Patterns of Purpose
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How I found my purpose through cycles of uncertainty.
I’ve always been above average. It never bothered me that I was never “the best” at anything because I was great at a lot of different things. In school I took advanced classes, but never the gifted ones. I played a few sports and began to excel at volleyball, but I rarely made any starting lineups. I also had a natural talent for the flute and oboe, but it took time and practice to make it to the top chair. And I was kind and considerate to others, but never went out of my way to stop the bullying I saw.
I was smart enough, athletic enough, musical enough, and nice enough. But rarely did I ever stand out for being superior at anything. I blended in towards the top of the class and essentially went through school unnoticed.
Although I was surrounded by friends and a sister who were considered “superior” in academic terms, it didn’t affect me because I knew my limits. Sometimes I was jealous of how easily things came to them, but I assumed it was because of their natural talent. And their natural abilities just happened to be greater than mine. Still, I knew I wasn’t reaching my highest potential – I could do better.
Sometimes being great at a lot of things is harder than being the best at one. I didn’t have to study excessively, practice profusely, or force myself to be more than I was. Who I am was always good enough. And that was fine with me!
I was able to participate in many of my interests at the same time without having to give up all of my free time. Plus, it never really interested me to become the best at one thing. If I focused on one part of who I was, I’d be neglecting the other parts of me. But it became difficult to determine what my purpose in life was.
I succeeded at most anything I put my mind to, so how should I know what I’m meant to do? How can I choose just one part of myself to give 110% too? I enjoyed everything I did but lacked a deep passion for any of them. At the end of every school day, practice, or show, I was always quick to rush out the door. I never felt a desire to do more than was asked of me -especially when my normal effort was already “good enough”. So instead of trying harder, I stopped trying at all.
Before I left for college I promised myself that I was just going to focus on school -my future- and leave my hobbies behind. My fear was that I would be confined by them and continue a routine that’s defined by my past. Instead I was determined to focus on my future and discover what I was meant to do with it. Who I was supposed to be.
Growing up I had an idea of what my life was going to be like. I was going to follow in my parent’s footsteps and go to their alma mater, become a teacher like my mom, have a family with 3 kids, and live happily ever after. By the time I was 12 years old I had already visited the college campus, decided to teach 2nd grade, and named my two daughters and son. I was always anticipating the next phase of my life, just waiting for it to really begin.
But it’s clear to me now that I didn’t know what I wanted for my life. I only knew what I saw -what I grew up with- thus my plans for life were limited. It wasn’t until I took a psychology class in high school that my mind opened up to accept a new possibility.
I was immediately enthralled by the mind and behavior relationship -essentially how to understand humans. Suddenly I was hooked on becoming a self-employed psychologist. I knew I wanted to help people figure themselves out and do so on my own time. I held onto this vision of my future as I started looking for colleges to attend. Although I was accepted into my parent’s alma mater, I ended up choosing a small liberal arts college.
It was completely opposite to any dreams I had as a kid, and at the time I wasn’t sure I was making the right choice. In that moment all I could focus on was that I was destroying the plan I had for my future. I knew I was still choosing a respectable school that checked all of the boxes. But it was the first time in my life that I was going into -what I considered- uncharted territory.
College is known for being a time in your life when you’re handed a clean slate to recreate yourself with. I didn’t know if I was ready to start back at square one. What if I left behind all that defined me? Would the “new” me even be an improvement? Or maybe I’d just lose myself altogether.
This was the first of many moments when I doubted my path -my purpose- in life. I was overcome with uncertainty, which was new for me. I’m usually a very decisive person. So when I make a decision to get or do something, nothing can stop me. Thus I always assumed I would follow the plan I envisioned growing up.
But that’s the beauty of life! We never end up where we think we will. There are signs that point us in different directions, some we see and others we miss. Yet we still find our way to where we need to be. By pushing through my first bout with uncertainty, I found a new path and purpose for my future.
During my time in college I became immersed in rediscovering myself. Thanks to my new mindset of openly exploring who I was, I wanted to try something new. So I took a moral philosophy class my freshman year that caused me to question everything I knew.
I tore down my belief system and started from the ground up. This process allowed me to see not only who I truly was, but why. I fell in love with constructing and discussing arguments because it allowed me to properly support one side, while still acknowledging the other. This questioning mindset gave me new ways to see and experience the world that I otherwise might not have had if I didn’t also major in philosophy.
I never thought I’d earn a double major, travel to Guatemala for a child psychology course, intern at a research hospital in Houston, Texas, or volunteer for 2 years at a nursing home. But it was because of these college experiences that I started building a new path of purpose. I toyed around with the idea of becoming a palliative care social worker or going to graduate school to further my psychologist qualifications. Yet life had other plans for me.
Since I graduated a trimester early, I spent 3 months in my college town fully immersing in me. I took up yoga and tai chi while diving into my creative side. I went to weekly meetings with some likeminded individuals in the spiritual community and spent time meditating and considering my true purpose in life. Still, I found myself in another moment of doubt, surrounded by uncertainty.
If I continued onto graduate school I was locking myself in for another 5 years of learning before my life would really begin. Did I want to dive deeper into the academic world? Would I regret spending all of that time and money on another certificate? Part of me was starting to question whether I liked the thought of being a traditional psychologist more than the reality of being one.
There was so much more to me than just my interest in psychology. I knew I wanted to find a way to combine my love of psychology, philosophy, and spirituality into a career. At my core, I just wanted to find a way to help people. So when I got rejected from the one graduate school I applied to, I took it as a sign that my path was headed elsewhere.
Although I was still hesitant and nervous to start my “real” adult life, I trusted that I would find purpose in whatever job came my way. After moving back home I spent the summer patiently waiting for the right job to come along. I didn’t want to rush into anything unless it showed potential to provide me with purpose. I had spent the past 4 years discovering who I was and my passion for helping others in a meaningful way, so I didn’t want to sell myself short. Luckily I didn’t have to.
It took 3 long months before I came across the position to be a Life Enrichment Manager at a local assisted living and memory care home. I couldn’t believe I had found a job that would allow me to utilize all of my passions with a community I had just spent 2 years volunteering with. It felt like the stars had aligned!
Yet there were still drawbacks. The position was only part-time and didn’t require a college degree. But I quickly pushed past my feelings of uncertainty once I interviewed and spent time there. Although it wasn’t what I had imagined for myself 6 months or 6 years ago, I could feel that it was exactly where I needed to be. I believed that this starting position would help me build a foundation and lead me to where I wanted to be on my life’s path.
I’m grateful I followed my intuition instead of my uncertainty, because after only one year I was promoted into a full-time position as the Activity and Volunteer Coordinator. Yet again there were drawbacks. Now I was in a managerial position which meant more time planning and doing paperwork, and less time with the residents providing purposeful engagement. This change took its toll on me and my spirit.
After nearly 3 years in the position I was drained mentally and emotionally. What once filled me with purpose and fueled my passion was now just a check list of items to complete each month. I had lost my connection to what was truly important -the people. I was forcing myself to find reasons to smile and wasn’t authentically engaging with the residents. It was during this time that my husband was also feeling overwhelmed at work and we were seriously considering moving to Sweden to give a new lifestyle a try.
Thus I came to the third major cross-road of my life when I decided to leave my job and move to a new country. Although I was confident that I needed a change in my life, I couldn’t have anticipated the immense uncertainty I was about to face.
Moving to a new country has challenges of its own, but when it’s combined with immigration issues and a world-wide pandemic there’s no sense of security. I felt like I was finally getting close to having everything I wanted in life. I was living abroad as a newlywed and spent each day focusing on my passions. Yet it felt like I was letting society down. Because once I finally received my residency permit, which also allowed me to work, the pandemic reached us 2 months later.
There wasn’t much I could do in a small, tourist town in Sweden. So even though I was productive with my time it wasn’t helping anyone but myself. I didn’t feel like I was contributing in the way that society had taught me to. Thus I became anxious and unsure about my path in life. Could I keep putting all of my time and effort into a website that wasn’t making any money? I was finally passionate about something, yet I felt like I didn’t deserve to invest my time and energy into it.
And that’s when it clicked. I could clearly see that this was the reason for my cycles of uncertainty -to show me my purpose. Without uncertainty I wouldn’t have found the courage to dive deeper into who I am and what I want out of life. I wouldn’t have found my voice.
Between my stages of life from high school to college, college to the working world, and the US to Sweden, I was slowly being shown what I needed to overcome in order to become who I am now. There’s so many sayings about having faith, trusting the universe, and believing that you’ll end up where you’re meant to be. But for the longest time I struggled to have faith, trust, or believe in anything that was outside of my control.
I wanted to create and carry out my life’s path, yet now I realize that my path came to me. Nothing in my life happened as “planned”, but everything did happen for a reason. There were specific things I wanted to do and be, but ultimately I was given opportunities that enriched me and helped me find my purpose.
Each cycle of uncertainty gave me a glimpse into who I really was outside of society’s terms. So these times of doubt taught me to stay true to my authentic self and what I wanted out of life. If I had noticed these patterns in my life sooner, maybe I could’ve saved myself some stress. Because when life keeps giving you the same cycles time and time again, it’s for a reason.
The past has a funny way of catching up to the present and reminding us of the important things we left behind. Time and again I was being shown signs from my past to prepare me for my present. Yet it was never in the way I thought. I expected flashing lights from obvious signs to point me in the right direction. Instead I felt lost in the dark. But I continued looking for clues that would reveal my next step in life.
I was constantly searching for a purpose, something to give my life real meaning. So whenever the stars aligned and I thought I found the next piece of my purpose puzzle, I followed it. Throughout each cycle of uncertainty I found my way out, but I owed it to everything outside of myself. I thought that purpose only existed externally, thus I was only going to find happiness through my job or relationships. And I believed this every time I came to a moment of doubt.
So I kept asking myself, how can I change my life circumstances so that I can finally be fulfilled? What should I do next? Where will I find my purpose? It wasn’t until this most recent cycle of uncertainty that it became clear to me what my purpose has been this whole time -to be me.
If I had looked close enough, I would have seen that the common theme of my life wasn’t was I was doing, but who I was becoming. The times when I felt the most vulnerable and lost were actually the times when I was closest to my purpose, because I had to be honest with myself and what I wanted. Each stage of my life has taught me a different lesson, but the result is always the same. Without these cycles of uncertainty I wouldn’t have learned to become the best me I can be.
Before I learned how to use my voice, I first had to find it. And before I could find it, I had to figure out what it wasn’t. So it didn’t really matter how I found my way – if I continued my high school hobbies, went to a different college, or moved across the world. My purpose would’ve found its way to me, one way or another. I just had to open my eyes to see the bigger picture.
Purpose doesn’t come from what we’re doing, or even who we’re with, but the way in which we live -how it makes us feel. It’s the lessons and cycles throughout our life that reveal our purpose. So when the same struggles or patterns of fear and doubt show up time and again, take note. Because that is where your real purpose lies.
We can learn the same lesson about compassion being a teacher in Australia or a parent in Argentina. And we can experience love through a relationship, friendship, or owning a pet. No matter where we go or what we do, what we need in order to become our best self will find us and show itself to us through repeated cycles and patterns.
The journey of discovering who we really are and allowing ourselves to embrace it fully is our only mission in life. So instead of asking how you fit into this world, question how this world shapes to you. What does life keep showing you over and over? It’s the things we keep pushing away and putting off that we actually need the most of in our lives.
I see myself now through different eyes. I’m more than my grades, my talents, or my planned path. My purpose in life is not derived from what I can do, but who I can be and what I can offer others. I can see that my life’s patterns were slowly pushing me towards this realization: to finally stop defining myself in everyone else’s terms and choose my own.
My path was always leading me back to myself -to my voice. Through years of introspection I’ve finally found it, but the next step is how to use it.
I thought that making it through each moment of doubt and cycle of uncertainty meant that life would get easier. That somehow by proving I was learning and growing meant that I could sail through life struggle free.
But what I realize now is that’s what life is. It’s a series of obstacles that show us our room for improvement. So when we’re able to see and understand these cycles, we can better prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally. Because the stronger we get, so do the struggles.
It’s in these moments of pain and uncertainty that we must pay attention to what’s around us. What’s the life lesson we’re being taught? Our purpose is not to be punished but to progress. People say practice makes perfect, but for me practice makes progress. As long as I’m progressing and becoming the best me I can be, I can always find purpose in that.
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