meaning and purpose

Posted on June 9, 2013


“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”
Parker J. Palmer

“I want my inner truth to be the plumb line for the choices I make about my life – about the work that I do and how I do it, about the relationships I enter into and how I conduct them.”
Parker J. Palmer

I find it very curious that it has only been recently that I have realized the importance of meaning and purpose in my life. Part of that has come from working with people with developmental disabilities. The services that we provide are funded by medicaid and must be shown to be medically necessary. At the core of the guidelines is a meaningful life. Now, when I worked in special education for 25 years, we never talked in terms of meaning and purpose, and yet that is at the core of our identity, all personal development, as well as career development. One difference is that we now are providing these people with services for the rest of their lives. But why didn’t we start during their formative years in school helping them uncover their identity and purpose, and then design a meaningful life based on who they are and why they are here on earth?

An even greater question is why did it take me almost losing my life after being here for 50 years before I committed myself to the inner work of finding my life. Some things are so obvious we can’t see them. So many paradoxes… So much at stake…

So how does a person design a meaningful life? I think that when we boil it all down, a meaningful life comes from using our gifts in a context where they are accepted and appreciated. This applies to all aspects of our lives.

Again, the three core questions come to mind:
WHO am I? (my Identity)
WHY am I here? (my Purpose)
WHAT am I going to do about it? (my Mission)

I have been concerned about meaning and purpose all my life but have deferred to external sources to define them for me. In my Dark Night of the Soul, those external answers ceased to work for me, forcing me to do the inner work just to stay alive.