purposeanxiety-image

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Landslide, Dixie Chicks

Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.

All our lives have been simultaneously turned inside out. I hardly ever know what day of the week it is and now it’s April.

Most mornings I feel sprightly and hopeful, excited for the possibilities ahead. Then by late afternoon my energy drops and I feel deflated and a little lost. The sun was out and then the clouds came. I take this as a sign to g0 outside for a walk and fresh air or do some quick yoga stretches in my kitchen.

Like many of us, I’ve been itching to help and feeling useless that I am not a doctor, or nurse, or a journalist right now.

I’ve been wondering: what is my purpose in all of this?

I don’t want to create a Method, start a movement, or make a famous meme (although massive kudos to those people who make it look far too easy!). I just want to make meaning in this crisis.

The 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic went for two years and infected a third of the world’s population at the time. I don’t say this to be alarmist, I’m pointing to the perspective that this has happened before in human history and it’s worth mentioning that social distancing isn’t a new idea.

We are in a rebirth of our planet and this is a spiritual test for us all. I’m sure of it.

I was at a talk with Elizabeth Gilbert in Perth recently and she said a term that resonated right away: purpose anxiety. I nearly jumped out of the chair with my hand in the air like it was a question.

She said: “We have no idea what we are born to do and no one truly knows what their purpose is, so forget about it”. Instead, we should let go of the search and “focus on your priorities, what matters to you, and who matters to you.” She added that “magic is the next thing that wants to happen.”

Elizabeth told a story about how she was in Santa Monica one afternoon with a few hours to herself and she walked past a guy at the top of a really tall wobbly ladder. So she stood on the street underneath him and held it for about 20 minutes to make sure he didn’t fall off. They didn’t talk. As he was coming down and clearly safe, without saying anything, she just walked away.

She said maybe the whole reason she was born, maybe every tiny thing in her life had led to this moment where she held the ladder for this stranger so that he didn’t fall. MAYBE THIS WAS THE WHOLE PURPOSE OF HER LIFE.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice for purpose anxiety is this:

When we have something for you to do, you will be notified. Until then, wait for instructions and have faith.

This concept completely tripped up my brain.

Stop looking for your purpose. 

Hold the ladder instead.

I have been a seeker from way back. I recently went on a six-month career break to go hiking and searching for what I call ‘the three Ps’  — one of them is purpose. I want to know what I am meant to do in this lifetime and so I can get to it already. Obviously, if you are in survival mode then spiritual welfare may not be one of your top needs, but it’s what my soul goes to first.

Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. - Viktor Frankl

When I think of someone living on purpose — I think of a person using their talents, skills, and natural enthusiasms to help and be of service to others. Their very beingness is a gift to us all. I’ve also heard purpose explained as the thing you would do every day and for free until the moment you die.

I am intently aware of how little time I have in the grand scheme of things. As Justin Vernon said when asked of the meaning behind his Bon Iver song Holocene, “Our lives feel like these epochs, but really we are dust in the wind.” I want to do deep work and develop my personal practices; hopefully for the benefit of others. Time is an irreplaceable resource, and yet we all still get distracted, lose flow and focus, and procrastinate like a pro. Example: I made oat milk to delay writing this! Why is that? One reason is that the big work of our life is scary. It’s vulnerable. It’s the real you.

It’s okay to be freaking out, it’s okay to be figuring it out, and it’s okay to have no idea what your purpose is in all of this.

Sometimes deeper mental clarity is preceded by great internal storms. - Yung Pablo

I’ve been sitting with this question instead: what is life asking of me right now?

I’m trying to be useful in new ways I hadn’t previously thought of. As my tea teacher Wu De said, ‘find your gifts and give them away for free.’ I started a newsletter for close friends so I could share helpful ideas and links, but also honesty and intimacy in a time when we cannot be physically close. I’ve been cooking extra portions of food for whoever needs it. I’m making calm a priority by stepping up my meditation to twice a day (something I’ve been wanting to do for, oh you know… FOUR YEARS).

Also, self-care is not selfish. Self-care is nutrition, simplicity, silence, and consistency with a daily schedule. It’s a non-negotiable of my life. If your inner world is chaotic, chances are your outer world will be too. The stronger we are for ourselves, the stronger we can be for others.

This whole thing may well be a blip, or a phase, or a new world order. It may pass in a week, or by winter, or in eighteen months. There will definitely be a lot of hugging at the end of it.

Until then: What is life asking of you right now?

Forget about your purpose and see what happens.

Friendship is an essential service more than ever.

I invite you, when you are caught in your stuff and your heart is closed, to reach out to find someone else who is suffering — to be there with them for a moment. What I find when my heart is closed is that the purity of their heart pulls me out of myself very quickly. For those who have gotten caught in individualism and separation — the act of serving another human being is a doorway back into your connection to the universe. Their real need pulls you out of yourself. - Ram Dass

Resonates

Comments

  1. Gabriella says:

    So beautiful! I always love your articles. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of this too, and I tend to value a few ideas: That what we are meant to do can be utterly unimpressive. That perhaps we aren’t meant to save the world or change it, but that we are meant to simply be ourselves. That our contribution is allowing the world to see our unique, complicated, authentic true selves. At times, a search for meaning can be to find something to allow ourselves to be proud of ourselves, to be impressive or to then allow ourselves to rest, having accomplished enough to put down the battle. We can be in search of something that gives us permission to be ourselves… thinking it all worked out now… I can truly be myself in the world because I created something amazing. Maybe now I will be accepted or accept myself. At the end of the day I like to think of this in reverse: find ways to be who you are on the inside world in the outside world. Leave your stamp, and maybe your stamp is asking questions with no answer. Maybe your stamp is being complicated and challenging peoples simple minds. Maybe the endless search with no destination leads you to a more fulfilling life in the end. That, if you found your purpose, you’d stop searching, stop asking, stop travelling and stop creating, because you had found “it”. If you had found it; maybe it would simplify your life. Maybe it would narrow it down. Maybe it would mean you were so busy you couldn’t travel and couldn’t write and couldn’t ponder. Alas. I have no answers too, dear one, just a question asker like you, but I have found that to ask questions is a rare talent and the answer is not our gift to the world, but our questions. Keep writing, we need more of it in this world. X

    1. Andjelka Jankovic says:

      I do think the quest is lifelong, when I think I am touching the edge of Truth – a whole another deeper, more meaningful level reavels itself and my inclination is to jump in. Thanks for your thoughtful words! I live by Rilke’s quote “And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now” – do you know it? Highly recommend Letters to a Young Poet. Much love, A x

  2. Belle says:

    Loved this! The newsletter idea is so beautiful and such a simple way to GIVE during these weird and crazy times x

    1. Andjelka Jankovic says:

      Thanks for reading Belle! A friend suggested it and I was like ‘well why the heck not?!’ and writing it has become one of my favourite parts of the week.

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