Modern day philosophy often says one’s life purpose lies in finding that perfect service, career, relationship, or some individual balance of these pieces that frees you to really feel like yourself. It comes from doing.
Defined this way, purpose is a moving target we work towards in hopes that if we just line up and aim correctly, we’ll finally feel whole.
Expats often take this effort to a new level. We travel. We try new countries, new cultures, and new identities in search of this elusive sense of inner contentment.
But does this extreme journeying actually get us closer to our purpose?
I’ve been asking myself this lately because from the outside looking in, I should finally be content and purposeful. I’ve taken the expat life puzzle and put my life pieces together just the way I want them to be in Singapore. And yet, I’ve still been feeling purposeless.
I went out exploring last week hoping to get some centering, but was soon reminded that goals and circumstance do not actually make purpose come to life. Then what does?
Then I came across a New York Times article about Paris’ toilet cleaners this week. An international group of women, their jobs are being cut by the city. You’d think they wouldn’t miss spending all day in the bathroom, but these attendants say they found purpose in keeping those spaces beautiful, clean and inspiring for visitors to Paris. Their intent – the way and reason they approached that task, made it purposeful to them.
That made me reflect on my own intent in Singapore. So far, I haven’t set one. I’ve set goals, priorities, and children’s schedules but no mindful reason for being here other than to have an easier daily life than I had in Shanghai.
In Bali, I lived the opposite – my intent to love, create and connect were clear every day. All else spun around that, and I was filled with joy.
Reflecting on the wisdom the Pope offered US institutions last week, this makes sense. He centered his advice all about intent: “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”
In other words, the reasons we do things are really important.
In his teachings, the Dalai Lama states what these reasons should be with even more clarity:“From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion…The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease.”
In other words, we experience peace from our state of mind.
It’s so easy for us expats to forget to set our intent. The bustle, effort and excitements of living abroad can make it hard to still our minds.
But I think the effort is worth it. For me, resetting my focus back on my Bali compass has already started to make a difference. Love. Create. Connect.
How do you define and find purpose? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave comments on Facebook or my website!
Photo credit: Ravi K. Jolly, you can find more of his work on Flickr!