Are they yours or are you chasing other people’s dreams? If this question of purpose overwhelms you, then break it down into chunks. Try to be the best version you can be and aim for that peaceful existence. You’ll know when you’re on track if you truly get to listen to yourself. Your purpose might then be there, calling for you.
“Examine who you are… For you are capable of understanding the divine governance of the universe, and of reasoning on what follows from that.”Epictetus, the Discourses, Book 2, Chapter 10