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Examining the role of life purpose in personal development March 18, 2012

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Purpose.
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As each of us works on our personal growth or personal development efforts and programs, we will frequently come across the concept of life purpose in our search for information. This is a subject which on examination can raise more questions answers.

The following is an introductory article exploring some of the questions and issues involved in the concept of life purpose with additional posts planned for the future to review specific ideas and strategies in more detail.

Authorities in the field of self-development will often urge us to discover our life purpose or emphasize the need for creating a statement or guideline concerning our life purpose as a logical and necessary part of our personal development efforts.

But what is “life purpose”? Is it something we construct and design, or is it something we are destined to fulfill in some predetermined scenario? Following are a couple of definitions* of “purpose”:

(1) The reasons for which something exists, or is done, made, used

(2) An intended or desired result, end, aim, goal

Using the first definition we could say that the purpose of a pen is to write or draw; and using the second definition we could say that the purpose of writing an article on a particular subject is to convey information on the subject and help people understand it better. An example might be an article written by a psychologist or a famous philosopher providing guidance on how to find true meaning, a mission, or purpose in our life.

But the concept of life purpose and trying to define it is not so straightforward. Is life purpose  a mission that we formulate in our mind to accomplish specific objectives and to follow a certain code of conduct throughout our lives, or is life purpose something we look back on and determine in retrospect? Or is it something that we simply discover as we move through life?

If we look at the life of British politician Winston S. Churchill, for example, we will see that he was a writer of significant talent and substantial literary output during his life; and he was also Prime Minister of Great Britain during a critical time in the country’s history, the period of the Second World War. Which of these areas of endeavour was his life purpose, or was it both? Perhaps it was neither and the purpose of his life was to serve as an inspirational example. But here, we are, in our minds, imposing on Churchill’s life a purpose based on what he excelled at. Yet, what would Churchill have considered his life purpose if we had been able to ask him that question?

Towards the end of the Forrest Gump movie, Gump says, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”  And, to add to the dilemma of determining what we should focus on in our lives, Gump’s mother says, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”

And, which component or components of our life as a whole could be considered our life purpose? Is it something which we decide on early in our lives, like a life mission, or is it the sum of our accomplishments in one or more areas as we near the end of our lives? Do we create our life purpose or do we discover it?

There are numerous methods within self-development literature in books and the Internet about discovering and/or creating our life purpose. Many of these focus on identifying concepts or activities that we feel very passionate about and cannot do without in our lives.

In addition to these considerations there are a number of ways we can look at our life purpose, such as from a spiritual perspective, from the standpoint of practical achievements, or, perhaps, how we conduct ourselves from an ethical code of personal conduct.

If we are not careful, however, we can get into deep philosophical waters on this topic and starting looking at the question “What is the purpose of life” instead of the question “What is (our) life purpose?” There is a big difference between these two questions.

This article, in raising a number of questions, is one of what I hope will be a series of posts, exploring various ideas in involved in the subject of “life purpose” and hopefully providing some answers from various resources.

How would you define life purpose?

*Definitions Source: Dictionary.com

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