The importance of purpose
It’s a well-established finding in psychological research that having a sense of purpose in our lives improves our wellbeing, our levels of happiness, our life satisfaction and even our health.
And this not only applies to our lives, but also to our work. In the modern world of work, people want a sense of fulfillment from what they do, or to feel that what they do matters or makes a difference.
Finding a sense of purpose in what we do or how we live our lives would certainly seem to be a worthwhile endeavour, not only so we have a sense of a life well lived, but also because of this positive impact that it has on our mental and physical health and wellbeing.
What is ‘Purpose Anxiety’
But herein lies the Catch 22. While HAVING a sense of purpose has many benefits for us, the SEARCH for purpose – when we are not clear what it is or are finding it hard to put it into practice – can have exactly the opposite effect. It can make us feel out of sorts, anxious or frustrated that we don’t know what our purpose is or that we aren’t really living it.
This is something psychologists have termed ‘Purpose Anxiety’ – the negative feelings we can experience when we want a sense of purpose but aren’t sure what it is or we don’t know how to find it or live it.
How it affects us
When we are anxious, it also narrows our focus of thinking and makes us less creative, so worrying about having a purpose can actually make it harder to find it.
In my experience, Purpose Anxiety is most likely to hit around mid 40s to mid 50s – around the time people have often achieved a lot of their career and life goals and start to wonder “Is this it?” or “What’s next?”. Or they start to become more conscious of the passing of time and want to make sure they make the most of their life and talents going forwards – to maximise the impact they have in the world or to make more of a difference.
The extent to which people experience Purpose Anxiety and how much it impacts them can vary from a mild sense of unease to extreme feelings of anxiety or low mood.
10 Signs of Purpose Anxiety
If you are wondering if you might be suffering from Purpose Anxiety, here are 10 signs that you might be experiencing it:
- You have a life which looks great on paper, but something still feels like it’s missing.
- Other people tell you you are so lucky, and in many ways you know you are, but it doesn’t quite feel that way all the time.
- You really want a more fulfilling life but no matter how much you think about it, you don’t seem to be able to figure out what that might look like.
- You have an idea of some of the things that would give your life more meaning, but you’re not sure if this is really a ‘Purpose’.
- You subscribe to the philosophy that you’ve only got one life, but you don’t know where to start when it comes to figuring out your purpose in life.
- You’d love to feel more fulfilled but you don’t think you’re the kind of person who’s going to be able to find a cure for cancer or create world peace or anything like that.
- Although you’d like to have one, ‘Purpose’ sounds quite lofty and intangible and you wonder if it’s really possible.
- You know something is missing in your life but you keep thinking the ‘next thing’ – this next project, this next business or start up, this next role or company – will make you happier (but it never fully does).
- You know you’re probably working too hard, spending too much time on your phone or Netflix, or drinking a bit too much because of a nagging feeling something isn’t quite the way it should be in your life.
- This niggling feeling of wanting something more has been around for quite a while but you don’t know what to do about it.
Having Purpose Anxiety
Many of my clients come to me with lives that look great – they have very successful careers or businesses, are financially secure, have good friends, often a happy family life and yet deep down something feels like it’s “missing”. They often feel a bit confused because they now have the things they always wanted and often struggle even to know what it is they now want or feel is missing, but deep down they have a nagging sense of wanting something more or different – something more meaningful or fulfilling.
If any of this sounds like you, know that you are not alone and that the benefits of finding your Purpose HUGELY outweigh the potential struggle to find your Purpose.
The process of getting there isn’t always hard, but it can be. But a life lived with purpose and meaning is most definitely worth it.
So keep going …