A few Sundays ago, I spoke to the youth at Redeemed Church, Solution Center (Mbagathi Way) about purpose. I gave my account of what purpose means to me.
Every human being has a yearning to live a meaningful life. People like me who work in community, are seen to have taken an unconventional route and are often celebrated for ‘living in purpose’. This promotes the notion that living a life of purpose takes doing something out of the usual, outside your day to day.
I don't think that’s the case. This is my take:
There are 4 things that shape who we think we are from the day we are born- family, environment, peers and society. When I was growing up, these 4 views of the world directly and indirectly shaped my perspective.
As a child and young man trying to make sense of what was happening around me, from body changes to emotions to understanding what and who I should be, I realised that it came down to a game of elimination. I would identify what I didn’t like in an attempt to arrive at what I liked and who I wanted to be.
I admired how thugs in my community commanded respect, what they wore and how they got all the ladies, but I didn’t like how life ended for them- killed by police, mob justice or fellow thugs.
I wanted so bad to be the brightest kid in school, but those days, we believed that if you didn’t wear glasses, you stood no chance. Through elimination, I ended up with something close to who I wanted to be, just like a sculptor carving out what they don’t need until they are left with what is desirable.
Purpose for me doesn’t mean becoming Mother Teresa or Wangari Maathai or even Nelson Mandela. Purpose for me means living your life to its fullness. Another view of this is what Louis Farrakhan said, ‘from a woman’s womb comes answered prayers.’ All the miracles we look for can be found in the next person.
In this age of social media, we are surrounded by a lot of noise about who we should be. We are exposed to varied ways of thinking that make us question our ways of life and we end up dragged into believing things about ourselves that we don’t entirely connect to. I think of these as tools of control, where society or the world tries to convince us that we are not enough and then tells us what we need to do or buy to be acceptable.
We are more depressed than ever before and are more prone to mental health issues because of the resultant feelings of inadequacy. Everywhere we look it seems like everyone has figured out their lives, while we are left behind. I call this noise and its role is to keep us from knowing our true selves, leaving us in a spiral of constantly trying to keep up.
As we evolve, so does our purpose. We are dynamic beings and experience either reinforces or destroys previously held beliefs. Here are 2 things that I believe help in the journey to identifying our purpose:
One- Dig Deep
On any given day, our minds hear the four voices mentioned earlier and one more- our own voice. How are we able to tell one from the other? How do we decide which one to prioritize over the other? The different voices aren’t necessarily wrong. We have to decide who to listen to. The human mind will lean towards previous decision making patterns, what we call habits.
Digging deep means facing our fears, acknowledging our aspirations, reading books for knowledge, listening to trusted friends’ perspectives and constantly putting to the test what we think we know for sure. The final step has to be using these findings as evidence to inform our decisions. We do this over and over and we are on a path to finding ourselves. This process is what I call purpose. It’s not a singular destination, rather a continued cycle of mindful existence.
After digging deep comes taking a step. We all agree that the person we are today isn’t who we were five years ago, hence the saying ‘don’t judge me by my past.’ I believe the opposite of courage is not cowardice. Inaction can be a form of courage (more on this in a later post).
Letting go of what everyone thinks we should be and choosing not to act on those assumptions is a form of courage. Deciding what’s good for us and acting on that is living a life of purpose. We can listen to all the different voices and discuss/ debate but ultimately what shapes us is the decision to act or not.
Giving our time and resources to a cause, sleeping all day when we need to, knocking on doors, calling a long lost friend, saying sorry, fighting for our beliefs are all forms of courage. Action or inaction that aligns with our findings constitutes walking in purpose. Each step leads to the next step and informs who we should be.
Again, a life of purpose is not a destination, but a continued cycle of mindful existence.
I love flowers, my favourite are lilies. They look timid and closed up when you buy them. Watching them open up when put in water, and smelling their heavenly scent gives me so much joy. I keep fresh lilies in my house to keep this experience going. It reminds me that my individuality is a thing of beauty that when presented to the world becomes a worthwhile contribution in itself.
At the church service, after my talk, the pastor said that a life of purpose (he pronounced it as ‘pepos’) is living for Christ. That’s his interpretation. What’s yours?