Updated: Feb 7, 2019
What does one have to do with the other?
Our purpose in life is that which we strive to fulfill for the betterment of mankind. It's our sole reason for living, being in service to others via our talents and dreams with which we contribute to the world. Purpose defines our life and gives it meaning. We were each born to fulfill it, yet few seldom do. The cultural programming (or conditioning) with which we were taught to think and believe about ourselves and the world around us runs counter to our dreams and purpose. Most people give up on their dreams and lose their purpose somewhere along the way.
Though pursuing our dreams (even making careers out of them) and our purpose in life are often intertwined, our careers and dreams are not necessarily our life's purpose. I pursued my dreams of becoming an artist, musician and writer, yet there were many times in my life that was devoid of meaning and I felt lost. The reason is that (as I discovered many years later) my purpose was to inspire and motivate others. I just used the creative arts as the vehicle with which to fulfill it. Whenever I lost sight of that, even though I was creating art and music, my life still sometimes lacked meaning simply because I wasn't using it for my purpose. Not only was I not inspiring or motivating others, I felt no inspiration myself. This is why so many people who seem to have "everything" (including the rich and famous) still fall victim to depression and addiction and we can't understand how anyone we might envy or idolize could ever be unhappy or want to throw their life away.
When we don't live with this sense of purpose we fall into the trap of our conditioning. The longer we live without purpose, the more likely we will instead only fulfill our cultural obligations and expectations. But this burden eventually wears on us and so we end up feeling a general malaise about life. Without meaning, a lack of purpose typically manifests itself in chronic negative thinking, emotional attachments (like anger, guilt, anxiety, worry, fear, apathy and even depression) and our lives can go into a tailspin, even when by all outward appearances our lives seem great to others. Once we become self-absorbed in these emotional attachments they can become our identity where we aren't just feeling this way, we become an angry or guilty person, for example. We become a person with anxiety or depression. Yet none of these things are our actual problem as they are merely symptoms of the real problem; a lack of purpose.
We use escape mechanisms in order to find some relief from this life without purpose. Typically, we mostly find ourselves looking forward to weekends and vacations with the only goal in life being retirement. Our conditioning has us believing that if we can make it to retirement, only then can we do what we want (or should have been doing) with our lives. But this is a false belief. We can live with purpose all throughout our lives, but few are even aware that we can, because they believe it's an either/or situation; you either follow your dreams or you get a good job, but not both. So, over the course of our lives, living without purpose leads us to searching for an escape or distractions that offer some relief. We live in a culture that promotes using drugs for our problems, along with the use of alcohol and a variety of distracting entertainment. Businesses are built on these distractions.
How many of us look forward to the weekend where we can indulge in these distractions, like going out to bars and drinking to forget the workweek? Also, because our culture has created the idea that there is a drug for any and every problem we have, we take these drugs to escape our pain, be it physical or emotional. We can become addicted to our escape mechanisms, be it drugs, alcohol, sex, food, gambling and any number of other means of temporary relief. But those are not lasting and so we always return to using them to escape this life without purpose. This lack of purpose combined with the discovery of our favorite means of escape and distraction leads to addiction. A lack of purpose makes us feel empty inside and these addictions make us feel good, even if only for a little while, until we become dependent on them in order to feel good. Part of the reason it is so difficult to overcome our addictions is that we don't want to return to the emptiness we feel without them. Even when we know we are destroying our life, the thought of living without them is just too much to bear.
When attempting to treat addiction, we are always trying to discover the reasons behind the addiction, so as to eliminate the source of the problem (which the addiction is mistakenly treated as). We often point to failed relationships (marriage, family, parents, friends, etc.), unhappy with work (unfulfilling or frustrating jobs or careers), stress or pressure with things like school/college, income, bills, health issues, etc. Yet, none of those are the real problem either as they too are merely symptoms of the underlying source of their issues; a lack of purpose. When we have a purpose to fulfill, those seemingly impossible problems to overcome either won't exist or they will be greatly minimized because our focus is driven by our purpose. When we live on purpose, we have better, more meaningful relationships. Jobs and/or careers are either a part of the purpose, if not the purpose itself. If directed properly, our education is aligned with our purpose. When we live with purpose we treat ourselves better and in doing so lead healthier, happier lives with far less stress.
I've spoken with and helped people who are addicted (or are in recovery), as well as having conversations with other recovery coaches. The most common struggle with those in recovery is that once they quit their addiction, they ask, "So now what? There still isn't anything worthwhile beyond the abstinence. In most 12 step programs they convince everyone that they are powerless. Yet, purpose is exactly what gives us power and control over our own selves. Everyone is powerless and subject to addiction when they live without purpose. They all share one thing in common (even those that had great jobs, homes, loving and supportive families and friends, and everything anyone could really want or need); A lack of purpose. Purpose gives our life meaning, so without it life has no real meaning and that is what makes us feel empty and weak, even when we seemingly have "everything" and we then turn to these temporary means of relief. So addiction is not the problem either and yet just another symptom of a deeper issue; a lack of purpose.
Because many, if not most with addictions typically have to reach rock bottom (where they can no longer even function) before they will change, simply quitting their addiction and restoring functionality in their life isn't sufficient. The reason is that they already were functional prior to turning to their escape mechanisms and distractions that caused the addiction in the first place. So just returning to being a functional person makes it hard to not return to their addiction. In order to be addiction free, they need a greater reason for not wanting to escape. This reason is purpose. Purpose gives our life meaning, and when we live our life fulfilling our purpose there is nothing to escape from, and we no longer wish to be distracted from fulfilling it. When they find their purpose and live for it, instead of asking, "So now what?, they ask with enthusiasm, "So, what's next?" with the great anticipation of their focus on purpose.
The programming in our life (with or without addiction) still remains very strong. This conditioning has become a large part of our identity, so change remains difficult. We absolutely must change the programming of our thoughts and beliefs and part of this change means discovering our purpose in life and then taking action to fulfill it. Some people are able to be introspective enough to discover what gives their life meaning, but many seek out therapists and life coaches to aid them in this discovery and maintain focus on their purpose. Change can be difficult and we need the support, inspiration and motivation to keep living on purpose.
It is never too late. Discover your purpose and live it like your life depends on it. Because it does. It's your reason for being.