Finding Meaning and Purpose

Humans need meaning and purpose. In addition to the needs we share with other animals — oxygen, water, food and shelter,  and the needs we share with other social animals — connection, community, and affection (see my blog, Why We Need Community to Thrive), humans need meaning and purpose. We need to understand why we are here and that we have value.

A Mission to Find Meaning

Whether this need for meaning is a biological imperative or simply the consequence of a self-aware brain, meaning matters to us.

Since we are social animals, we often find the most meaning when we are of service to others. When we do something kind it actually simulates feel good endorphins.

Over the last 100 years or so, our value or worth has become equated with material accomplishments and the acquisition of wealth rather than our connection with others. Yet, when a hospice nurse, best selling author Bronnie Ware, polled the dying they reported their biggest regret as not have had the courage to life a life true to one’s self. This was followed by working too hard, not expressing feelings, losing touch with friends and not being happier.

The word legacy, i.e. what we leave behind when we die, comes from the Medieval Latin word legatia which translates as someone with a mission.

Do you know what your legacy, your mission is?

We can discover our mission by doing what inspires us. Inspire literally means to take in spirit. When we follow our true mission we connects with spirit. We know it is right, not because someone says so, but because it feels right. It feels in tune with life and the universe!

Unfortunately many of us become disconnected from our inspiration and mission in childhood. When we are small and dependent on others, the need for survival can overshadow our need for meaning and purpose.

Parents make mistakes. It’s not their fault. They copy or react to the mistakes of their parents or they break under the pressure of a dysfunctional world. They may be too critical, protective, controlling, neglectful, or even abusive. In childhood, we learn patterns and beliefs that enable us to survive. These survival patterns can disconnect us from our internal compass, our connection to spirit.

Repressing our need for meaning and purpose has consequences.

According to a medical expenditure panel, 1 in 6 Americans is on some sort of psychiatric drug, primarily tranquilizers or antidepressants. That doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands who self-medication through drinking, drugs, over-eating, over-working, computer-games, pornography, texting and TV. We numb ourselves to both the fears of our childhood and the desires of our spirit. We trade passion and purpose for that middle land of just ok.

What does living a life of purpose even mean? When you have cut yourself off from your feelings or focus on pleasing others, like I did for nearly 46 years, having a life purpose may be incomprehensible.

To claim our purpose, we must to awaken to who we really are — to our spirit.

Generally, we do not change unless circumstances force us to change. It is one of the laws of natures. Only when pushed to the edge does nature evolve.

For humans this often comes through crisis — a drastic change in circumstances that wakes us up and forces us to question what we are doing and who we really are. This crisis may take the form of the death of a loved one, death of a relationship or death of an identity. Maybe all three at once.

Death reminds us of impermanence. It can trigger fear and it can trigger courage.

My mother’s death was my wake up call.

In 1998, a couple of weeks before my mom died, I flew back home to help her finish her business.

My mom was a toy designer. She actually sold her ideas to major toy companies like Hasbro, EG Dolls, and Gund. (Check out Kooky Spooky Toys – one of her designs.)

As a child, I was not terribly impressed. From my perspective as a neglected child, her toy business was a distraction from her motherly responsibilities.

Nevertheless, that seed of living one’s life purpose had been planted.

One afternoon in those final days of her life, that seed burst open . . .

We were sitting in her studio going through papers. I handed her a copy of one of her designs asking her if she needed it anymore. She looked at it, put her hand over her mouth and said with a sigh:

I guess I’ll never finish that project.

Her words pierced my heart.

In that moment I understood the real meaning of DEAD-line.

My mom was going to die and her time was nearly over. It didn’t take much to make the connection that I too would run out of time. It scared me.

I took the paper back and said, I guess we don’t need to do this right now!

Which, of course, meant NEVER.

Instead of holding space for her to explore her regret and her death, I ran away. That moment of intimacy, the kind of intimacy I had craved from my mother all my life, was lost forever. She died 2 weeks later.

Her regret became MY REGRET — it also became MY MOTIVATION!

Soon after my mom’s death I decide to make the documentary series Secrets of Life and Death. I had been noodling around for several years with community access TV — fun, safe, low risk. My mom’s death pushed me to a whole new level! It gave me a new purpose — to change the way people thought about and dealt with death. I didn’t want them to make the mistakes I had made.

In the 10 years it took to finish my first two films, I often questioned myself. Was I smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough? Would I have enough money to complete it? I was afraid of failure. My mother’s regret kept me going. I could not give up because I could not face death with that regret!

I completed a third film. I did screenings and workshops. The Lloyd Symington Foundation awarded me three grants to bring them to the cancer community. This evolved into my current coaching practice empowering leaders and change makers to face their fears so they can step into their authentic power . . . and live and die without regret.

Can you imagine what the world be like if all of us lived our true calling — instead of the limitations of our emotional wounds!

Currently, we live in a dysfunctional culture that promotes fear and domination over social harmony. I believe that underlying this disharmony are early childhood traumas that keeps us afraid and disempowered, that make us believe there is not enough and if another wins, we will lose.

We need to change that pattern. We need to claim our true self and our true inspiration. Interestingly, our survival and the survival of the world depend on it.

How are you doing? Are you living YOUR passion and purpose? Or are you hiding your dreams and gifts in a closet? Do you struggle with self-doubt? Are you over-worked, over-stressed, OVERWHELMED? Perhaps I can help you.

Please check out my Event Page for a current listing of free local workshops or my free webinar: No Regrets: Launching Your Authentic Legacy. Or schedule an introductory Discovery Session and have a one-on-one conversation with me to find out what might be holding you back and what to do about it.

Death teaches us that life is impermanent. We never know how much time we really have. Wouldn’t you like to spend every precious moment you have left on a meaning that matters to you?

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Dr. Michelle Peticolas is a national speaker and expert on the topics of loss, emotional wounding and unresolved grief. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology and over 18 years experience coaching people through major life challenges.  If you’re ready to change the habit of rushing, download and listen to her Stress Release Body Scan audio recording. Find out where you are holding energy and learn to release it.

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