4 Ideas for People in the “Purpose Void”

Living without
Living without “purpose” can feel like you’re floating in the void.

Today I want to talk about something very familiar to me and so many others in my generation: the absence of a sense of “calling” or “purpose.” That place where you feel no tug, no pull, no urge to work. You try to meet your needs outside of your job because you assume you’re just not one of “those people” who has a purpose. You dabble in some things here and there and think for a minute about long-term career goals, but without a spark inside of you, it seems like a waste of time.

I’m not here to pump you up with a “Find your soul’s purpose!” post. The pressure to “live out your calling” simply compounds the feeling of floating in the void and, for the most part, seems like a knee-jerk reaction to the discomfort of Not Knowing in the “Age of Information.” What I am here to do is offer some ideas for living in that seemingly groundless space and encourage you to go easy on yourself. I have floated in that void, believe me, and I think it’s natural for passion – about work, love, anything – to ebb and flow. Here are some ideas for how to make the most of what can be a very uncomfortable time:

Appreciate the not knowing. This contradicts most of what we’re taught in our schools and workplaces, but not knowing what to do is just as valuable as knowing what to do. As David Whyte says, “Not knowing stops us from taking false directions.” So take a minute today to say “thank you” to the part of you that has absolutely no idea what you’re doing with your life right now; it’s pushing you to sit with the discomfort and wait for your path to appear, and that can be a beautiful thing.

Get curious. Curiosity is so powerful! I’m learning to ask myself “Why?” at least 3 times whenever I’m trying to make an important decision: “Why do I want this?” or “Why is that important to me?” or “Why do I care what she thinks?”. You can start asking “Why?” or, if you feel ready, you could utilize a strategy from the Wagner School at NYU and begin collecting job descriptions. Once you’ve bookmarked 50 job descriptions that appeal to you (even if it’s a just a tinge of appeal), you can begin to see themes: the type of work you’re drawn to, the kinds of organizations that need that work, and the skills they’re asking for.

Let go of the pressure. My guess is that the pressure to be your most vibrant, radiant, fabulous self doesn’t feel very helpful right now, so you can just set that aside. Maybe one day you’ll feel vibrant, but for now, just go easy on yourself. Embrace the not knowing and nurture any ideas that come up about your work, even if they seem outlandish. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes so beautifully, “If you’ve lost focus, just sit down and be still. Take the idea and rock it to and fro. Keep some of it and throw some away, and it will renew itself. You need do no more.” 

Finally, protect what does light you up. Let go of the external pressure, yes, but if you’re going to survive this wandering period, you’ll need to hold on to whatever does light you up. Try not to become complacent about things that you know feed your soul. If you know that something like hiking, cooking, or journaling makes you feel alive, then that thing has to be a priority for you right now. When you’re alive and awake to the world around you, you’ll be able to see the path (and, maybe…your purpose) so much more clearly.

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