“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”e.e. cummings
Like everyone who’s ever gone through a major life change…I have spent a lot of time (and bourbon) in the past few years looking for the next open door. The right door. Asking the big questions. But it has somehow still felt like a recurring nightmare game of Let’s Make A Deal where I just seem to keep on picking the wrong door.
Most of my angst has come from the fact that, six years down the road, Moses still has not come down to my living room with a tablet from on high revealing my path. Jesus has not handed me a rock tied to the note of my revealed mission. Nor has Tony Robbins shown up with applause to haul me up on stage for that moment of truth when you just know, all is resolved, and you walk in the glow of perfection in your purpose being realized.
Instead, I have sat in endless bathtubs of angst with my crying music on, and begged God and Jesus (or my mama) to tell me why things keep happening to me that are not at all what I wanted or worked for. Or what I felt I deserved. I have stood at my gratitude corner on my weekly river hikes, and in my ruminations there, told God many times that I give up my soul to His will, and asked (well, more often, begged) Him to pleeeeeeease show me my path and reveal my purpose. I have sat with some new goal sheet or another in front of me more times than I can count with no big revelations coming to me to write down, illuminating and directing what my next purpose will be in this new life.
I am, it would appear, rudderless, shiftless, and a girl going nowhere fast.
So. What to do then? I just kept fucking going, like I always have. Because I didn’t know what else to do, and I thought I had to DO something, anything. I got up, fed the dogs, made a lunch and went to work. I came home, did yoga, made dinner, walked the dogs, vacuumed up the dog hair, cleaned the bathroom, did the laundry, weeded the garden. Sat on the porch. Went to the cottage, had dinners with friends, renovated, jammed new songs with my neighbour. Made a lot of pottery. Watched the sun rise and set a seeming million times.
Cried and anguished some more about how I was wasting my life and doing nothing with it. Moved through many a wrong man choice, unhooked myself from them, put a few more stitches in my heart, had another bathtub cry, and threw ‘em back. And all the while kept chastising myself for not having that golden ticket of “my new goals” and “my new purpose” clearly defined and written down.
Like, you know, you’re supposed to when you are forced to live a major life change and then life reveals to you what for. That moment is supposed to come when you know what to DO next. To serve yourself, and to serve your divine purpose. Cue the fucking angels.
This feeling of unfinished business has followed me around like dog hair on black socks.
Recently, I tuned in for one of my favorite spiritual podcasts, this one on the topic of purpose, en route to the cottage. Thinking that finally, this time, I could learn more about how to get out of this limbo, and finally get to my purpose. Coffee cup full, clear highway ahead, here we go.
What I learned in that hour and 40-minute drive hit me like a truck.
The speaker talked about this very quest that I had been frustrated with for so long, and that it is a common thread amongst many. That we worry about what we need to DO to find and fulfill our purpose. What we must DO to realize our potential. I actually leaned forward in my truck seat. Listening. So give me the key, man!
The aha moment came when he said that we need to stop worrying about what we are supposed to be “doing”. Because that was not our purpose. Our goal was to listen for and answer the call when God/the universe/whatever sent us in a particular direction, not worry about the purpose of what we were doing in that moment, because the doing wasn’t the goal.
SAY WHAT NOW?! I sat back hard in a huff of frustration…
Our purpose, he posited, is simply being. Being with God (or insert your own higher power here). That all the things we are DOING, are only tools in our becoming, and that in becoming that we are fulfilling our purpose. All that was required of us was to show up and BE.
The podcast ended somewhere along PE County Road 1, and my brain was going off like downed electrical wires in a storm. I didn’t need a goal sheet? All that angst I had about not having that solid “I will now do THIS” plan didn’t matter? That I did not need to worry about “realizing my potential”?!
The more I thought about it, all the more I realized the truth in this. I thought back to all the little events that I counted as failures. The “doings” that I thought were wrong turns. The divorce; and the subsequent relationships that did not work out. The things I tried that did not “pan out”. The family struggles, the work struggles…all of it. It had all molded me. Each one changed me in some way. Doing those things, living/surviving them, was indeed not the end game. What they did to my being, was.
Jesus never reached his potential. Think about that for a hot second. There was so much more, so very much more, that he could have “done” in this plane…but his life with us was cut short before he accomplished it all. But…he totally fulfilled his purpose for that life. Humanity would be forever altered because of it.
We have been so conditioned to benchmark fulfillment of potential that we stopped striving for the fulfillment of purpose. Potential is not the key to a fulfilled life, purpose is. Doing is not the realization of purpose, becoming is.
Well, shit. Who knew?
Then I thought back some more, to the girl I was in June of 2016. Lost, scared, adrift, feeling like everything good was over, or ending, or behind her; that there was nothing more left ahead but more rejection, failure and pain. She was hunched in front of the mirror with her arms round herself to protect whatever of her soul was left, from that next big wave that she was sure would pull her under and wipe her off the map. She felt she had to prove to everyone that she was even the least bit worthy of being here still, by just doing, doing, doing, achieving, achieving, achieving ‘til she dropped. And it all felt like pushing a rock uphill with a rope. The harder she tried, the more she seemed to slip back into that little ball of fear.
And then I looked at the girl in the mirror in 2021. She stood a little taller. Hell, she stood UP, period. She had a lot more scars, and certainly a lot more wrinkles. She also, though, stood stronger in her love of self, because she had learned the hard way that unless she could do that, no one else would love her either. She stood in less judgement, both of herself and others, because she had experienced what it felt like to be dismissed without being understood. She stood more committed to creating her own happiness as having importance, because after putting everyone else’s ahead of that, she realized no one but her ever would prioritize that as highly as she would no matter what she did.
She stood in more patience, because she simply had no choice but to sit and wait for things to unfold many times, even when it felt like a fail. She sat in one hell of a lot more acceptance (even some radical acceptance), because she had been shown what happens when you fight what you cannot change. She stood in greater awareness of the world outside her own head, because even when you are a hot mess, others may still need you to show up. She stood more at home with sitting in uncertainty, with more blank pages and less need for control and pre-planning of every little thing, because life had shown her that trying to do that was only a route to exhaustion, not fortification against hurt or the guarantee of success.
She stood with her heart open; to God, to chance, with ears listening for the calls to the next thing that would bring her closer to being just who she needed to BE to fill her place in this world, without needing to know in advance what that must look like. The place that only this imperfect human could inhabit with all her unique weirdness. Because she had finally realized that this whole journey is easier if you let go of all those actions that were just wastes of energy, and that energies will be more properly directed when you sit in openness, listening and allowing life to unfold in the trust that you are where you are meant to be at every given moment.
She stood in a place that she could never have stood without the trials of the incredibly painful moments, the joyful moments, or the fearful and anxious moments of her journey to date.
It struck me then that like the iron I watch being made every day, that I too could not be formed without a little heat. That purpose is never realized in an easy chair with a workbook and a nice cup of herbal tea, but on the shaky planks of an old rope bridge over a deep crevasse. It does not occur at the base of the mountain, but at the top. That the fire of pain, and failure, burn into our souls the structures we need to take the next step.
So I’ve tossed the endless self-help workbooks meant to help one find your true purpose. I have stopped forcing myself to write down big life goals. I do still sit quietly with my cup of tea (or a beer), but now as I do that, I work to open up my heart, to listen. To listen for the next call that will take me to the next place I am meant to simply BE, and in the being there, working through that place, that I will fulfill more of my purpose along the way.
Love is out there. Fulfillment is out there. My purpose is out there. I need to simply be where I am called and meant to be and embrace each stop, to become closer to all of it.
And that, as the poet Robert Frost so beautifully wrote, “that has made all the difference”.
I’m a 64 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair. I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. I hope to make you think, make you laugh, and mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.