...and do I need one!?!
I was waiting for a train at Hamburg Altona station during the European summer this year and stumbled across this book at the railway station bookstore called "Sinnlos gluecklich" (= "Senselessly happy") by a German consultant called Ingo Hamm. I only had 5 minutes before my departure and started leafing through the pages - only to find myself shouting a loud YES!!! through the store a few moments later (my boys were mortified!).
After many years in the personal development business I have been whacked by the concept of 'purpose' left right and center... Find your purpose, live your true purpose, pay me to help you find your purpose... And yes, I am probably guilty of having said something along those lines myself at some point in the past (*raises her hands in shame*)....
Despite that, I have always felt a bit awkward about this... "Have I found MY purpose?" "Am I living my purpose?" "Am I actually sure what purpose means?" - And, most often - my old primary question would sneak in: "Am I doing this right?!?!?"
Here's the thing: the quest for purpose was something I didn't know I needed until someone came along and told me I do. And then another person. And then another. But it's not how I was raised. I'm a child of Gen X, and what I was told was: get a good education, find a good job, you'll make good money and live a good life. And I was told that "happiness comes from within". My parents and grandparents worked jobs or ran businesses because they needed to pay the bills and showed up day to day whether they liked it or not. And - guess what: They still lived (mostly) happy lives!!! And, if they didn't - it wasn't because they 'hated their jobs' - it was because they were dealing with life's challenges such as conflict, relationship issues, health challenges or - in my grandfather's case - a World War and a burning city.
And, while this experience clearly ages me and the Millenials and Gen Zs amongst you may be shaking your heads at this... last I checked, the majority of people in the world are still doing exactly that - working for money in jobs they more or less enjoy - despite what all the Instagram and Tiktok influencers may lead you to believe. They remain the exception. So - are all these people doomed to a life lacking purpose and thus lack of fulfilment and happiness?
Or, and I think that's worse - do we REALLY want everyone to ditch their 9-5 and start an online fitness program??? Last I checked we wouldn't have any food on the supermarket shelves, no water coming from our taps, no cell phones to film your tiktok on and also - wait - noone to make your protein shake powder. Or do we create two separate realities where some of us 'live our purpose' trekking through the Himalayas and connecting with the mountain spirits - and the rest of us surrender to a life of purposelessness delivering your Amazon order and get to live out their life in utter misery?
So, suddenly 'purpose' is omnipresent and it's annoying. In fact, just this morning I received a long email forwarded from a friend, written by some guy promoting his "Purpose through wilderness" course or something along those lines. In it was a long list titled 'before and after purpose'... The list was great, but what it was describing was, in my view, simply a journey of personal growth, awareness and development. For example 'before purpose' I see myself as victim of circumstance, 'after purpose' I see myself as the creator of my destiny... Well, yeah, recognizing that taking responsibility for your life is a good thing is great - but has very little to do with whether you are 'living your purpose' or not - it just means you have built some healthy mental habits around how your frame your experience.
But I digress. So Ingo Hamm, in his book, was speaking to my soul when he proclaimed that 'purpose' is nothing else than a product of the consulting industry that predominantly served to allow consultants to solve a problem that didn't exist before they invented it (I'm exaggerating and I apologize for any misquoting here, but it was along those lines). So the sound of approval that escaped me in that bookstore was actually a sigh of relief... I suddenly felt like a massive weight was lifted of my shoulders! It was the weight of the world, the weight of the meaning of life - the weight of constantly wondering "Have I found my purpose or is there more I need to do?????" I didn't realize how this was affecting me until it was gone - exposed for the marketing concept it very well may be.
With that shift, something new and old became available to me again: a deeper knowledge that came from seemingly nowhere, very early on in my life and that somehow had gotten lost amongst all that quest for 'purpose'. And it was very simple: The purpose of life, the purpose for all of us being here, is to have a human experience.
I don't know if this is particularly spiritual, or particularly simplified, or particularly helpful or whether I am missing something important - but it feels true to me. And what that means is this: It doesn't really matter what you do with your life - because whatever you do, you will have a human experience. You will experience joy or sadness, pleasure or pain, happiness or suffering, all at various points in your life. THAT is enough.
AND (there's always an and, isn't there?) you have the opportunity to have this experience in a way that is conscious or unconscious, one that makes your grow or makes you stagnate. And you can do exactly what the list in the email spelled out so nicely - you can work on becoming more aware, more well adjusted, on feeling more alive and generating more joy - or you can just cruise on through what life throws at you. ALL is well - it's just a different experience.
Now, I wouldn't still be in the personal development business and I wouldn't do what I do if there wasn't another element to it, and that is also simple: I believe it's worth working on yourself. I believe it is INTERESTING to understand more of the patterns that drive our actions and thus impact our life experiences. I think it is worthwhile to seek growth and I think we can create a much richer, more fulfilling and more joyful experience for ourselves in this life if we put in that little bit of work. And I DO believe we all have the potential to make a contribution to others and the world - to create impact big or small - and I do believe that when we do, it will give us pleasure and a sense of satisfaction.
However, I also believe you can have and experience all of that while living like the majority of people in the world - working in a job that pays the bills, looking after your loved ones the best you can and trying to be a good person. Nowhere in there do you have to live a "purpose". Choose what you want to do, yes - but don't think you need to be leaving your job and start a yoga retreat center because "this is your purpose". Do it if it's what you enjoy and if you have the opportunity - but if you can't, or you don't - find a way to be happy and content with life anyway.
So what else did Ingo Hamm have to say about being 'senselessly happy'? - As much as I could glean in the 5 minutes at the station, he said this: Find something you enjoy doing and do more of that. If you do what you enjoy, you'll like get reasonably good at doing that thing as well and if you are good at what you do, and you enjoy doing it, you'll feel a sense of satisfaction and that will be a nice thing. That's all you need. And whether this is your work or a hobby actually makes no difference. If you enjoy dancing, and you are good at it - do that as much as you can, and you'll feel content.
It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that.
Love, Natalie xx
PS: For those of you who are feeling disappointed now because you were all excited about the amazing life you're going to be living once you have found your 'true purpose' - I have something for you. This year, I'll finally be launching "Project Human" (is this my PURPOSE??????) ... and in it, we'll work on laying all the foundations of awareness and self-improvement, of growth and joy that will lead you to having an amazing life experience. AND, to top it off, we will go on and make sure that not only your life improves during this journey, but also that of the world around you. And if you feel that's a purposeful thing to do - I'll be happy to help!!