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Life With a Purpose!: Keys to Intentional Living

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By Jennifer DuBos, MA, LPC

In all my therapy sessions, I ask my clients to answer three basic questions: 1.) Who am I? 2.) What do I believe and why? and 3.) What is my purpose? The reason I ask these questions is to help my clients determine how intentionally they are living their lives. What continually amazes me is how few people are able to answer these questions, and I’m not just talking about ten-year-olds or teenagers. It seems that our culture affords us the opportunity to simply drift along without even thinking much about the active role we play in our own lives, or in the lives of others. From the general comfort of the American suburban existence, we fool ourselves into thinking our ideas are our own, our opinions are based on somebody’s facts somewhere, and our decisions are made according some moral compass that, when pressed, we have to admit we aren’t totally sure how to use. Why are people satisfied with this relatively aimless, hollow and undefined way of life? The hard fact is, they aren’t; that’s why they’re in here talking to me.

My ultimate professional goal is to help people live their lives well, and I believe strongly one cannot live well without living with specific and defined intent. It has been my experience that humanity possesses an innate knowledge of who we are, what we believe, and why we believe it. These things are revealed to us with relative ease through some intentional soul searching and critical thinking. It is the question of purpose that seems to be the most puzzling- and vexing- for clients to answer. We can think of identity and beliefs with some sense of immediacy and permanence. That is, we can define these things in the moment, if not long term. I can say “I am a student” or “I’m Irish” or “I’m a Cub’s fan”, or all three and communicate something about my identity. We can say “I believe in God” or “I believe in human equality” or “I believe honesty is the best policy” and say something about what our moral compass points to. We can even say our source of truth is the news or Oprah, academic journals, personal experience, or the Bible. But when asked about one’s purpose, people are extremely reluctant to answer in the present tense. They often say “I don’t know yet” or “I’m searching for it now” or “I haven’t decided”. Or, if my client happens to be in the Autumn of his or her life, they will often say “I’m still trying to figure that out” or “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to answer that.” Why can we not determine our purpose?

I believe people in our culture are having mounting difficulty identifying their purpose because we have confused purpose with success in a pursuit. We are waiting to see what our purpose on this earth was, based on what we were able to accomplish in our lives. We are waiting for a sign, a significant event, a voice from the heavens, or the discovery of some passion in order to decide what we’ll contribute while we’re here. In the meantime, life is passing us by and we don’t even realize it. We have confused purpose with personal or professional accomplishment, and we have simplified the complexity of humanity into a one-liner that says “my purpose is…” Purpose is not static, nor is it exclusive. It is not something we fail to have while searching for it. And most importantly, purpose is not based on quantifiable success. My purpose can be to bring glory to God in all I do and say, while simultaneously being a mother, an instrument of healing to others, and an encouragement to my husband. Ten years ago my purpose may have been to know myself better, to understand what I believe, and to make my parents proud. The key to living with intention is being able to answer all three questions with both an overarching sense, and an immediate application. If you’ve defined who you are and what you believe, name your purpose and start living it with purpose. A boat, a working compass, and a destination make it much more likely you’ll steer a true and fulfilling course in life while avoiding that aimless drift. Remember, you can always change course, unless you’re not on one.