Living On Purpose

by Michael Obsatz, Ph.D

"Nothing is more exciting and hopeful than the concept of a personal mission. The chance that your life could have a specialized purpose stands in stark contrast to the homogenized, depersonalized and desacralized ways that modern culture operates." - Mark Thurston, Paradox of Power (A.R.E. Press, 1987).

Viktor Frankl said it in Man's Search for Meaning (Beacon Press, 1959). Mark Thurston said it in Finding Your Soul's Purpose. Human beings seek meaning. We want to figure out who we are, what we call "called" to do, and how we can fit this "calling" into the marketplace. But how do we discover what we are meant to do and be?

Set Your Spiritual Ideal

Mark Thurston suggests setting your spiritual ideal first. "Once you have set your conscious spiritual ideal, you have taken the first step toward identifying your mission for this lifetime," he says. "That spiritual ideal is your best, current understanding of the nature of your own individuality and its Ideal for this incarnation." In order to do this, people must search within themselves for their strengths and gifts and ask themselves: What is my life really about?

You can help this intuitive process by answering five questions:

  1. Does doing what I believe to be my purpose give me a greater sense of wonder?
  2. Do others benefit as I serve the world creatively?
  3. Do I feel closer to God as I do what I believe to be my soul's purpose?
  4. Does doing this prompt me to see a greater purposefulness in all of life?
  5. Does it help me develop a joyful attitude toward living?
If the answer to these questions is "yes," then you are on the right track.

Identify Your Soul's Assets

The second step in developing your soul's purpose is to identify your soul's assets, according to Thurston. Are you friendly, sensitive, creative, energetic, empathetic, practical, forgiving, cooperative, musical, articulate? Do you possess good writing, mechanical, leadership, logical, financial, or planning skills?

Sometimes our assets lie hidden in our faults. Thurston recommends making a list of your faults and looking for the hidden strengths within them. He gives the example of impatience suggests that within impatience might be a deep commitment to have things done right. Within the weakness is the seed for something positive.

After you make your list of assets, rank them and select the top four or five by asking:

  1. Which of these talents and strengths seem to be at the core of your real self, your best self?
  2. Which of these talents give you the feeling that there are some additional ways you could use them to be fulfilled?

Formulate a Mission Theme

Do your talents suggest a particular kind of service to the world? Do they have some larger theme in common? Thurston suggests creating a mission theme for yourself. He gives some examples:

sensitive, receptive listener
motivator and helper of the immature to blossom and grow
spiritual inspirer through music, arts, words, numbers
reflector of beauty
wise analyst of life
worker for justice
balancer who keeps things harmonious
spokesperson for the truth
healer of bodies
provider for the homeless, hungry, needy, and helpless
skills teacher

You can add to this list. As you write down possible mission themes, you will begin to get a sense of which of these fit with your talents. You may quiet yourself through prayer and meditation, listening for some message about your true mission.

Express Your Mission

As you practice living out your mission, you can begin to fine-tune it. You learn which aspects work well for you, and which don't fit. You learn about your impact on others, and you gain a sense of internal joy from doing what feels meaningful to you. You ma y have to try different expressions of the same mission, or move to a second or third choice if the first one does not seem to work for you. Thurston believes you will know when what you are doing is truly your soul's purpose.

Find People to Support Your Carrying Out Your Mission

As you begin to live out your mission, you will attract different kinds of people. Some of them will be uncomfortable or even threatened by your new sense of purpose and direction. They may try to undermine you or dissuade you from doing what you are doing. Others will affirm and validate you, and will align themselves with you. They might discuss how their missions are complementary to yours. These people can become your support network. You can go to them for help, for clarification, and for understanding.

Enjoy the Fruits of Living on Purpose

As you feel closer to God, more connected with others, and more joy from doing everyday tasks, you will discover that you feel less stressed out. While you might watch the news on television or deal with a difficult customer, you will take the limits of others more in stride: When your life has a clear central focus, the lesser disturbances of life won't threaten or bother you as much. You will be able to figure out what you can do something about and to direct your energy, time, and motivation toward doing it. You will also be able to let go of what you can't control.

This does not mean you will be oblivious to the pain of the world. It means that you will have found your way to make a difference, and that will become your central focus. You will know pain is there, but you won't obsess or worry about it all the time. You will pray for others to come to understand their own spiritual purpose. If every human being would find their purpose, the world would be a vastly different place.

Michael Obsatz, Ph.D. is an associate professor of sociology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of From Stalemate to Soulmate (Augsburg Fortress, 1997) and Raising Nonviolent Children in a Violent Word (Augsburg Fortress, 1998). Obsatz is a couple and family counselor, workshop leader, and men's support group facilitator. He can be reached by calling 651-696-6147.