“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
“Calm yourself down. It’s okay. All is well.”
I clung to the sterile white table while the laboratory was spinning around me.
“It’s just an anxiety attack. It will be over soon.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, forcing my lungs to expand against the tightness in my chest. Cold sweat trickled down my spine as I battled the all-consuming feelings of overwhelm, panic, and disappointment.
My life was going nowhere.
How had this happened? I thought I had a plan.
I had chosen a promising career in science to make a positive contribution. I’d dedicated myself to changing the world, gaining recognition, and creating a legacy. So my life would matter.
And yet, I felt empty. Aimless. Unhappy.
I was stuck in a pointless treadmill of work, eat, sleep, repeat. I had no social life, no hobbies or passions. I focused solely on my research, hoping to enrich other people’s lives.
But instead, I added to pharmaceutical companies’ profits. I made no difference to anybody. And I was way behind in my career compared to other people my age.
I lay awake at night, disillusioned and frustrated, beating myself up for my miserable failure, drowning in hopelessness, anxiety, and worries.
What if I died tomorrow without leaving a mark on the world? Vanished without a trace, my insignificant life instantly forgotten?
What if my existence was meaningless?
I stood in the middle of the deserted lab, tears streaming down my face. Everybody else had left to enjoy their evening. Their lives had direction, happiness, purpose. They counted.
What was wrong with me?
As despair washed over me, I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I had to find my true purpose in life. Before it was too late.
My Hopeless Search for Purpose and Direction
After my fateful (and humiliating) breakdown in the lab, I embarked on a quest to find my true purpose, determined to make my life matter.
I studied countless blog posts, articles, and self-help books. Desperate to discover the secret to filling my life with meaning, I absorbed every piece of information available on the topic.
Most writers agreed that we have to focus on the things we love, and use them to contribute to society.
The problem was that I had concentrated all my time and effort on pursuing an academic career. It had seemed a sensible choice at the time, with excellent prospects of achieving purpose and impact. But it had never been my passion.
And I was now at a dead end, without a clue about what I loved, because my whole life was purpose-driven.
I never went for a walk in the sun unless I could pick up some shopping on the way. I never spent time in the garden unless I could pull out some weeds at the same time. And I had abandoned my favorite hobbies of jigsaw puzzles and crochet because I thought they were useless activities.
I felt guilty and lazy when I wasted precious time on them. Time that could be spent doing something productive and significant.
For months, I obsessed over finding something I loved that also had purpose, but nothing I felt passionate about seemed important enough to lend meaning to my life.
Growing more anxious, frustrated, and desperate by the day, I prepared myself to settle for an unfulfilling half-life, devoid of purpose, meaning, and direction. Maybe I had no purpose; maybe my life was too irrelevant to matter.
But then, a thought popped into my mind that changed everything.
What if the crucial question wasn’t “What’s my purpose in life?” but “Why is having purpose so important to me?”
My True Motivation for Seeking Purpose in Life
Having purpose enriches us. Knowing we can use our gifts to improve our community, better society, and enhance people’s lives, we experience joy. A deep feeling of satisfaction, connection, and fulfillment.
But, as I dug deeper, I discovered that none of this really motivated my relentless search. At least not primarily.
The truth was that I so desperately sought purpose in my life because, somehow, I believed that I had to justify my existence.
It was as if I didn’t deserve to live if I didn’t have a purpose. As if I was unworthy of love and happiness until I could offer something useful to the world—until I had important achievements and contributions to show for myself, and was somehow special, somehow more.
So, the pursuit of purpose became the sole purpose of my life. And my failure to identify what could give my life meaning left me feeling pointless, stressed, and ashamed.
All because of one devastating misunderstanding.
The Tragic Reason Why We Obsess About Our Purpose
I spent my entire life chasing my purpose—desperate to achieve the one important contribution to mankind that would make me special, that would earn me recognition and approval and justify my existence—because, deep down, I believed that I was worthless.
I considered myself an empty vessel, devoid of value and significance. I assumed that I had to gain worth through my accomplishments, successes, and qualifications. That I needed purpose and a clear direction in order to could gain some worth and finally deserve happiness.
The absence of purpose in my life created a painful worth deficit. I felt inferior to others who made valuable contributions and earned admiration, approval, and status.
I mattered less. I was irrelevant because I was useless to society.
It was my perceived lack of worth that made me feel empty and meaningless. And the only cure I could see was to find that extraordinary purpose that would make me worthy.
So, I searched more and worked harder. I sacrificed every activity that didn’t seem meaningful and important enough to increase my worth, irrespective of how much I loved it.
Foregoing all joy, I burnt myself out hunting for my purpose. So I could prove that my life mattered. So I could convince the world of my worth—and my right to exist.
In the process, I missed the purpose of my life altogether.
The Empowering Secret to Living a Worthy Life
I thought I would never be useful enough to have worth, which meant my life would never matter, but I was wrong.
And I realized it on the day I first cradled my newborn daughter. Looking down at the tiny bundle in my arms, there was no doubt in my mind that she was worth. That she deserved all the happiness and love in the world.
Yet, she had no accomplishments to her name. She’d made no contributions to mankind and society. She had no concept of purpose, goals, or direction.
Yet she mattered, simply because she existed.
In this very moment I understood that we cannot have worth. It’s not something we earn, gain, or lose.
Worth is the essence of our being. An absolute, inherent, unchangeable part of who we are.
We are worth personified. Every one of us is 100 percent worth. From the day we are born to the day we die. And beyond.
Having a purpose, a goal to work toward, can enhance our life, add to our happiness, and enable us to contribute to the world. But it won’t change anything about our worth, which is unconditional, unlimited, and independent of our actions.
Success, accomplishment, and focused direction won’t increase our worth. And failure cannot diminish it.
Because we are worth. We are wonderful expressions of life. And as such, we matter.
Finding a Way Out of Worthlessness
And so, five years after the day in the lab that started my journey, I abandoned my unhealthy quest for purpose and focused on accepting my true, inner worth instead.
Countless times a day I affirmed: “I am worth.”
I reminded myself of my infinite worth every time I felt useless. I repeated the affirmation when I struggled with my meaningless, aimless existence. And I tried to remember the truth whenever I beat myself up for not being important enough.
At first my mind resisted, stressed by the change of priorities.
Too many years it had held the belief that I was worthless, and that purpose was a prerequisite for worth and, ultimately, happiness.
I ignored it as well as I could, stubbornly affirming my worth, over and over again.
And step by step, day by day, my understanding of my true worth grew, and the compulsive need for purpose weakened.
Until one day I was liberated. I felt free to explore my passions, enjoy all my unproductive hobbies, and fill my entire house with crochet doilies. Without guilt, without feeling I was wasting my time on idle indulgences.
I even found joy in my profession as a scientist once the crushing pressure to achieve, outperform, and impress had been lifted. Once I no longer expected it to give me purpose.
And I could relax. Knowing that, sooner or later, some purpose would reveal itself to me, without having to be forced, simply because I was focusing on the things I loved.
The Liberating True Purpose of Your Life
When I was convinced of my inherent worthlessness, I sought purpose as a means to deserve happiness, while I abandoned the things that actually made me happy because they lacked purpose!
Looking back, the irony makes me cringe.
I now believe the purpose of life is to be happy. To grow, thrive, and experience life to the full. To worry less about our achievements, productivity, and the meaning of our life and to prioritize the things we enjoy. Even if they serve no purpose at all.
Because the only way to make your life matter is to make it matter to you. To know your true worth and contribute your unique perspective to this world.
So, be kind and compassionate. Take care of your loved ones. And yourself.
Help and support others. Not because you have to earn worth, but because you want to improve their lives.
And do what you love as often as you can. Walk in the sun, sit on the beach, lie in the grass. Just because it feels good.
Do it without feeling guilty or beating yourself up for the lack of purpose. Without fear over whether you are important enough, useful enough, influential, significant, or deserving enough.
Because, at the end of the day, purpose can add to your happiness, but it’s not a prerequisite for it. You don’t need a mission, purpose, a direction for your life to be worth living.
You don’t have to justify your existence or prove your worth. Not to your parents or your family; not to your friends, your boss, or society.
Not even to yourself.
Because you are worth personified. You matter. Right here, right now.
And as long as you enjoy walking your path, no matter how aimlessly, your life has meaning.