By John English
Libraries and bookstores abound with titles that purport to show me how to determine my life purpose
– “Discovering Your Soul’s Purpose”, “Pathway to Purpose”, “The Meaningful Life”, etc. I have also noted
that there are many “life coaches” and self-styled gurus who are prepared to guide me to a life of
greater fulfillment and happiness. The surfeit of these offerings suggests that meaning and purpose are
important components of life, and that if I’m not trying to determine what my life purpose is, I should
be. The cynic in me also recognizes the cash value of my search for meaning for the many spiritual
counselors waiting to assist in my search, for a price.
And to be perfectly honest, I do sometimes wake up in the morning with a vague sense of unease,
wondering if I am living the kind of life I was meant to live, if my life has any significance beyond a
determination to make my bed and do the breakfast dishes. I find myself “buying in” to the Western,
first-world obsession with purpose and meaning.
I think that this preoccupation is surely another sign of my white male privilege. People who are
homeless, women and children who walk for miles in dangerous surroundings to secure their daily water
supply, or who are displaced due to war or environmental degradation, are probably not overly
concerned about the meaning of life. Merely living is a triumph.
This is not to say that one shouldn’t have a long-range plan. Where would we be were it not for the
innovators and visionaries who set for themselves the goal of bettering the human condition? But I
think there is also tremendous value in enjoying the small achievements that make up the majority of
my lived experience on a day-to-day basis.
I therefore choose to believe that purpose and meaning do not always have to involve grandiose plans
or deep spiritual explorations. A walk on the beach, a load of laundry drying in the sun, a kind word or
gesture toward someone in need, a meal cooked with care and love – these are acts ripe with meaning
and purpose. These small daily achievements will not necessarily change the trajectory of my life, but
they will add depth to a life well lived. Rather than berate myself for not being “productive” or “goal
oriented,” I can begin to recognize and celebrate these small but significant successes.
There’s nothing wrong with looking at life’s “big picture” and seeking answers to larger questions about
why I’m here. But I try not to lose sight of the fact that my life is experienced in the present moment,
and that moments are made up of small events and small triumphs that are always worth celebrating.