Most of us want to feel that we matter. But there are people, events, and forces in the universe that can make us feel as though we don’t “count.” It’s easy to believe in our insignificance, especially when we consider some things such as:
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- Fame and fortune seem to fool many people into thinking they matter a lot and that the rest of us don’t.
- Wars and killings make us feel powerless.
- Recent scientific discoveries about the size of the universe make us feel insignificant.
- The poverty in the world makes us feel ineffective.
- Our families and life experiences can make us feel wrong.
So, what about YOU? Should you give up and just eat snacks in front of the television? And just what is so great about finding a purpose or passion? Can we live without those things? Here are some of the most common questions and tested answers and exercises that come from my research participants and clients.
1. Is it natural for humans to want to find passion or purpose?
I like to read books by various experts who address, from different disciplines, just who we are. If I put all their findings and ideas together, I come up with this abbreviated description of us homo sapiens—which is the Latin name for wise men.
We are humans who, amongst other things, are innately motivated by:
- Survival (so we can pass on our genes).
- Sustainment of social networks, with an emphasis on teamwork and individual contribution (think of the social organization of communities based on the formation of family) and empathy and care (think of societies and tribes that raise non-biological children).
2. Can one contribution really make a difference—and make me “matter?”
Look at the last item in the list above. Virtually every person is part of increasingly larger networks. You may never know how your actions help others.
When I was sitting with my husband in the lobby of our hotel in Europe, I noticed a man and woman sitting across from us, and they were looking down, dabbing their eyes and rubbing their forehead—signs of distress.
The woman and I happened to glance up at each other, and I smiled.
She came over and thanked me for smiling! She motioned for the man to come over to us. She asked me what I did for a profession, and when I told her I was a therapist, she told us about their their grown daughter who had just gotten engaged to a man with a prison record.
She wanted to know what to do. She and her husband visit the United States often, and I gave her the name of a therapist whom I trusted.
In return, she and her husband offered us the use of their limousine driver for the next day to a town that we wanted to see but was not easy to get to. They were diplomats from the country we were visiting.
About a year later, the couple wrote to tell me that all was well with their daughter and that the therapist helped them with the situation. She said the daughter broke up with the man and was now engaged to a wonderful person who worked in international healthcare for underdeveloped countries. Think of how my one smile made such a difference in the lives of people I didn’t know.
One kind act is like ripples of goodness to so many. We are each a member of an increasingly larger social network, and our innate actions can sustain survival, belief in a greater power, and the beauty of kindness. You are never really small.
3. What happens if I don’t create personal meaning or belief that I matter?
If you don’t think that your actions are of any value, then you risk becoming depressed, anxious, ill, and harmful to others and you! You also risk being a liar and coward. Your lack of belief in your value is a willing smokescreen that you use to avoid taking chances and feeling uncertain, insecure or fearful of making decisions. Successful people are workers. They are persistent–in spite of their anxiety. Remember this thought: All important decisions in life are made with incomplete information. And if we choose a wrong path, we push ourselves to go down a different road.
Go ahead, be afraid. You are not just your feelings. You are your actions.
4. Okay, I get it, but now how can I find and know my passion and purpose?
Try these beginning exercises that worked for others.
Step One: Make a list of things you are very good or good at.
Step Two: Mark the ones that you like or that excite you or that you and others value.
Step Three: Make lists of:
- Jobs or careers that you would like even if you don’t have the ability.
- People you know or don’t know who are doing or have done things that excite or interest you.
- Want ads in the paper for jobs you would like to do and might be able to do even if you don’t currently have the training.
- Write what you would like on your tombstone or in your obituary (for example: Here lies……who worked hard to help others by……) Isn’t that better than: Here lies someone who couldn’t get over their fears?
Step Four: Make a list of things you can do or need that would be similar and satisfying to your selections and lists.
Now you are on your way to finding your passion and purpose.
In Part Two you will learn a potent force that could be holding you back.