How to Live a Meaningful Life Without Knowing Your Life’s Purpose
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Do you remember when you first noticed that emptiness at the core of your being?
It felt as though something had been carved out of you, didn’t it?
And, no matter how hard you try to make it go away, the emptiness remains.
Stuffing your life with busy-ness, and acquiring more stuff, hasn’t made a dent in it.
Zoning out in front of the TV, playing on-line games, or over-indulging with food and alcohol only dulls the ache.
Still though, you know there has to be something that will fill the emptiness, and stop the pain.
Moreover, any number of people will tell you that finding your life’s purpose is what will make you feel better.
If so many people believe it, then it must be true.
“What usually happens in the educational process is that the faculties are dulled, overloaded, stuffed and paralyzed so that by the time most people are mature they have lost their innate capabilities.” ~ Buckminster Fuller
Challenges with Finding Your Life’s Purpose
So you follow somebody’s formula, or do their meditation, or sign up for their process and hope they’ll show you the way to your life’s purpose.
But what if their way of doing it does not work for you?
What if none of those methods give you anything more than a temporary sense of relief?
And what if they do not motivate you to get off the couch, or stop overeating, or stop whatever else is not filling that empty hole?
When the formulas and processes do not deliver what you hoped they would when the emptiness remains and feels even bigger, it is no wonder you get depressed.
But not to worry, there is another way to fill the emptiness.
“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Filling Up The Emptiness Is Easier Than You Think
Since the emptiness is inside you, it makes sense that the way to fill it is inside you as well.
It is true.
Within you, just waiting for you to pay attention to them are the seeds of happiness and satisfaction.
In Buddhism, seeds are called bija, and they have a wonderful characteristic: they are always ready to sprout and grow when the conditions are right.
What does that mean for you?
It means all the potential you had as a child is still there. The things that didn’t have a chance to grow or didn’t grow well is just waiting for you to notice and nourish them.
All you have to do is figure out how to identify and encourage what you want to grow.
Moreover, I can show you how to do that.
How To Recognize What’s Meaningful To You
Figuring out what’s meaningful to you is inside-out work, and pretty simple.
You get an idea, or a spark of interest in something and let it move you to take action. And you do it without knowing exactly where that action is going to lead.
In the beginning, it is about discovering ideas and activities that give you a sense of satisfaction. It is exploring them moment by moment, and day by day, and seeing where they lead you.
First it is a week; then it is a month or maybe two, and then it dawns on you that you are going in a direction that makes you feel happy and satisfied.
In his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, Cal Newport tells the story of Ryan, who did odd jobs for extra money. Picking wild blueberries and selling them by the side of the road got him the most cash.
Next, he started selling the extra produce from his family’s garden. Then he took over the garden and made it bigger.
In high school, he rented 10 acres from a local farmer. Ryan continued to expand upon what he was doing until he bought his own farm.
These are all things you might expect the son of a farmer to do, but Ryan’s not from a farming family.
He is simply doing work that satisfies him and gives his life meaning.
There’s something else about living a meaningful life you need to know.
Just because Ryan started making his meaningful life as a kid, don’t think for a minute you cannot start at any age.
My dentist’s bookkeeper, who is about 45 or 50, has the mindset that regular people, like her and her husband, have jobs and go to them 5 days a week.
Then her husband got laid off and didn’t get another job.
Instead, after finding, fixing and selling an old Hammond Organ, he began looking for more of them so he could repeat the process.
His wife thinks his traveling around finding broken organs is pretty weird and wishes he would just get a regular job, with a regular paycheck. She does admit, though, that he is happy.
Exactly what sparked his interest in doing something like this does not matter.
How you manifest what’s meaningful to you is as individual as you are. A meaningful life does not limit you to one mode of expression.
Nor does it decree starting at any particular age, at any particular time in your life, or in any particular fashion.
All that matters is that you start . . .even when it’s painful as hell.
At the time I heard this story, my life was in the toilet. My business had tanked, a start-up with a partner was crashing and burning, and my life was made hideous with panic and anxiety attacks.
Something had to change, and since I was responsible for where I had wound up, it had to be me.
In the beginning, I resorted to making decisions by determining which choice caused the greatest anxiety.
The scariest ones were what my heart wanted me to do.
I struggled to go where these choices led me. Thankfully, a faint but persistent inner voice kept saying, ‘Yes, this is what you need to do to get the meaningful life you want.’
Slowly I learned to listen to myself, and how I felt. I trusted myself more and became more confident.
Today, a year later, I am a freelance writer, happily working hard at my craft. I have the self-fulfilling life I want, and the emptiness at the core of my being is gone.
Here’s how you get started.
Starting to Live a Meaningful Life Is Easy
First of all, you do not have to do it the way I did – out of desperation! Nor do you have to lose a job first as the Hammond Organ man did.
Begin identifying and encouraging what’s already inside of you by doing these 5 things:
- Give yourself permission to follow and act on your inclinations, those inner promptings that want to take you in a different direction from what you are used to. Taking action on those bits of inspiration is what creates meaning.
- No goal going where those inner promptings lead is an intuitive process. It builds upon itself, according to an inner plan that gets revealed bit by bit.
- Be open to new possibilities. Ask yourself, ‘What if I did this instead of that’ Take action based on what feels right to you. Alternatively, do as I had to do at first: go with what scares the heck out of you because you can sense it is where your heart wants to go.
- Let your curiosity slip its leash. Have fun, explore, and experiment. Track down answers to questions that pop up. Nothing is too small to pursue.
- Understand ‘going with your gut’ is not an exact science. You’ll need to take risks, and accept you’ll make mistakes. It is the process by which you are learning to have more trust in yourself.
Thomas Merton put it this way: ‘We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.’
This process helps you make those choices.
What Satisfies You
Even though you desire to make a change and believe it is going to make you happy, that does not mean you do not have to work at making it happen.
Help yourself out by expanding your self-awareness with a bit of daily journaling.Do just a little-written reflection on your day and your feelings.
- What gave you a feeling of satisfaction, or made you feel good?
- Did you feel prompted to do something, but either drew back or talked yourself out of it?
- When you did that, what story did you tell yourself?
- What could you do to make taking action less risky?
- What new story could you tell yourself?
Looking closely at things, you can see what makes you happy, and where old habits of thinking are getting in your way.
“But I do know what bliss is: that deep sense of being present, of doing what you absolutely must do to be yourself.” ~ Joseph Campbell
The Rewards of Living a Meaningful Life
This process is a simple and organic method of exploring who you really are.
As you take one step and then wait for the next step to manifest, you are learning to trust yourself, and this boosts your confidence.
Plus what you are doing rewards you along the way, with lots of meaningful and satisfying moments. They are the built-in encouragement that lets you know you are going in the right direction.
Embracing what satisfies you and makes you happy is how the emptiness gets filled and the pain goes away.
It is the only way to do it, and the best time to do it is right now.
Give yourself permission to live a meaningful life, and then just go for it!
You have nothing to lose except the emptiness inside.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
Over To You –
Too often we talk ourselves out of doing things because we imagine what people will think, or say, or how they will judge us.
What would you do if no one was watching? How brave would you be? Imagine how that would feel. How much did you love that feeling? Please share in the comments so you can inspire other people including me.
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Thanks for helping me reignite my energy.
I’m going to keep moving toward my dreams
Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I’m glad you found something helpful.
I’ve discovered that as you go along this things become clearer and with clarity comes more energy and enthusiasm!
Just keep on keeping on! I know you can get to where you want to be!
I really enjoyed this post, and Harleena, I’m really enjoying the blog in general, I’m so happy I stumbled upon it.
Anyway, Quinn at the end of your post you asked “What would you do if no one was watching? How brave would you be? Imagine how that would feel. How much did you love that feeling?”
If nobody was watching me one of the things I would do is learn how to be a public speaker. Public speaking really terrifies me, but I have such a great admiration for individuals who are able to speak in front of huge audiences and gives amazing talks at conferences. I’d love to learn how to do that, and be a guest speaker at a TEDx event or something. Becoming a professional public speaker would probably be the bravest thing I’ve ever done. If I could do that, I would know w/o a doubt I could do anything. I would feel invincible.
I’m going to work towards it though. Like you said, I’ll take one step and wait for the next to manifest.
Thanks so much for your post.
Thank you for sharing!
One of the women in my accountability group has the same fear. She’s been going to Toastmasters and has made a lot of progress!
I happen to not have that fear (plenty of other ones though!) and my suggestion is to find an improv group that does classes. Improv is a lot of fun – and what I think is the best thing about it is that you get really good practice in thinking on your feet. It’s an awesome confidence booster.
Please let me know how things are working out for you. I can hear the passion you have for doing this and would love to know how you’re making out with it. If you’re a member of the ABC community here, we can keep in touch that way.
All the best!
Welcome to the blog Aaron 🙂
So glad you stumbled upon Aha!NOW and are liking it overall, along with Quinn’s post.
I agree, that was a thought provoking question in the end. Don’t worry, most people have the fear of public speaking, and the best way to overcome that fear is to go right out and speak – not easy I know, but practice is what makes us all perfect. And as Quinn mentioned, joining groups or trying it with friend’s, or just speaking in front of the mirror initially are more ways to slowly overcome your fear. Wishing you the best!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us. 🙂
Over the weekend I received a bit of inspiration from Alex Blackwell of The Bridgemaker that I want to share with you because I think it will resonate with you as it did with me.
“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of feeling alive!” Joseph Campbell
May we all have that experience every day!
Reading this post brought a lot of memories. I can relate to it so much.
I have heard so many thoughts on living a meaning life what caught my attention about this post is you revealed the fact that our lives are so unique. So we have different activities that make us happy.
You are so right and I find it strange that people would stick to the methods of others even when it is taking them no where. I love your tips on living a meaningful as they are spot on.
Thanks for sharing and have an awesome weekend.
I agree, I don’t get sticking to methods that aren’t getting you what you want. Though I really shouldn’t be too hard on people – I’ve been told (and have to agree) that I stubbornly stick with things for a bit to long as I keep trying to make them work. But, I do know when I’m licked and do move on!
I hope the memories my post brought up for you were good ones! Thank you for taking the time to comment, and I hope your have a great weekend too!
HI Quinn, Wow, such a powerful article. I’m so glad it found a home here at AhaNOW! as this really is a place where people come to find inspiration.
You’re exactly right, living a life with purpose makes such a difference. When I started out in my first career I felt trapped because I wasn’t inspired by what I was doing.
Now, I love what I do and it makes all the difference. I’m at peace with my life and am motivated to do what I do. I still have problems, struggles and troubles. But I feel so much better able to handle them because I am grounded in my purpose.
I guess I planted my bija and they sprouted!
Thanks so much for this inspiration, Quinn.
Sounds like your bija sprouted and put down good, deep roots!
As Robert McKee says, “conflict is to storytelling what sound is to music.” and I’m thinking that it’s also what problems, struggles and troubles are to life.
The cool thing is – we’re living in the right stories!
I’m glad you found my post inspiring. Thank you for commenting!
What an inspiring story. I love how you took your anxiety, faced it, and how you let your open-eyed awareness about all that negative energy guide you to your heart’s desire. And now you can help others with their anxiety.
I agree with you that we often play small because we are scared of what others will think if we step into the spotlight of our passion. And we forget that that fearful voice is all in our own heads. It is the voice of our domestication (as Don Miguel Ruiz calls it). But that is still the loudest voice of all: that of the people whose well-meaning advice we internalized growing up.
When I run into my own blocks and fears, I seek to simply identify them. Once they are clear to me, I seek to understand that they are trying to protect me. Their protection is well-intentioned, but mis-guided. I then remind myself that this attempt of protecting me can be used much better if I send myself positive and affirming messages. Now it doesn’t always work. But the awareness at least allows me to step outside of my fears, identify them, and then find out what I am really afraid of. What I really feel vulnerable about. And with this information, I move forward – one baby step at the time. That way I don’t conquer my fears. I befriend them, and dance with them attempting to keep my eyes and heart open to the possibilities.
“But the awareness at least allows me to step outside of my fears, identify them, and then find out what I am really afraid of. What I really feel vulnerable about. And with this information, I move forward – one baby step at the time. That way I don’t conquer my fears. I befriend them, and dance with them attempting to keep my eyes and heart open to the possibilities.”
As my friend Rob would say, with his British accent, “That’s brillant!”, especially the dancing with your fears as I imagine that every now and then they relax their grip and before they know it you’re taking the lead!
Love the imagery!
I’m glad you like my post, and I want to thank you for commenting. I believe I’ll be doing a lot more dancing in the future!
Welcome to the blog and the ABC, Marie 🙂
I agree it is a great post by Quinn. We need to take charge of ourselves and our life and be on the path of self-understanding and self-discovery, clearing off all the blockages, methodically.
Thanks for contributing your valuable experiences and views. I agree with Quinn, that’s a beautiful piece of imagery in your comment.
Thanks for visiting and commenting. Hope to see you more on the blog. 🙂
Wonderful post! I love the reminder to “let curiosity slips its leash.” Too often we get stuck in our routines, and the routines develop into fear of anything new. Exploring interests is such a great way to channel all that great energy.
Thanks, Quinn. This post brightened my day!
I’m so glad you liked the post!
I admit that every time I scroll down the post to the comments section I pause at the little girl looking so earnestly at the dogs mouth. Her unabashed curiosity inspires me.
Thank you for commenting!
Welcome to the blog, Ashley 🙂
Glad you liked Quinn’s post and could resonate with it. You are right about getting stuck in our own routines and the being unable to move out to do anything new. But if we don’t, we don’t progress, isn’t it? Moving out of our comfort zones is what will make it all happen.
Thanks for stopping by and adding your views, we appreciate it 🙂
I have to say that I was really drawn to this post. I can really relate as I went through this process this year. I just knew something was missing. With some serious self reflection, soul searching and following my gut I am finally following my dream. It is such an amazing feeling to feel like I am being my authentic self intead of what I think others want me to be.
Be well and live with love.
I just want to give you a big hug! Good for you!
At least once a day, I get that same amazing feeling and am grateful just to be where I am now.
May all that you do be all that you are, and may the world beat a path to your door because that is so irresistible!
Welcome to the blog, Jenn 🙂
So glad you liked the post and could relate to it. I am so happy for you and the progress you’ve made to eventually follow your dream – nothing could be better!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences with us, we appreciate it 🙂
A great post filled with wisdom…I like, All that matters is you start…even when it’s painful as hell…good job.
I appreciate you stopping by to read and comment!
All the best,
Welcome to the blog, Ann 🙂
Yes indeed, a post full of wisdom and experiences gathered over the years. So glad you liked this post and could relate to it.
Thanks for stopping by, we appreciate it. 🙂
When you ripple – you ripple well! 🙂 That is too awesome!
And you’re so right, you have to first want to fill in that void – but when you do, doors and windows open!
Thank you for sharing – hopefully your story will inspire others to begin pursuing dreams they left by the wayside!
I can absolutely relate to this. There are times where I feel a void and that there’s something I’m itchin’ to do.
For exame, since I was a kid I have always wanted to learn how to play piano. Then about 10 years ago I ran into the opportunity to do so. Did I take that advantage? I sure did and I’m gladly to say that I’ve been playing for 10 years now.
There’s nothing more fulfilling than setting out to do something g that you always wanted to do. I feel bad for those that just do the same routine e over and over again although they have other interests they want to fulfill. I don’t see how anyone can live life like that.
But I tell you that once you start one project you always wanted to do you start a ripple affect. At least in my case. From Piano I started taking salsa lessons, conga drum lessons, and started doing home businesses while working full time. Of there’s a will there’s a way and this is a great way to fill in that void.
Thanks for sharing Quinn! have a great day!
Hi Quinn !
Awesome yet fascinating article !
I came here for the first time & my heart beating high after reading this article such an wonderful peace of work from you. Every word tells its story how to live life !
Thanks a lot ! 🙂
Mike, thank you! And you are most welcome – may you soon have your own story to tell!
Welcome to the blog, Mike 🙂
Absolutely awesome – I agree with you there! So glad you liked Quinn’s post and yes, it is a motivational piece indeed.
Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
BTW – Do add a Gravatar or profile picture so we can all see who we are talking to. Just a friendly suggestion. 🙂
Thank you for coming by and leaving a comment! I’m glad you liked the post, and my practicality! 🙂
I’m in the middle of reading Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind: The Authorized Biography by Stephen Larsen and Robin Larsen
Campbell was so attuned to himself it was amazing. I pulled the quote directly from him book Myths to Live By (also in the middle of reading).
For anyone wishing to learn more about his life and how he came to live his life by following his bliss, and benefit from his insights and wisdom, I recommend both those books as well as Myths to Live By.
Thank you for sharing your inspiring story with us! Truly motivational for those looking to make changes in their lives.
I really love Joseph Campbell’s work and his advice; ‘follow your bliss’, which fits well with your message here. But it can be so hard to find what that is!
Your tips are practical and your contentment shines through in this article. 🙂
Welcome to the blog Andrea 🙂
I agree with you, Quinn’s post is inspirational and I am so glad she’s shared this with us as it would inspire so many others. So glad you liked this post and could relate to it.
Thanks for stopping by, we appreciate it 🙂
Good to see you here at Harleena’s blog
Living our own way is the most daring way of living but without any meaningfulness it can be nothing but just breathing in and breathing out.
Once I met with a group of nomads living in tents and I was must amazed to see the level of satisfaction with their way of living and that’s because of their sense of liberty and they said they never thought to change their lifestyle
It is an old saying life without purpose is a ship sailing without aiming at any destination and it does not have to open its radar and the same happens to us if we have nothing to do so ultimately life becomes a burden and we start cursing on us and look at what we don’t have instead of being happy on what we have.
Many thanks for sharing this very lively post
Have a great week
Hi Mi Muba,
Thank you for your welcome and for taking the time to comment.
I agree that life without a purpose is not very meaningful – for sure! I think a lot of people feel that you have to have a big and grand life’s purpose, when actually you need a life that satisfies you and makes you happy – just like those nomads you met.
May your life always be one of happiness and satisfaction.
Wow this was very inspiring. Thank you for posting this and sharing with all of us. I love your ideas and I’m glad that you have found a meaningful life for yourself. I hope you keep finding life meaningful and cherish every moment of it. Great post! 🙂
I’m so happy you found it helpful. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
May what you wish for me, be what you find for yourself as well!
Welcome to the blog, Marvina 🙂
Yes indeed, this is an inspirational post and I am so glad you could resonate with it. 🙂
I am sure we can all relate to this article and would find our life’s purpose over time, isn’t it? Thanks for stopping by, we appreciate it. 🙂
What a great message, Quinn. Thank you for this. It reminds me of when I decided to take up drawing and later painting portraits as a hobby. Some people thought I was wasting my time but the pull toward it was undeniable. The joy I got from it and still do, is also undeniable. I’m not a pro but I fill myself up with it. Color makes my heart go pitter patter and so it makes sense that I love to much with paints.
This post is wonderful inspiration. I love the quotes you’ve shared especially the last one by Maya Angelou.
Thank you for taking the time to comment!
That’s the lovely thing about joy – no prerequisites necessary!
Glad you like quotes! And I’ll share one more Maya Angelou with you that I think you’ll totally relate to. It’s one that I printed out and put on my wall:
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”
And you, of course will do it with lots of color!
Thank you for sharing!
I am glad you found inner happiness to replace the inner emptiness. It think we all know this sudden feeling of ‘why am I here on earth?’ Do I have a purpose?
Like you said there can be many things filling this emptiness from friends, love, family to work or religion.
Thanks for your thoughts, Ilka
Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts as well! It sounds as though you have both felt and found a remedy for the inner emptiness as well.
Wishing you all the best!
What an inspiring post Quinn!
I love the suggestions you shared. Journaling is something I used to do but I’ve been so busy lately that my notebook has empty pages in it. Thanks for the reminder, I just might pick that up again.
I was feeling sort of lost about three years ago. I was satisfied with my career but personally I needed to do something fulfilling. I decided to help out at church and offered to donate my services to manage their website and social media platforms and since then, I feel like I have balance. I could use a little more “me time” though ;).
Congratulations on appearing here at Harleena’s blog. It was nice to meet you.
Have a great week ladies!
Very nice to met you too! I’m glad you found my post helpful.
The cool thing about journaling is that it’s always there for you, whenever and however you want to do it.
I don’t know about you, but I never could journal before going to bed My brain just refused to work, but journaling in the morning works just fine for me. So maybe you just need to find your optimal time, which might also give you a little more “me” time.
Just a thought!
Very happy to be here at Aha!Now – see you around the discussions!
Quinn, great article and very well written. I’m so happy you’ve found your path. We’ve planted our bija and are just waiting for the “conditions to be right” (we call that timing) to foster growth, personal strength and the courage to move forward toward our “bliss”. Congratulations on being published, love you.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Keep those bijas well watered! Love you too – hopefully will see you at Thanksgiving!
Welcome to the blog, Michele 🙂
Absolutely! Quinn’s post is wonderful indeed and I think most people have resonated so well with planting our bijas, isn’t it? So glad you liked this one and could relate to it.
Thanks for stopping by, we appreciate it 🙂
BTW – Do add your Gravatar or profile picture so that we can all see who we are talking to – just a friendly suggestion. 🙂
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