Contemplating Purpose for breakfast when things suck

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” – Viktor Frankl (Austrian American Psychologist, author of the world famous book “Man’s search for meaning” and Nazi concentration camp survivor)

Yeah things suck

Things suck right now. I’ve got homeschooling for my seven year old. My three year old is running around yelling, the whole family’s been cooped up inside and I see productive time slipping away like water going down the drain.

Things may or may not improve but surely I can

If I didn’t contemplate my life’s purpose every morning while having breakfast, I wouldn’t be able to get over the sense of loss of how things used to be; the freedom of travel, the company of friends, the security of money. My purpose is to “leave things better than the way I found them”. I like fixing things: cleaning up dishes, putting the right items in the recycle bin, picking up trash in the park, repairing something, helping someone get something done or putting energy into making myself better.

Experiencing Purpose

Now you might say these are ordinary, everyday things. Well the difference is, on days when I do them without a sense of purpose, I grumble about other people and their inconsideration and incompetence while thinking of myself as better than them. On days when I get to experience these ordinary everyday things with a sense of purpose, I do what I do because I serve something bigger than myself, beyond myself. Something that will remain long after my life is over and it helps me be thankful that I can be part of such an immense, colourful story.

Why serve a Purpose? Because serving an ideology is what makes us human and gives us meaning. How? Whatever shape it takes. When? The opportunity is there every second. If I had to switch to cleaning toilets for a living, yeah it would be hard, but, in my heart I feel that eventually I’d adapt and keep going. If I was thrown in a concentration camp, well I don’t know if I could adapt the way Victor Frankl did but I would remember his teaching; that having a purpose increases our chances of survival in harsh times and I would go look for something I can make better. Side-note: thinking about worst case scenarios is an exercise called “premeditation of evils” practiced by ancient stoics like Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.

Appreciating life

My wife tells me her purpose is to be in awe of life and I am so in awe of that statement. Purpose helps us see what lies behind the pain, or pleasure for that matter. I’m not claiming I’ve unlocked some door to enlightenment. It’s just that when I feel a sense of purpose, I appreciate life. Yeah things suck right now and I’m working from home and my kids are at home too. But you know what? I get to see them playing with bubbles and being fascinated. It reminds me of my childhood. Yeah we’re all cooped up inside but it let’s me enjoy a TV show with my wife, something I haven’t done in ages. The show is Kim’s Convenience by the way, a lighthearted sitcom about a Korean-Canadian family. If you’re a Modern Family fan, you’ve got to check this out.

When I contemplate my purpose for breakfast I remind myself that “leaving things better than the way I find them” doesn’t mean I can choose how things are when I show-up. I can only choose to either accept them as they are or try to improve them.

You should create your own purpose statement

Carolyn Tate, author of the Purpose Project writes “Purpose is found at the intersection of what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs and what you can be paid for.”

Thinking of your own purpose doesn’t come easy. You have to think long and hard about what feels right to you based on what you know of the world and your own values. But it’s totally worth the effort. I invite you to start contemplating your purpose for breakfast and write down your statement. Here are some guidelines that may help:

  1. Start with words like “give”, “inspire”, “help”, “see”, “experience”, “improve” etc.
  2. Write down your statement.
    • Keep it short (a one liner you can roll off your tongue).
    • Think about the goal: is it open ended (not to be accomplished in this lifetime – something far bigger than yourself) or specific (something you’re working on accomplishing right now)? The latter is more of a mission statement that (serves your life’s purpose) so look at separating these two.
    • It should feel right to you.
  3. Talk about it with others. Any chance you get steer conversations beyond “what do you do?” into the “why do you do what you do?” territory.

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