The idea of living your purpose might be a motivating force, but how can you tell if you are? Purpose comes in many forms: it presents itself in the moment, as opportunities to bring light and joy to the people and situations immediately around you. It unfolds in longer spans of time, defining periods of your life and your personal growth through challenges overcome and ambitions realized. And lastly, it is written through the story of your entire existence, through every word and action into a narrative that describes the individual, unique and compelling difference only you can create.
I believe in embracing challenge as the ultimate opportunity for growth and evolution; I believe that struggle teaches us more than success, and so I believe that any hardship is a chance to awaken and become bigger, better and stronger. I realize that's much easier said than done, but it's also much easier than avoiding challenge all together, or living a life of safety and denial. Often though, and especially in times of personal struggle, we can't definitively know what is the right thing to do next, or even what's working. But we can identify what is wrong. We can point to what isn't working for us, what is leaving us feeling unsatisfied and apathetic, and we can start there.
1 Serving others isn't a priority, and isn't something you do on a daily basis
We all have many people to serve every single day, especially our families and our loved ones. But my definition of purpose: using your unique talents, passions and abilities to create more happiness and peace for everyone explicitly requires that you be of service to others. This is why purpose can sometimes be momentary (how you can help someone else in the present moment) or lifelong (how you can use your passion and personal talents to create a business, a product, a movement that will help others), but remain based upon the same principle. In serving others, we are actually the person most rewarded because that is when we know we've done something bigger than ourselves, created something larger than our own existence because it has co-mingled with the existence of others. It unites you to other people through love and compassion and experience, thus creating something grander than simple little you.
2. You aren't experiencing joy, or meaning during painful and difficult times
Now I too have had jobs that I thought were in service to others, and sometimes they actually were, but didn't bring me any joy. That too is a sign of a purpose passed by. Your individual purpose will be something you can do with enthusiasm, joy, and great interest and curiosity. Interest is an important element, because it will be what keeps you striving to learn more, improve, and become better at whatever it is you do, whether that 'do' is a job, a relationship or a project. So if your expression of service is not one that brings you joy, or at least gives you meaning in painful and difficult situations that helps you push through, it is likely your purpose is waiting for you to find it still. Keep looking, keep your eyes open.
3. There is a deep, unsettling feeling of something being 'off' in your life
It's that gut-wrenching feeling that you're somehow in the wrong place or at the wrong time, even when your showing up to work on time, even when you're doing what you're meant to be doing, even when all the ducks are in a row. It's that twist of the internal organs that keeps you up at night. It's that strange question of 'why?' asked in an over-arching view of your own life. It's just a dissatisfaction that you can't quite pin down.
Be open to purpose being manifested in unexpected places. Millennials like myself love to believe that we'll find a job that fills us with purpose and a feeling of worth and happiness. Sometimes purpose comes in forms that aren't so celebratory. I first the epitome of living out my purpose while fighting cancer as a teen, a strange project for a young girl to undertake, but it felt purposeful and right because I knew it was the exact obstacle I needed to conquer for more reasons than my survival. I felt it again when I gave up my career path in fashion to pursue my true passion, writing, and had to waitress to pay the bills. To say you are a happy, fulfilled waitress is not something many people can understand. Even now, as my site HerAfter has expanded to classes, ebooks and a podcast, it has not turned out the way I expected and I couldn't be more thrilled that life still finds me worthy of a challenge and a surprise.
But the truth is, your purpose will still be present even when things are hard, unbearably draining, incredibly stressful, and emotionally dangerous. In fact, it might be most alive there on those moments when life calls you to endure. As I always say, a life well-lived is not one of constant ease and comfort; it is one that includes the gamut of emotions from pain to awe, from love to loss, from bliss to mourning, because in the middle of those emotional spectrums is one option: acceptance. Acceptance will set you free.
4. You aren't being humble
Whenever I'm feeling like life isn't fair, this is too hard, whatever is happening to me shouldn't be happening to me and either I've done something wrong, or life is just being a bully, I have to remember one thing: I am not a victim of my own life. To wait and expect life to hand me opportunities and open doors is to live as though life owes you something.
In actuality, it is you that owes something to life. You owe it to life itself to live with your heart open, your eyes up toward the sky, your arms outstretched. Life has given you the golden opportunity to enact a story that is all your own. It is you that owes it to life to live as though you are not a victim of hardship and to get out there and take chances, make changes, touch people, create a lasting change.
In light of all the recent events around the world, we know that this world desperately needs peace. That peace begins with the peace you create and live out of from deep within you. By living in the peace that you create from your own heart, you teach others to create and live in peace. By loving and accepting who you are and what you are capable of and what you owe the world, you teach others to accept themselves and live their purpose. It all starts with you; that is how you are meant to change the world.
I want to hear from you!
When do you feel you are living in your purpose most strongly?
Tell me in your comments!
Rachael Yahne is a writer, blogger and cancer survivor. After years as a fashion journalist, she now writes lifestyle articles about purpose, passion, style, well-being and thriving after surviving not just cancer, but all of life's big battles. You can catch up with her on Twitter ( @RachaelYahne ) and read more of her work at HerAfter.com