A crisis of purpose can happen when life does not go our way, and we realize it may never go our way. We may feel stuck with few or no options. But wait. It does not have to be this way.
It is not uncommon to have more or less fixed notions about the path our life will take, the roles we will play, the identity and value we will have. But this can be risky. Because when things do not work out, we may have no backup plan that we feel truly comfortable with. That’s when we can end up in a crisis of purpose.
Take relationships and families
When we are young it is not unusual to think that one day we may find a partner and settle down, have children. And it is not unusual for parents to anticipate becoming grandparents.
In my mind, a lot is potentially at stake, when we make a firm and fixed link between our expected future, our expected role and our self-value.
Such fixed thinking provides for little wriggle room, other possibilities and scenarios: We may not have children because we no longer want to, or we cannot, perhaps we do not find the right partner. We may not become grandparents. Children may die.
I can see the following potential risks with this fixed way of looking at the world, which can lead to a crisis of purpose:
1. Pressure of expectation and need to conform placed on others
What might you feel like and what might happen if your parent/s or anyone else places expectations on you to ‘deliver’ a certain way of life, values, choices and meaning? Indeed, we may place such expectations on ourselves.
This might have already happened to you. It might not have caused any problems.
Then again, it might cause stress, conflict, feelings of guilt, feelings of obligation, split loyalties, feelings of not being good enough, disappointment, self-doubt to mention just some.
2. Disappointment and personal crisis, if life gets in the way
What might happen if we start building our lives around such fixed thinking; if we make choices, even sacrifices, delay plans, prioritize around what we expect to happen?
When life does not oblige (through illness, loss, unemployment etc), we may end up stuck. Stuck for meaning, stuck for a road map, stuck for value.
3. Loss of identity and self-worth (socially and personally)
What if we do believe that playing a certain role guarantees us a stake and meaning in society, in relationships, in life?
What if this role was to be taken away, disappears, collapses (eg parenthood, employment, marriage, physical appearance)?
What if we have no other source of self-value, meaning, purpose and ultimately hope to draw from?
4. Fixed thinking can lead to a fixed world view and fixed assumptions about issues of difference
What if you base your self-value on a particular way of life and a role you want to fulfill, like parenthood or a role at work?
If this is fixed and rigid, then you might just find it difficult to see the same value in others who may not live up to this role or status.
This is where assumptions and judgments come in and issues of difference can become complicated and difficult.
So, where do we go from here?
There is nothing wrong with having a preference for how we would like our life to be.
Rigid single-mindedness can lead to vulnerability when life and those around us do not deliver.
We may not have the necessary mental and emotional resilience and agility to bounce back and adjust accordingly. This may lead to a crisis of purpose. We are stuck with nowhere to turn.
A crisis of purpose can be profound, frightening, depressing. It might be hard to get out of. But such a crisis does not need to be permanent.
Sometimes in the bleakness of self-doubt and hopelessness, another path starts to emerge. @KarinSieger (Click to Tweet!)
In my experience, it is often during a crisis of purpose, that people start to connect with aspirations and dreams they had a long time ago, perhaps in their childhood or in their teenage years.
Often it is those early preferences, interests and areas of creativity, which are closest related to what would bring us fulfillment.
But for whatever reason, and when we are young there are many, we make other choices, or we are encouraged or even forced.
Changes in career paths and lifestyles are not uncommon, irrespective of age.
A crisis of purpose can lead to a change in direction, which can bring a new and fulfilling purpose and meaning to our lives.
You may be able to work it out for yourself. You may need to find someone independent to talk about it and get some guidance. You may want to set some time aside and try different things, a weekend course or a few talks. Depending on where you live there may be various things on offer.
Meet different people, listen to different people, try a few new things and get out of your set routine.
It may be hard and uncomfortable. There may be so many reasons why this may not be a good idea, or why it is best postponed…
In my experience, it is essential to break through such delay strategies.
Take heart and step out of your comfort zone.
It might sound absurd, but embrace your crisis of purpose as an opportunity to unleash your potential.
Me? I retrained and became a psychotherapist.
See where it leads YOU.
Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist and writer. She specialises in supporting people through anxiety, bereavement and life-changing illnesses like cancer. Her blog is Between Self and Doubt. You can follow her on Twitter and can sign up for her newsletters here. For more information visit KarinSieger.com.