While it is guaranteed that we will all die one day, it is still very much a taboo subject, with many of us acting like if we pretend it doesn’t exist then it can’t happen. Sadly, that is not the case.
It is rare that a childhood dream of becoming a Sculptor, Actor, Writer or Footballer are realised, but what happened to those dreams? They didn’t just disappear. Many times, they are abandoned for practical reasons. Unless you have exceptional talent, are given a lucky break or have an abundance of funds, then you still need to eat and pay the bills, so these dreams are eventually shelved by necessity of staying alive or providing for a family. Fear of failure, rejection or thoughts of looking foolish to others may stopped us in our tracks; there can be a lot of rejection and perceived failure when we are building a dream. Often, we are ‘encouraged’ by others to ‘get a real job’, conform to their idea of living a ‘normal life’ or not be reckless. So, we make ourselves fit into the pigeon holes that others are happy for us to live in. Then we hit 30 or have a health scare and this makes us start questioning our existence, why are we here? We feel we must find our life’s purpose. Even the most religious among us can start to question if there is an afterlife or if we will be given another shot to get things ‘right’.
When I was a child and looked to my future, I imagined that when I got to 30 my life would be sorted; I would be happily married, maybe have a child, a beautiful home and I would be in a career that I loved. When I got there, I was divorced, living in shabby rented accommodation, the single parent of 3 children and hated my job. For me hitting 30 was far harder than 40 or I expect 50 to be. I had grown up with a Disney ideal vision in my head and quite honestly, I was living in a nightmare. I never really questioned what ‘my purpose’ was, I just wanted to create the life Disney had promised me as a child.
Over the next few years my life made a turn for the better; my career took off, my relationships improved and I bought a house. I was back on track, where I needed to be. Then at 45 I was hit with a cancer diagnosis, overnight, I felt my life needed ‘purpose’, a reason for my existence. Overnight, I had to know that I would leave a footprint in this world once I have departed.
Three years down the line, I am not certain that I have found that answer, I am still evolving, but what I can tell you is that I am happy with the life I am living and the direction I am going; that is a big change.
This panic of increasing age or illness is compounded when you add in the Oxford English Dictionaries definition of ‘Purpose’ which is ‘the reason something is done or created or for which something exists’. In reality, we were created because two people had sex and I am sure they were not thinking ‘I wonder what the life’s work will amount to of any child created in this act’. Ultimately, we are here and need to fill our time while we are here, we can fill it with things that makes us miserable like bad relationships or jobs that we hate, or we can fill it doing things we enjoy and spending it with people that we care about.
So maybe the question is not ‘what is my life’s purpose?’ but rather ‘how can I create and live a life that I love and fill my time doing things that I enjoy?’
I cannot tell any of my clients or friends what their ‘purpose’ is, I can only help them explore what is currently in their life which is causing them pain and help them to uncover what they enjoy and where they find the most joy.
After exploring this subject with many clients, I have created a list of 4 key questions which are more valuable than ‘what’s my purpose’ and will help you to uncover how you should be filling your days and who you should be filling them with:
How many Christmases do you have left?
And who do you want around your table? And how do you want to spend them?
According to the Office for National Statistics, the average life expectancy for a man in the UK is 79 and 83 for a woman. I am currently 48, so as a female that leaves me 35 Christmases, that’s not too bad, right? But let’s take into consideration that I smoked for years, have indulged in my fair share of booze and haven’t maintained a consistent exercise routine for most of my life; even though this not the case now, I reckon I’ve probably lost about 5 Christmas through unhealthy living. If I add in my previous cancer and treatment, then that will probably reduce it quite considerably again. I don’t even know by how much, but let’s estimate another 5 years. That takes me down to 25 more Christmases without considering any illness or injury that may happen in the future.
Yeah this is a biggie and the one question that often takes peoples breath away. Christmas is a time for joy, for celebration and spending time with those that you love. The possibility of only 25 of them doesn’t feel like very many, does it?
There are a few points to this question. Firstly, what are you currently doing in life that is going to rob you of Christmases? Secondly, who is in your life that doesn’t bring joy and happiness? Do you really want to be spending those 25 (or whatever your number is) Christmases with them, being miserable and waiting for a miracle? Thirdly, with who and what would you rather be doing instead?
How would fill your time if I gave you £5m?
OK, so that isn’t going to happen, but imagine if money and time was not an object, then how would you fill your days? What would you be doing and who would you be doing it with? What would bring the most joy to your life?
Would you go back to education and get that degree? Open an animal sanctuary? Play music or paint? Would you build a charity to help others or teach disadvantaged children in poorer countries? The possibilities are endless.
From 2020, the UK pensionable age will rise to 66 years. If we use me as an example again, that means at 48 I have 18 years left of work. With approximately 252 working days in each year, this gives me 4,536 days of work left with 2,034 days, or 5.5 years left for fun or activities that fill my heart and soul. I am lucky; I had an opportunity to reflect and change my life and my focus after my cancer diagnosis and now spend my days doing the things that I love. Could my bank account be bigger, yes, but my bank balance or the possessions I own will not be listed and handed out at my funeral. For me, money is a necessity not a focus, I earn money because I need it to exist, I don’t exist to earn money.
Nothing is impossible. Our current options may be limited by money, skill or knowledge, but those things can be gained. Sometimes our only limitation is that we think we can’t, but what if you could? What would you do if you dared to dream?
What activity makes you forget about time?
And I don’t mean a boxset of Scandal or playing Candy Crush.
What are you passionate about, what fills your heart and soul with joy? Is it learning something new, playing the guitar, reading? For me it’s coaching and writing. I am probably the world’s worst coach for finishing a session on time, I am so passionate about helping people become unstuck and helping them move forward that I must show great discipline in stopping on time. I started writing this piece randomly 4 hours ago, it feels like only moments. It’s now lunchtime, and I forgot to eat breakfast. I am passionate about it, could it be more polished, yes possibly but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.
What is it you do or dream about that gets you so lost in time that you forget to eat, sleep and find yourself rushing to the loo because you have been so engrossed that your bladder feels like it’s about to burst? That is the thing you can build upon.
What do you want to be acknowledged or remembered for?
I have a coach friend who asks ‘what do you want to be known for and seen as’, which I have not only borrowed and use with clients, but also use for myself and on new ideas.
What do you want people to think and feel when the end finally comes? What will others say about you? How did you impact their lives or what footprint will you leave? What do you want that legacy to be?
If you have an idea, design or method that would benefit the world, then surely it would be selfish not to share it? And you don’t need to invent something or be famous to leave a footprint, that can be done by showing kindness, compassion and understanding. Sometimes our purpose is to not have a purpose but to spend our time here living a life that we love.
Ultimately our time on earth is limited and precious. Many of us spend decades striving to build a life that conforms or makes others happy so we try to fit our square peg into the round hole. We will all leave footprint in this world when we depart, what do you want yours to be and when will you live it?
Pope Paul VI said ‘Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows’
Copyright Sue Walsh 2017