When I think about my purpose in life, I usually get caught up in a thinking loop that goes something like this: What does the world need from me? And what am I willing to do for the world? Back and forth, the mind goes between these two questions, hoping to find a match. What if, instead of seeking out what the world needs and trying to conform to it, we instead made this new rule to live by: your purpose is being yourself.
Your purpose is being yourself.
We could start teaching kids early that their best, and highest, usefulness would be to show up in life as best they could as their authentic selves. We would teach them that authentic selves have good days and bad ones, have good ideas and bad ones, have good thoughts and bad ones. And then we would tell them that all the days, all the ideas, and all the thoughts were part of what makes them so special in the world. All of them. In this way, we would create a little tiny army of small people who are willing to show up as themselves, unedited, and embrace their purpose.
Yet isn’t that how we each start out in the world? We come in with no preconceived notions of what is, or is not, appropriate behavior. We are born with a genuine sense of awe with ourselves and don’t seek to do, or be, anything other than what we are. We don’t come with any instructions, limitations, or even default programming. Except for the coding that comes with our own souls.
One of my greatest privileges has been to be a parent who has witnessed my children expressing as their true selves. Nothing makes me happier than to see them be themselves, express themselves, and pursue whatever it is that makes them happy. It makes me so happy that I decided I was going to do the same, even though I was starting in middle age and not at infancy. Turns out, I had a long road ahead of me to unlearn.
My generation is Gen X and we are often seen as the most overlooked generation. We are sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials, and it seems that no one is really interested in what we have to say. Which only contributes to our already fragile egos that presuppose that no one wants to hear from us. As a typical person of my generation, I found it curious that my peers and I were willing to pull out all the stops to allow our children to express authentically, when we were walking around pretending that life was fine, even when it wasn’t. That’s what I see as the mantra of the Gen Xers. Saying “I’m fine” without even bothering to check in to see if I am home on the inside.
To say that we are living through a great awakening seems an understatement to me. I see people everyday, on social media, who are more attuned, more self aware, and more in love with themselves than I thought we were allowed to be. That may be the second mantra of Gen X: we do what we should, and only in amounts that are acceptable.
But all these people who are waking up to the truth of who they are, celebrating their own personal journeys, interests, and skills, and doing — as best I can tell — whatever the hell they want, they interested me. They intrigued me. But first they annoyed me.
Annoyance, I have learned, is a sure sign that I am repressing a want, so I investigated my annoyance with all these people who seemed so free. Why were they out driving around during the day when they were supposed to be at work? Why did they think that we wanted to see what they ate? Why are they so willing to be so real and tell us exactly what they think? And the answer, I think, is that we Gen Xers created a platform of love for the next generation that is so strong that they are literally taking us at our word and being — and loving — themselves.
Who would have thought that they would listen to us, as we regaled them with ideas like this: you can do or be anything you want. Who would have ever expected that they believed us when we said: you are loved no matter what you do. Who would have predicted that all of these coming generations would show up and say, hire me as I have much to contribute, and we would believe every word they said.
The Boomers may have been the me generation, but the Gen Xers are more the “Who, me?” generation, where we are not sure if anyone even sees us, yet alone has an interest in us. We are so habitualized to downplay our own wants and needs that some of us actually think that we don’t have our own wants and needs. We glom onto our children’s agendas because at least they seem to know where they are going.
I was dissatisfied with this lot in life for my generation. I was no longer willing to keep saying I was fine, when inside I wanted to have more fun. I was unwilling to sit on the sidelines and cheer, when deep down I wanted to be in the game. I was unwilling to keep telling others to be themselves, when I myself was unwilling to show up as myself.
What helped me the most was this one idea: my purpose in life is to be my authentic self.
What helped me the most was this one idea: my purpose in life is to be my authentic self. Not the self I expose to others at work when I need to fit a mold. Not the self I show to my friends, who expect me to be a certain way. Not the self I gave to my husband, who thought she had to be one way to be loved. Rather, my job — my responsibility in the language of my generation — is to be me.
Seen in this light, I easily move into authentic expression. When I take it on as a job, I have a sense of purpose in expressing my emotions, outing my ideas, and being in whatever mood I find myself. I even have a sense that I am doing the world some good, just by being me. Which, for someone who was trained to do what was expected of her, is a leap that takes a while to make but is completely worth the trip. The best part? It’s a lot of fun to find your connection to your own true self and let her out to play.
My blog, and my newsletter, are my outlets these days. I found, midway in life, that I had a desire to express, to tell you what I think, and to help others see that they too can unlearn everything they have been taught, and re-learn everything we have told our kids. We too can seize the freedoms that we have created, and enjoy the fruits of our labor by expressing more as the souls we are. Not just because it’s fun, but because it is what we were meant to do.
If you can hang on to this one idea — my highest purpose is simply to be me — you would be well on your way to finding your own spirit. If you could come to believe that idea, you would see that whatever emanated from you was worthy of review. If you could learn to believe that your responsibility started and ended with being yourself, you’d change how you showed up and ease back into you natural, and original, state.