Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What the Hell Is My Purpose in Life?

What the hell is my purpose in life?

I've been struggling a lot with that question lately.

Almost four years ago, I left a company I worked for for almost 25 years. I'd grown tired of my job and felt completely stuck. I was spending eight-plus hours a day doing something I pretty much hated, just because I needed the paycheck and the benefits. That seemed completely wrong. I figured there had to be more to life, so when I was offered the chance to walk out the door with a severance package, I decided to do it.

Now--1,433 days later--I'm wondering if I made the right decision.

I left my corporate comfort zone in order to find work I could be more passionate about. I wanted to do something that met at least one of two criteria: 1.) I wanted a job I actually liked doing. And 2.) I wanted a job that made me feel like I was making a difference in the world. Ideally, I was hoping to find something that checked-off both of those things. Little did I know that finding any job was going to be way harder than I ever imagined.

The first three years of being underemployed were pretty enjoyable. I wasn't able to find full-time work, but I was able to pick up some freelance gigs that I enjoyed and brought in a little money. But this last year has been a tremendous challenge.

I was probably more than a little naive to think that cutting my household's income by more than 80 percent was going to be something my family could survive long-term. Yes, we had some savings that we'd accumulated over the years, and that was definitely going to come in handy. But I wasn't planning to still be looking for full-time work almost four years later, and that savings account wasn't that big. (Needless to say, you should see it now.)

For the last few weeks, I've found myself second-guessing my decision to leave my my job. I don't miss the job itself, but I miss the money. And the health insurance. And the 401k. And the cheap life insurance. And the five weeks of paid vacation. All of those things that kept me stuck in a place I didn't want to be for so long would certainly make providing for my family a lot easier than it is now.

Maybe providing for my family is my purpose in life. And maybe my walking away from something that enabled me to do a pretty decent job of doing that was a huge mistake. Honestly, I don't even know anymore.

If you ask people what the purpose of life is, you'll get a bunch of different answers. To love. To help others. To make a difference. To be happy. To explore and experience. Etc. Mind you, those are all good answers. But none of them are resonating with me these days. To be totally honest, I've been feeling more than a little lost lately. I keep asking myself, Why exactly am I here??

Yesterday was particularly tough for me. After paying some bills and looking at the minuscule amount of money that was left in our checking account, I started doubting myself again. Hard. I even told my wife that I didn't know what my purpose was anymore. And then I realized: Maybe I've never known what my purpose is.

It's probably just coincidence that last night's episode of This Is Us had finding your purpose in life as a central theme. And it's probably just another coincidence that Sam Lamott posted the first episode of his How to Human podcast yesterday and the subject was "Finding Your Purpose." Total coincidences, right???? Or maybe someone out there/up there is trying to tell me that I need to figure some things out. Maybe someone is trying to tell me that by age 56, I'm supposed to know what the hell I'm doing here.

Unfortunately, right now, I don't.

I'd be curious to know if anyone else is struggling with this whole "What's my purpose in life?" thing. Or if you've struggled with it in the past, how you dealt with it. I can't be the only one. Can I?

Feel free to leave your comments down below. And, as always, thanks for reading.

"The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why." --Mark Twain


  1. I've certainly struggled with this. I guess I'm fortunate that I have a job I like, but aside from the satisfaction of a job well done, I don't find a lot of meaning in it. However, in the last few years I've found a lot of personal fulfillment in helping coach my son's youth sports teams. I know it's not changing the world, but there's a lot of personal satisfaction in guiding kids and watching them find their passion in a sport. I've come to terms with the fact that my job is there to pay the bills and that I have to find meaning in activities outside of my work. I think only a few people are lucky enough to have careers that are truly fulfilling or meaningful. Best of luck to you and I hope you catch a break soon.

  2. My husband has been unemployed longer than you are. And he doesn't have a wife with a livable income - he has a loser wife with three jobs who is struggling to pay as many bills as she can. If he can ever get his day trading thing going (hello, 6 years, can it please make money now?) his financial upside is huge. And he loves doing it. But somehow he has a mental block. And I am so damn tired of my three jobs - I love teaching, I love tutoring, and I LOVE being an extra in a popular TV show but trying to juggle all three and rearrange my life for all three and working 12 hours a day 6-7 days a week and still have little income is getting to me. I truly feel like George Bailey - without the friends or the Clarence. I feel like my life insurance would help my family tremendously. And since we have three drivers and two cars (and Peter is working right now - towards getting a car and an apartment but he hasn't made enough money yet) - my car would help out a lot too. SO I feel less than useless. I know my kids love me. I wonder if my husband even notices me. And the other person who came into my life and loved me and made me feel worthwhile was ripped from me by a horrific car accident that left him both physically and mentally challenged. And I doubt he even knows who I am anymore. I have moments when my students get an A on a test because I helped them, or the assistant director on the show says the choice I made in a scene was perfect. But the rest of the time I feel like a waste of oxygen. The song that runs through my head on a continuous loop is from Les Mis "I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living. So different now from what it seemed. Now life has killed the dream I dreamed."

  3. I celebrated 21 years of continuous sobriety last April. I went from calling myself a high bottom alcoholic, to a recovered alcoholic, and at some point I called myself a self-proclaimed alcoholic. But eventually it no longer mattered what I called myself. The bottom line is that I was a problem drinker who needed to be something I wasn’t, full of fears and insecurities that made me unhappy, and I was often quite lonely and sad.

    Thankfully that all changed after waking up hung over on April 27th, 1996, sick to my stomach and afraid that the argument I started with my wife the night before had cost me my family. Fortunately, it somehow didn’t, and the rest is history as they say. But I’ll add that it was hard and scary along the way at times.

    I didn’t drink every day, and I was far from the stereotypes one sees in movies and on TV, bottoming out and losing everything. But I had bottomed out emotionally and spiritually, and at the time I only knew of one place I could go to get help—Alcoholics Anonymous.

    I wrote about my experience there in my book, and how the Twelve Steps helped me to love myself and be happy in life. And I wrote about some of the answers I found outside the rooms of AA that helped me find even greater happiness. But this post isn’t about AA or my book. It’s about the two answers I didn’t find.

    It frightens me some days that there may not be something after we die. And I’m still not sure what my true purpose is in life.

    Yes I have a book and a blog. Yes I help people with substance use problems. And yes I currently work helping people with mental illnesses. But I have to wonder why my prayers of being able to financially support myself while writing more books and helping more people haven’t been answered?

    One might say that vanity has something to do with it. If I get a swelled head and begin to think I’m more important than what I am, I could end up drinking again, right? But I’ve ruled this out. A lot of things have contributed to my growth and my happiness, and I know drinking would rob me of that. Plus I have never been more humble in my life. I don’t have a lot of money, an expensive car, or a big home. And I’m aware that I still have a lot more growing to do, both spiritually and as a person.

    So what is it then? Why haven’t I achieved my dream yet? No god? Not my purpose to help the many people suffering from what has become better known as a chronic, progressive disease of the brain? Maybe I’m just not qualified? Maybe a book and blog doesn’t make me an expert on addiction and helping others? And if there is a god of some kind. Maybe I’m not supposed to be famous or well-known in the field of addiction?

    I’m not sure if the answer as to whether or not there’s a god will ever be answered. And I can only hope that the term “when preparation meets opportunity” becomes a reality for me. But I can honestly say that there have been some signs that I’m on the right path in life.

    I celebrated 21 years of continuous sobriety this month. I went from calling myself an alcoholic, to a recovered alcoholic, and at some point a self-proclaimed alcoholic. But it no longer matters what I call myself. I don’t need to be something I’m not, and I’ve learned how to overcome my fears and insecurities. I’m no longer lonely. And although I feel sad on some days, finally being happy with who I am sustains me during those times and the sadness never lasts.

    So I guess I’ll simply keep trying to believe that something created life and the universe for a reason and that we do have a purpose while we’re here. And not worry about the answers.

    If my sobriety has taught me anything, it’s that we can create our own happiness, and that living in the present moment is one of the best ways to achieve it.