What is the deepest purpose of my life? Everyone over 25 years old is probably familiar with that question.
Self-help books refer to this quest for meaning as “life purpose”, “deep vision”,”life mission”, and other vague terms that sound important but confuse more than they mean anything. Whatever you call it, it is everywhere; the clothes we wear, the food we eat; the books we read; our jobs, movies… everything has to be meaningful.
Honestly, I don’t have a clue of what my deepest purpose is supposed to be and I am tired of looking for it. The question is constantly in the background of my head. “What is the point of my life?, I sometimes ask myself in panic, or “what if my everyday actions are worthless?”
Some people are obviously driven by something. One of my students had a comfortable job in Zürich, and so did her husband. When the UN hired her for a mission in the refugees department in Damascus, she hesitated a moment because of her 3 years old twins; but she eventually took the job. She wanted to use her lawyering skills to serve people in need. Last time I heard from her, she sounded happy with her choice and at peace with herself contributing to the world.
Another student of mine has a well paid job in an investing fund. However, he regularly mentions his frustration to be giving his time to a business which only goal is to make money. He enjoys his life and likes his job, but he lacks a deeper meaning. So he decided to study again to learn conflict mediation. After completing his curriculum, he will be able to apply for jobs in international organisations dealing with international conflicts in countries such as Israel or the Ivorian Coast.
I admire them, because they realised something was missing in their life, and they reacted to it. Most of the people, including myself, just try to occasionally brush up against this meaning, by donating money to a charity, or buying ethical products, for example, which is great but is only of temporary relief.
I am a French teacher; I could fantasize about realising my deepest purpose by teaching others and help them understand and use the beautiful language that French is. Seriously, I teach to rich Swiss adults who already know the basics of the French language having learned it at school. They do not need me. I try to bring them the reassurance and the fun they seem to seek in the lessons, but my need for meaning is not completely satisfied by my job.
I am also teaching to unemployed persons who are sent by the local unemployment agency to gain skills they can then add to their resume. The agency pays me, not the students directly; they are often a bit depressed for they have been looking for a job for quite a while. Not only do I have to teach them French, I also try to make them feel better about their situation as they achieve the challenge of getting into French grammar. I am not a benevolent here though, I get well paid for it.
However, it is not worthless, if I can contribute to my student’s general happiness and well being with a fun and interesting lesson, I do feel good at the end of the day. All this talk about finding the meaning of one’s life ends up oppressing if one spends too much time wondering about it. What if staying as healthy and happy as possible while giving our time and energy to others when we can was enough? Obsessing about measuring up to some standard of meaningfulness is not helping so much.
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