When I was in high school, I wanted to have a job in the fashion industry or do something with writing and books. I wasn’t sure which way to go, but I settled on getting my Bachelor’s Degree in English with a concentration in writing.
While I was in school, I had a purpose. I loved my major, but I always knew in the back of my head my ultimate goal in life was to get married and have children. With these goals and knowing I had so much to look forward to, I felt I had purpose.
When your plans don’t match reality
After I graduated I couldn’t find work in writing or publishing fast enough. I’d moved away from home and had to make rent so, when my job search came up with little, I went to the mall to find part time work in the interim.
I accepted a job as a part-time sales associate at a popular clothing store and was in my glory. The outfits, the fast-pace, the discounts and working with other women gave me drive and very soon, my gears shifted.
In less than a year, I’d transferred to manage a store of my own and was the youngest sales manager in my district. I felt fulfilled until the hours wore me down. I met my ex -husband, fell in love, and we started talking about getting married and having kids.
My new goals gave me purpose; purpose to work hard and save and purpose because I knew I was getting closer to being a mom.
I quit my job a month before my oldest was born. I was so excited and once again, my purpose shifted and stayed in place for almost fourteen years. That’s how long I stayed at home with my three children. I loved my days of tending to them, cooking, and keeping them occupied with crafts.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard and there weren’t days when I didn’t love it. It means that I felt like I was right where I belonged. I taught myself how to sew and knit. I baked and cooked everything from scratch. We got chickens and I drove my kids to school and picked them up every day.
When my oldest turned twelve and he began to move away from me and more into a life of his own, I felt unsettled. I’d had three kids in three years. I had been so needed by them for so long, the fact they were all starting to change and not needing me as much felt unknown and scary.
Nostalgia in the moment
I was always nostalgic, I felt like my purpose was being challenged and I didn’t know what to do. Deep inside of me I knew I needed to broaden my life to make this transition easier but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I busied myself through it and constantly kept typing to relive old days– taking them to the beach, out for ice cream, keeping the magic alive during the holidays.
Nothing was the same though. My kids were growing up. I started to feel anxious, sad, and depressed more often than I ever had in my entire life. Like I was spiraling and I didn’t know where I would end up.
According to Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD in Integrative Mental Health, “A purpose-driven life is crucial. Without it, people will suffer from a lack of fulfillment, depression, anxiety, inability to set goals, poor productivity, unsatisfying relationships, and more. Whatever someone’s purpose is, they need to focus on finding it in order to live the life they are happy with and motivated by. Explore new things, try projects you’ve been afraid to try before. There is no way to discover this purpose by staying within your comfort zone.”
This makes so much sense and as I look back on my life then, I was so comfortable that when it began to change, I didn’t want to change with it. I wanted that comfort zone and was afraid to grow which led to negative feelings.
When I was forty-one, my ex-husband and I decided to divorce. It was then I knew my purpose had to change. I was no longer going to be just a stay-at-home married mother. I was going to be single. I was going to work fulltime. I was going on a date. I was going to have to learn to take care of the house on my own.
I tried to keep busy in order to manage my stress and anxiety about all this. After about three years of doing that I realized something: My purpose right now is to learn how to be still sometimes. To relax when I need to. To be okay with being alone.
My purpose has changed throughout my life. I think it’s always changing for everyone which is why we wonder if we are in the right place, doing what we should, and if we are going to be okay. I think a lot of us think finding purpose has to be some huge thing that is hard every second and stretches us to the max. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In my forty-six years I’ve finally learned that finding purpose is just doing what makes you feel happy and content in the moment. It doesn’t have to be announced, or life-changing. It can be something like just getting through your day. Or something like writing a book, or starting a charity.
And then, it will shift and you will find a new purpose because life is beautiful like that.
If you are struggling right now to find purpose (you aren’t alone), Dr. Rebecca Leslie, an Atlanta, Georgia based licensed psychologist says,” Values are key to finding purpose. Our values are what give our lives meaning. They tell us which direction to go,” she says.
Remember values are different for everyone. Leslie adds, “Values can be things like health, family, adventure, faith. Clarifying what your values are is incredibly important. Once you know what your values are you can set specific goals related to these values. For example, if a value is health you can set goals about moving your body more and prioritizing getting enough sleep. Living a life according to your values will be a life that feels more enriched and full.”