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21 | Finding Meaning and Purpose: Having a profound sense of who you are


We hit on several high-level concepts that are helpful to get your hands on meaning and purpose. 

We will explore at least some of these in this season. 

Definition for purpose

Having a profound sense of who you are is an asset when seeking purpose and meaning. 

Here’s the definition of purpose that we are working with, from Richard Leider: 

Purpose is that deepest belief within us, where we have a profound sense of who we are, where we came from, what we’re here to do, and where we are going. It’s a source of deep vitality and vision.

Richard Leider

(We added the words “where we are going”). 

As a Christian, you are well on your way: you have ideas about who you are, where you came from, what you’re here to do, and where you are going. Nice!

Guidance from our faith is general, so it’s up to us, with help from grace, to bring the purpose and meaning into our daily lives. 

Spiritual and Mental and Emotional realms

You have a spiritual life. You have great values, you cultivate important virtues, you have thoughtful priorities about what’s important, you have lots of midlife wisdom, and you have a relationship with God. You have spiritual practices. You receive spiritual inspiration and guidance from many directions, for example from the Bible, Bible studies, books, your church, your fellow Christians, books, seminars, retreats, books, online courses, and your inner life of prayer. We read a lot of books around here. 

Getting that great spiritual life to percolate throughout your entire being is a different question. We often experience a disconnect from our highest spiritual “self” and what we are doing day-to-day. 

That’s part of the human experience and, indeed, is one of the impacts of sin on us. 

It’s helpful to think of ourselves as having, besides the Spiritual realm, and Mental and Emotional realm. We also have a physical body, are socially connected to others, and live in an environment. 

When our mental life, or realm, is not cooperating with our spiritual realm, we can struggle to make choices or to act effectively. For instance, I might see what I “need to do” spiritually but be paralyzed with doubts in the mental realm and anxiety in the emotional realm., Or I see what I need to do and have a good idea of “how” but somehow I “just don’t care” and I am not able to muster the energy to consistently step forward. 

Coaching often involves creating alignment in the spiritual, mental, and emotional realms. 

A sense of lost purpose or meaning is often a signal that there is a lack of alignment between the spiritual, mental, and emotional realms. 

We want to live our life as an integrated whole person that is striving for unity in all those aspects. All of these elements, spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, social, and how we internalize our environment are integrated in us as a unity, as a whole person. 

A lot of the stuckness, the frustration, or the lack of growth and transformation we experience happens when those elements aren’t aligning and integrating well into a whole.  

Something Much Bigger Than You – Purpose and Meaning

Martin Seligman’s advice to find meaning/purpose is: “Use your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.”  We sometimes state this in terms of “bringing your full authentic self.”

Use your signature strengths and virtues in the service and your full, authentic self to something much larger than you are.

That’s great advice. 

Your “signature strength” is a character strength that you have that you love to use, that makes you feel good, and that gets consistently good results. It’s consistent with your values. It’s a virtue that you possess. 

Understanding your values and go-to virtues is part of knowing your “full authentic self.” 

Autonomy and bringing the Full Authentic Self to something much larger than you

“Full authentic self” can conjure up a lot of images of being self-indulgent or whatever, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

One thing that “full authentic self” signals is acting with autonomy.

Autonomy. We want to live our own lives. God made us free. We have choices to make and we want to make our choices. 

You know what it’s like to do something that’s not your choice. You’ve been pressured, bullied, or guilt-ed into it. You are not willing and resentful. You do the whatever-it-is. 

That’s life, sometimes. Suck it up, don’t make a big deal out of it. 

If it’s life a LOT of the time, then you are on a big collision course with reality. Something’s going to break. What you are planting is not going to yield the big harvest that you would have otherwise hoped for. 

Or you will drag your sad self through life, not being who you could be or achieving what’s possible for you. 

Of course we are all responsible for our own choices and the fact that you let yourself be pressured, bullied, guilt-ed or whatever else simply adds to the misery of the whole thing. 

The good news is that we are essentially always “at choice” and there are always better choices available to you if you are in a place where you can see that, for whatever reason, your choices are not the best. 

Life packs a lot of momentum and if you are in a “stuck” place, there’s a reason. Humans are not perfect, we don’t have that option. So don’t kick yourself. Please ask for help when you are stuck. 

Let me repeat this: we are not perfect. We are all stuck in some area of life. Sometimes it’s a big one. Don’t beat yourself up. You are not supposed to be perfect. Decide that it’s time to move forward instead of sideways. 

Conscious Choice and Autonomy

You are responsible for your choices. 

Your choices are sometimes made “for you” without you consciously realizing it. Part of what it means to be living your full, authentic self is to be making free and conscious choices. 

A classic example is someone that’s pressured into a career they don’t like. Like Dave, who was pressured to be a lawyer/doctor instead of a (commercial) artist. It took him a fair bit of misery to shake his family off and to forge ahead. 

Or, in the podcast, Karen mentions a lady that had internalized so many messages about who she should be, and how she should act, and what it looks like to be happy or successful. And she found herself just kind of at the mercy of all these things she was trying to be. After bringing up all of these internal messages she said, “ I’m trying to live up to all these things and I don’t even know who I am.”

“ I do not really live as a person when I endure that which happens in me; I am not revealed as the person I am by that which I passively undergo. Rather, it is only by acting through myself that I really live and thrive as person. This important truth is compactly expressed in the title of Pope John Paul II’s major philosophical work, The Acting Person. “

John F. Crosby, see here

Your choices help form who you are… and then who you are helps to form your choices. Let’s keep this spiral moving upwards. In life, we are going forwards or backwards. Let’s keep it moving in the right direction. 

As we pass through life, we are accumulating experiences, perspectives, beliefs about ourselves or the world, habits, patterns of thought, interpretations and our brain creates a framework of meaning around them. And then it becomes part of how we experience and interpret our life as we move through it. And sometimes those things we accumulate are really helpful. Sometimes they’re not.

We can start to accumulate all of these things, like a boat accumulating barnacles and the biofouling that slows it down. 

Part of living your full, authentic self is being able to look at that and identify the things that aren’t really supporting your authentic self and release the ones that are not.

Which points us back to the “full authentic self.” What is the me-that-God-made? And what are the “that’s-in-me-but-not-really-me” bits. 

We will be circling back to discuss everything! 

We have much more to share and discuss on this topic! Glad you can be here with you today.

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