Ultimately, all of our conversations in spirituality and personal development come back to one core concept: life purpose.
What we’re really talking about is the core questions of life: Why are we here? Why do I have these skills and abilities—and what should I do with them? Why am I (or aren’t I) happy? Why did this relationship work when that one failed?
We’re always exploring “why” so we can make more empowered, more meaningful, more fulfilling decisions about our lives. So that we can understand ourselves and the world around us a little bit better.
But the thing is—most life purpose conversations don’t actually focus on the “why”; they focus on the “what.”
We say things like, “Your purpose is to be a writer” or “Your purpose is to be a life coach” or “Your purpose is to be in a loving relationship.” But we never really understand why writing feels so purposeful, or why coaching feels so purposeful, or why this relationship feels loving over that one.
Most life purpose advice is aspirational. It’s more about what person we aspire to be than it is about why our past, present, and future are the way they are. In fact, we treat life purpose more as a “goal” than as an explanation.
We’ll say things like, “I’m just not on my purpose yet, but when I get there, I’ll be doing work that I love.”
But if life purpose is something we can achieve, then that means it’s something we can also fail. And that doesn’t make sense. How could you ever fail your purpose?
The danger to seeing life purpose as a goal is that it ignores our own lived experience—the pain, the heartache, the dark moments of our life—which, ironically, is when we’re most interested in purpose. That’s when we want to know “why” the most.
Because the one area where we need purpose most is around shame.
I think about purpose less as something I can achieve and more as a lens through which we experience the world. We can think of it like a group of sensitivities we all have. Things we’re more sensitive to than other people, and therefore have more gifts and desires and expertise and even trauma around.
For example, if I’m sensitive to Freedom, I’m probably going to be extra conscious of when I’m feeling trapped and always looking for opportunities to be Free. I’m going to help others to feel Free. I’m going to resent any job or relationship that makes me feel stuck. And I’m going to be seen as more of a free-spirit than others.
It explains why this job didn’t work out. Why I chose to move across the country. Why I need work that gives me free time.
A few years ago, I was helping someone who had struggled with alcoholism. She had a lot of shame around her experiences. When we discovered that Enchanted was one of those sensitivities throughout every aspect of her life, things began to click.
She remembered wearing crowns and building fairy gardens when she was little. But, more importantly, she remembered that the feeling of being drunk was the closest she ever got to that feeling as an adult. She was never broken or wrong or screwed up. She just didn’t know “the why.”
And “the why” around our deepest shame is what ultimately sets us free. It’s the dark side of life purpose where we ultimately find our light and free ourselves.
No matter how hard we try, shame has never been an effective tool for behavior change, but understanding always is.
We can’t beat ourselves up to try to get ourselves to change our behavior because we’re fundamentally missing the point. We’re always doing something for a reason—to fulfill some unmet need. And shaming ourselves isn’t helping us to understand the reason or meet the need. So we’re going to keep doing it.
Contrary to popular belief, humans aren’t irrational. We always have a reason—a purpose—for doing something. We just don’t always understand that reason just yet.
But, if we understand “the why,” then we’re empowered. Then we can make new decisions—maybe decisions that feel better to us.
Just like my client was never wrong for wanting to feel Enchanted; she just didn’t know why she was so attracted to alcohol and why she was using it. The second we understand “the why,” we’re back in the driver’s seat of our lives.
We all have shame that’s holding us back in life. From things we did, from things that happened to us, from just being a human being. And that shame is preventing us from so much of our natural power and worth and light.
We can have a new conversation about life purpose—an empowered conversation that includes and brings understanding to shame.
Because, if it doesn’t include all of us—our shame, our trauma, our joy and gifts and full lived experience—then it’s not actually purpose.
We’re no longer splitting ourselves into the “good” and “bad.” We’re no longer only part of ourselves. We’re showing up fully. With all of our meaning. All of our experiences. All of our purpose.
Digging into even the darkest places to find our light.
Mike Iamele is a writer, a mentor for creative visionaries, and a sought-after expert on life purpose. As the creator of the proprietary Sacred Branding® process, Mike has helped hundreds of visionaries–from spiritual seekers to creatives to seven-figure business owners–to discover their life purpose and share it with the world. Learn why it’s not your fault you don’t know your purpose, and learn how to discover your own purpose in our free webinar: mikeiamele.com/purpose.
Image courtesy of Viktor Talashuk.