What Is Life Purpose & Spirituality?
Our search for purpose in life often looks for meaning or connection and as such, touches directly on spirituality. There is much overlap in how life purpose and spirituality manifest in our lives, but there are also distinctions.
Understanding Life Purpose
Dick Leider, author of The Power of Purpose, asked adults 65 and older, "If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?" The answers consistently included these three themes:
- Be more reflective
- Be more courageous
- Be clear earlier about purpose
Following up on the idea of purpose, Leider learned that:
- People seem to have a natural desire and capacity to contribute to life.
- Purpose is unique to each individual.
- People can learn from, but not adopt, the purpose of another.
- People typically bring up the question of purpose about every ten years throughout their lives.
- Working on purpose gives people a sense of direction.
- The key to acting on purpose is for people to bring together the needs of the world with their unique gifts in a vocation.
It appears that finding and acting on your purpose is a unique and life-long journey that can be both greatly rewarding and challenging.
Take a minute to reflect: What do you think your life purpose is? Where do or could you bring your unique gifts to the needs of those around you in the world?
Life Purpose and Your Career
Life purpose is not synonymous with career. For some people, their work is a job, a source of income, perhaps even a source of stimulation and reward, but it is unrelated to their broader life purpose. This can be by choice or circumstance.
For other people, their job or career is closely interwoven with their life purpose-it is a vocation. Some of these people speak of finding their vocation based on a calling. For some, vocation is deeply rooted in the notion of service.
For those who want to integrate career with life purpose, it is not enough to simply long for more meaningful work. As Nicholas Weiler argues in Your Soul at Work, you need to clearly define what you are looking for and then persistently seek it. As he says, "Fulfilling careers seldom happen by chance. People who find personally meaningful vocations do so because they assume responsibility for their journeys."
How Life Purpose Evolves
Our life can be seen as a nautilus that adds new chambers to its shell as it grows and needs more space. Likewise, as people grow into a different phase of life, their old chambers can feel cramped. They begin to ask what they can do to expand their space.
Moving into new chambers opens up the way for new possibilities to emerge, allowing our life purpose to evolve. But this can also prompt physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual transitions and even sometimes a chaotic period as we begin to organize around a new core question.
This is the secret to a fully alive life: to reframe our life questions over and over. As we do, at different stages of our lives, we find different questions and different possibilities.
Our life purpose connects with our spirituality, our sense of what is meaningful and valuable in life. The core questions we ask about our life purpose often lead us to our personal spiritual path, to our search for connection and meaning.
Many people feel confused by the word, "spirituality," because they are not exactly sure what it means. Some feel that spirituality is just another word for religion. But while there are similarities between spirituality and religion, they are not synonymous.
Spirituality is an individual search for meaning and connection and the answers to questions, such as "Why am I here?," "Where is there true meaning?," and "Where is there hope?" It is a basic part of human experience, as Howard Clinebell's seven spiritual needs demonstrate.
Religions, on the other hand, are institutions designed to create and nurture spiritual community. The role of religious traditions, rites, practices, and institutions is to bind a community together.
For some people, spirituality is merged with religion. For others, spirituality is not connected to a particular religion. While all persons are spiritual beings, not all are religious.