How to find your purpose in life. Lessons from an Indigenous Elder.
Let’s be clear right off the bat. I’m not an Elder. But I wanted to share some words of wisdom that I received a few years ago from one of mine about understanding your life’s purpose.
As a former social worker and a college instructor in the same field, this is almost a regular conversation for students and colleagues. It’s easy to say you’ve found your purpose in life when you’ve signed up for a career that focuses on helping other people. But what if you have a yearning to help or provide something “bigger” (that’s in quotes for a reason, y’all!) and you feel like your “menial job” (which provides for your family and all) isn’t the kind of profession where you’re giving.
A few weeks ago I had breakfast in town at my favorite poached egg place (because I can’t cook an egg to save my life) and wound up chatting with two construction workers who were taking a break from fixing the roads in our county. We were chatting about work and what we did and one of the fellows said it must feel good to make such a contribution to society all day long. Sometimes it feels great and sometimes it sucks beyond reason but that’s okay. He went on to say that he’d love to figure out his life’s purpose and do something meaningful besides fixing roads for the rest of his life but he had to provide for his family and had obligations.
Oh, man! I get that feeling. I work two part time social work jobs and this blog along with my other websites. Half the time I feel like I’m running in circles just trying to keep up with the electric bill. (Yay, Ontario for doubling our rates this winter!!) And, at the same time I’m trying to launch a shop.
It bugged me so much that this fellow felt like he should be doing something bigger with his life but couldn’t’ find a way to do that. And then, two days later, I hit a pothole hard and blew out my front tire. In Canada. In February. Here’s what I’d like to be able to go back and say to this fellow:
“Dude, you’re already providing the most wonderful and loving service by keeping our roads safe. If you don’t think that matters, think again.”
I think it’s pretty clear most of us are looking to fulfill our purpose in life. This drive is what keeps us moving forward. Going to school. Getting married. Having children. Working.
Here’s where I’m going to get a bit radical. What if we defined our purpose in life as separate from our day jobs?
I know, right? So not the North American way of living where work is our identity.
A few years ago I was struggling with the same “find your purpose” thing while working in the helping profession, of all things. So I got quiet and settled in for some reflection. Because my life was, and still is kind of nuts, that meant in fifteen minute increments before one of the boys cried or I fell asleep on my notepad. True story.
Now, I’m a spiritual kind of gal so I went with what I understood which was looking at my “Divine purpose”. If you’re not into that, go with life purpose. If you’re a Christian you know what to do… God’s purpose.
So when I got quiet, I went back to my Indigenous roots where I’d been taught that my work was to love Creator (God, for the rest of you) and to be of service.
How should I be of service? I remember asking the Elder who was kind enough to talk to me about this life purpose thing. He laughed and said “Well it doesn’t need to be as a social worker if that’s making you so resentful and tired all the time. ” He was an observant fellow. And then he went on to say something along the lines of “if your being of service job is driving you to neglect your family or other parts of life, who are you serving?”
Wait. What? In my culture, there are tons of us that are in the helping profession. Teaching, healing, social work, counseling. It’s part of our teachings. So while I sat there, just kind of staring and trying not to cry as I remembered yelling at the boys the night before because I was exhausted and needed them to just be quiet, he gently reminded me that you bring love and service to every job you do if you’re doing it to serve our Creator.
Back to the construction guy. You fix roads? You’re already a hero who’s of service. Do it with love and you’re there. You’re serving humanity. I don’t really care what you do or where you “work” because this applies to everyone. You make widget in a factory all day? You’re being of service. Serve Big Macs? Do it with love, and you’re being of service. A person’s gotta eat afterall.
See where I’m going with this? Do your work, “menial”, or otherwise with love and you’re of service. I know that’s hard. It’s hard to get excited about slinging eggs, or making parts for a car, or picking up garbage. But you’re serving humanity and Creator in doing so. Bam.
Which brings me to my own struggle.
I was taught not to self-promote because no one likes a bragger, right? And, in my family, being an entrepreneur, isn’t something that’s done. Hell, I had a hard enough time explaining social work to my peeps. So I’ve struggled with feelings of guilt as I’ve moved out of helping people for a living and trying to work my online business and blogs.
But I remembered the words of my Elder recently and started to refocus on building our shop, the blogs, and my side business as a form of love and service. And suddenly, everything came into focus. If our purpose is to love and serve others, (which I believe it is), then it doesn’t matter what you do to fulfill that calling. For me, at the moment, it’s helping bloggers and online biz owners build prettier websites.
Now, if you take a moment to picture my Indigenous/social worker guilt about just wanting to make the world and web prettier instead of more just and equitable and you’ll know what kind of guilt I’ve been struggling with! Huh. Enough of that.
Loving and serving people doesn’t require that we all be Mother Theresa. Which is great because quite frankly, most of us would look terrible in that nun habit and don’t really want to move to India. Finding your life’s purpose, in my humble corner of the world, is far more about love and service than about how you get that done.
Kind of like my breakfast eating road warrior hero, no? Because two days after my tire blow out, most of the potholes on that crazy road have been filled. That road repair is a beautiful gift to humanity, Construction Guy.