By Marie Sherlock
I come from a large extended family – many siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins. Of late (I’m now 64), I typically see my cousins at funerals – the funerals of aunts and uncles. 🙁
Anyway, I was talking to one of my cousins at such a gathering a few years back. I asked him how retirement was treating him. “Great!” he exclaimed. He was enjoying his days and keeping busy. I asked him (only partially facetiously) what was the secret to a happy retirement. He said, simply, “Find your purpose. Me, I fix things.” And, indeed, that’s what he does. He fixes cars, appliances, computer problems – whatever he or those around him need.
I LOVED this answer. For sure, MY purpose would not be to “fix things.” But I had been at loose ends for quite awhile, unsure of what the hell this retirement thing was all about. His response gave me hope. I concluded that if I could figure out my purpose, I would be well on my way to contentment during this next chapter of my life. Unfortunately, while my cousin seemed to have little trouble discerning his purpose, I continued to struggle with defining mine.
When I was younger, I’m pretty sure that I considered my “purpose” to be whatever it was that occupied my time during that phase: pursuing an education, raising kids, working as a lawyer then as a writer and editor. But in retirement those obvious roles/callings/positions evaporated. What WAS my life purpose NOW? Experts counsel that without this moral and lifestyle compass, you may end up feeling unfulfilled, adrift. I know I certainly did.
One bit of advice that I’d picked up somewhere resonated with me: Ask yourself what you wanted to be when you were 8 years old. The answer came to me quickly – I wanted to be a journalist. Even at age 8 I was typing up a “newspaper” on our old Underwood typewriter – with carbon paper in between pages – then “selling” them to my family members for a nickel.
Eventually my journalistic dreams took back seat to my wish to attend law school. I practiced law for a decade before returning to writing and eventually editing. I had found my sweet spot – doing exactly what I knew I was meant to do. (Who knew 8-year-olds were so wise?)
So one thing you might do is ask yourself the same question. What did YOU want to do with your life at age 8?
The Internet is replete with additional advice on how to find your purpose/passion. Most of the questions are along these lines: 1) What do you love doing?; and 2) What are you good at – what are your natural or acquired abilities? If these dovetail, bingo!
Some folks may stop with these two queries. But I can’t. With just the answers to those two questions, something vital is missing. For example, if I was really good at bullying and I took great pleasure in it – a few politicians come to mind here – that should not be the end of my Life Purpose Inquiry.
Other topics – your values and beliefs – must be addressed. What matters to you most? What gives your life meaning? What do you want your legacy to be? (You can find more questions to spark thought about this query at this link.)
Ultimately, I think a formula for a Life Purpose Statement could read something like this: “Doing those things that bring you joy while, simultaneously, living your values.”
Applying my passions and values to this template, I come up with this (somewhat wordy) purpose statement: “Writing essays, travel pieces, letters to the editor, whatever (!) that embody (at least in some small way) my views on the understanding and acceptance of all cultures, and on the value and dignity of all people.” (One note here: Distilling your purpose down to one primary area doesn’t mean you don’t have other purposes – think being a good friend, a loving parent, a helpful neighbor. Whenever you feel fulfilled, happy and good about yourself, you’re achieving some part of your purpose.)
Now it’s your turn: What’s your purpose?