"Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put into every heart." - Rumi
Over the last couple of years, I have had quite a few people in their 30’s approach me with a similar story. “You know, I’ve done it all. I graduated from a good school. Have great friends. I traveled and saw the world. I’ve worked hard and progressively moved up in my career. I have a nice income, the home of my dreams, a family, beautiful children. I checked all the boxes on all the things I ever wanted, but somehow I’m just not that fulfilled. I know I’m very lucky to have all of these things, but there’s a part of me that wonders if this is all that life has to offer. There must be something wrong with me for feeling what I have is not enough. And to be honest, I don't even know exactly what it is that is missing.”
I hear you, my friend. Your feelings and real and valid. Most of us have been raised to want certain things from a young age. We might have grown up watching our caretakers struggle with their finances, so we learned to pursue a path of safety and security over what deeply lights us up. We might have had very few role models who lived outside of the traditional family structure, so we assumed having a house, a spouse and/or children is a prerequisite for a meaningful life. And don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pursuing these lofty goals. But after having attained them, what many of us came to realize is that these professional and personal markers of success, in and of themselves, are not enough to make us fulfilled. Sustained happiness comes from meaning – from continuously growing and having a positive impact on the lives of others. Society gives us a generic formula on what makes us happy. But when it comes to a meaningful life, it turns out there is no cookie-cutter approach.
We all came to this earth with a unique purpose – the one significant something we’re meant to do in this lifetime. It is the reason we’re here. We can call it our unique soul blueprint. In Sanskrit, this calling is called dharma. When you know what that thing is, it’s almost not a choice for you to ignore it, for the Universe will painfully remind you that staying where you are where your ego feels safe and protected is not sustainable. At a minimum, it leads to a monotonous grind of daily existence, but at its worst, it manifests into a physical, emotional, or mental dis-ease.
When you are doing your dharma, you live from a place of authenticity and alignment. It might not necessarily be the easiest path in an objective sense. In fact, it is probably the most frightening choice, but also the most exhilarating and rewarding. You are in the flow when you make your life a full expression of your purpose. You don’t feel like an imposter, because when you share your unique gift with the world, you’re naturally pretty good at it. You have the authentic energy required to master the work. You speak with honesty, act with conviction, and there’s a glow about you. And trust me, other people notice your light too, and you start attracting opportunities left and right. Most of all, when you are living your unique soul purpose, you are in service of others, and the Universe will conspire to help you succeed. You will feel joyful, expanded, and unbounded.
Well, you say, that’s all great to hear. But what if I don’t have the slightest idea of what my purpose is? I can’t live my dharma if I don’t know what it is.
The truth is, you were already born with the seed of your dharma within you. You just need to do some work to excavate the layers of conditioning and uncover it. Ok, maybe a lot of work, and it might only be born out of wrestling with doubt, fears, and surrender. But it’s totally worth the efforts because life is both too long and too short for you to be NOT living your dharma.
Here are a few questions to get you started on uncovering your unique soul purpose:
1. What is your superpower?
What are you naturally good at? Maybe it’s a skill that comes so easily to you that you assume everyone else has it. Most of us could easily name the gift of almost anyone we’re close to. So, if you have trouble identifying your gift, ask your close friends.
2. When are the times in your life when you’ve felt most passionate?
What makes your body tingle with excitement and brings sparks to your eyes? The feeling that you have when you are doing what you love is undeniable. Don’t let these moments pass unnoticed.
3. What did you love doing as a child?
Especially think back to a time in your childhood when you were free to engage in any activity that made your spirit leap up with the delightful energy of fascination and enthusiasm. Children are uninhibited in expressing their passion until they start adjusting their behavior to gain the approval of the adults. If you have trouble remembering, try asking your family members.
4. What would you do even if you don’t get compensated for it?
I have a friend who is obsessed with finding sustainable solutions for everyday life. She spends many hours researching green products. And her passion for the environment also carries over to her compassion for animals, and she would make sure that the products she buys are cruelty-free. Now, I care about these causes too, but I would hate to spend a tenth of the time she spends on researching. Well, I don’t have to, because she is more than happy to share her knowledge.
It is so clear to me that she is deeply passionate about the interconnection between humans, animals, and our environment, and how to live in harmony with our ecosystem. Her knowledge is so valuable, and it would be a disservice for her to be withholding it from the world. Often, we see our passion as a hobby that we would do without compensation, not something worth pursuing as a vocation. But I challenge that mindset. Can you imagine if you made your passion your life’s work? How would you wake up feeling every day? What difference would that make in the world?
5. What have you learned from some of the biggest challenges in your life? How would others benefit from your lessons?
Sometimes the Universe throws us obstacles precisely so we can learn from them and be in a position to help others who are facing the same challenges. We often become the teacher that we wish we had. This inquiry takes us out of our ego and puts at the center something bigger than ourselves. In this way, we understand that our wisdom is not just ours to keep, but we must share it with the world in the service of others.
6. When are the times in your life when you’ve experienced ease, flow, synchronicity, and serendipity? What do these experiences have in common?
Often, when you are doing things that are in alignment with your purpose, the Universe gives you positive feedback. You feel fulfilled, alive, and things happen effortlessly.
7. Imagine you’re at the end of your life. Someone is writing an article honoring you. What headline introduces the cover story? What is the visionary story of your life? What made your life fulfilling? What difference have you made? What do you want people to remember?
As a palliative nurse, Bronnie Ware interviewed many dying patients who shared common themes about what they wished they had done differently in their lives. At this stage, people are not concerned about things they tried to do and failed. The most common regrets dying people have are usually about the risks not taken and the dreams that have gone unfulfilled. So, while most of us still have a long way to go, why not dream about the impact we are meant to create and start taking steps towards achieving them?
It’s important to remember that once you know the unique gift you’re meant to share with the world, it is usually possible to find a way to express your purpose in your work or life, no matter what you do. So, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change what you do, but rather how you do what you do, and why you do what you do. And of course, for some people, it means finding a completely new path. Regardless, taking the next step towards aligning with your purpose will be scary and uncomfortable, but it will create the most meaning, fulfillment, and usually, the most success in a lifetime.