Most of the time, I simply live life. I thought living was enough. For me, living meant that I did what I thought needed to be done. I was too busy living to worry about my purpose and the “why” of life. Who needs reflection and thought when there’s so much to do?
Socrates said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” I can’t remember when I first read his statement, but it stuck with me. I had no idea what his point was. I was living an unexamined life and it wasn’t too bad. I was wrong.
David Henry Thoreau expresses a similar sentiment when he wrote, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” Of course, we may not believe we live desperate lives, but more and more Americans and others in developed countries suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety than ever before. We may not want to admit to our desperation, but it is becoming harder to deny.
Livin’ Large without Purpose
I didn’t think I needed to examine life. I thought living was doing what came your way, dealing with challenges and opportunities. I was living a good life, but, unbeknownst to me, desperation was locked deep within me. My desperation didn’t cause much trouble. My desperation was quiet. But then depression hit and life came to a grinding stop.
I would do a lot of things, but I didn’t know why I was doing them. I did stuff. Sometimes I did stuff because people told me it was what I was supposed to do. Sometimes I did stuff because I believed it was expected. I always wanted to have the “right stuff” and do “the right stuff” but, unfortunately, I didn’t even know what the right stuff was.
I suffered from a purposeless life and didn’t even know it. I knew all the “God has a wonderful plan for your life” shtick, but lacked clarity. While I believed I had a reason to be on earth, I was fuzzy on what it was.
I see others suffering from the same malaise. As Thoreau points out, most people can put up with desperation, because desperation hides below the surface and may not cause much trouble. Quiet desperation describes the person who doesn’t know his or her purpose and, probably, doesn’t even care.
Not caring about our purpose is unfortunate.
Purpose brings power to our living and gives us reason to get up in the morning. Our purpose provides direction and clarity. Through purpose, we determine what to say “yes” to, but more importantly, what to say “no” to. We can finally feel good about the work we do, and the work we leave undone. Reflecting on our purpose empowers us to expand our capability and, ultimately, purpose brings us fulfillment.
Depression was part of my journey toward clarity and purpose. I’m not sure I would have embarked on a journey toward purpose if my “quiet” desperation hadn’t started screaming and shouting. Depression led me to finally examine my life.
My world was caving in, but there was also a gift. Without this time of “holy discontent” or, rather, “hell on earth” I wouldn’t have examined my life. Sure, I was forced into the examined life, but I could have chosen to deny the pain and continue to push it deeper.
The Deeper Gift of Purpose
I’m not sure where I would have ended up without going through this difficult time. As it is, I believe my time of depression has helped me end up in a much better place. Now I take time to reflect on my journey.
Purpose doesn’t come all at once. A flash of insight or understanding doesn’t come at once. A light bulb doesn’t go off showing us exactly what we are to do or become. Purpose comes over time and unfolds.
Depression isn’t necessarily required in order to find our “why”. There are much better ways. Ways I wish I could have found and followed. Because I didn’t find a better way, I was forced to take a difficult path.
Today, there are many resources online, in books, and classes that can help someone find their purpose. There are coaches who lead individuals to clarity by helping them understand where they are currently, where they really want to end up, and a path they can take.
Ends up that Socrates was right! In the next article, I will go through some steps for finding purpose and living an examined life.