According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 7 in 10 teens see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers. Much of this is due to the pressure they feel to get good grades and navigate their desired outcomes for not only education, but also enjoyable careers, income, and marriage and family. The pressures they put on themselves increase if they feel they have not measured up to their goals.
Ultimately, the sum of our desires is connected to our purpose. Establishing a clarity of purpose as we live out our desires can reduce anxiety and depression. Let me explain.
For many years in our family-owned company, we would lead every staff meeting with a quote from Ronald Reagan, which he gave at the dedication of the Reagan Library and is inscribed at his resting place there. It reads:
“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”
His words reminded us that every life is precious and that each person has a special purpose. I believe this helped us all remember the importance of looking for the good in others, to know that despite injustices, good will eventually prevail, and that everyone on earth has worth and is destined to discover and achieve their purpose. This sounds good, but HOW do we go about discovering our purpose?
Finding purpose in our lives often seems to take shape as we become engaged in life itself; raising children, getting an education, or running companies. “Purpose,” however, can sometimes be mistaken for busyness. When the hamster wheel stops we may find ourselves standing alone, looking around, grasping for meaning and purpose, and wondering where that fast-paced wheel we were on took us.
When our busyness stops, does our purpose stop with it? Without real purpose, we can enter a vortex of loneliness, which leads to bouts of depression and anxiety. It can become a vicious and unproductive cycle.
Please consider two ideas that can help you clarify purpose:
- Search for an understanding of your true identity. Ultimately, if you are comfortable in your own skin, you can live in any space and feel at peace. Achieving this peace is usually connected to the purpose we are living. I propose that the time it takes to clearly learn the depth of our true identity can multiply our ability to find our purpose.
I know a man who struggled mightily to figure out his own identity. It was a complex situation that included research on his ancestors, his sexuality, and figuring out why he was different (his perception). He never told anyone of his search for identity and he didn’t consult experts. He worked it out himself—just he and his God. When clarity finally came, he found the calm that had eluded him. He would say afterward that he was simply a man finally content with who and what he was. At peace with himself he found it easy to pay attention to other people and his friends—who are many. They were drawn to his intelligence, his humor and most of all, his serenity. Discovering his true identity laid the foundation for a life of purpose, which could never come without the serenity he found in knowing who he really was.
It could be that since you were a child, you have been taught part of what knowing your true identity is all about. But not many have gone beyond this understanding to dig much deeper into WHO you really are and WHAT your purpose is going to be. As you spend the time to know yourself, you begin to understand what resonates within you. This search can take some time, is very personal, and will require you to be flexible and open to what you learn about yourself.
- Build meaningful relationships with your understanding of WHO you are. Once you have clarified your true identity, then embark on developing meaningful relationships that align with that. As you do so, your purpose will begin to emerge.
Humans need tribes as much as bees need a hive. In truth, we all long for a friend who will call us up without an agenda. We can become that kind of friend to others by learning to love more and judge less. It takes effort to leave our comfort zone and take a risk in establishing relationships, recognizing that our knowledge of others is always partial and never consistent. The person we see in the mirror each day is constantly reframed, unpredictably edited, and rewritten.
As we establish relationships, we ought to allow those we are befriending that same opportunity of constant change. This is partially what makes our relationships so interesting, mostly inventive, and a wonderful adventure. Relationships become the nutrients that grow our purpose into meaning. Often, those people we meet even “coincidentally,” provide the honey that is generated from the hive of purpose.
Contrast this hive of sweet relationships we purposely foster, with loneliness. Loneliness leads to anxiety, which leads to depression, which leads to all kinds of things totally opposite of our purpose. Taking zero risk in establishing relationships and not trusting anyone are hallmarks of loneliness. Meaningful relationships are essential in establishing our purpose. One’s purpose in life cannot be singular. How hollow would it be to build purpose with no one but ourselves in it? Nothing good comes from being lonely and disconnected. Science is replete with studies that prove this.
These two ideas are intended as a starting point. As you discover your true identity, reach out to those in your journey that compliment your purpose and add to it. Take a chance. Get out of your cocoon and be transformed. Build deep relationships that feed your purpose and you will not only reduce loneliness and all of its attendant negative effects, but you will also add significant meaning to your life’s purpose.
Don’t feel boxed in as you attempt to define your purpose. You can have several purposes that vary over time. The key is to lock down the ones that most resonate with who you really are. Remember the words of Ronald Reagan: “…there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”