October 23, 2015
When it comes to living life, what is the difference between having a meaning and having a purpose?
A quick look at their basic definitions tells us that they are about the same—having to do with “the reasons for things”.
But a dictionary and our own experience can produce important degrees of differences and interpretations. That is, we can all probably understand that our life’s purpose and our life’s meaning are not always one in the same. They are in fact, at once, intertwined and separate.
In some cases, we might say that the meaning of life is to find and have a purpose. In other cases, we might say the opposite—that the purpose of life is to find and have a meaning.
Depending on the situation, it may even be counter-productive to seek a greater significance.
Imagine, for example, standing on the shore of a beautiful lake at sunset where the waters are lapping against the rocks as a breeze ruffles the dry grasses and the leaves above us. It would be absurd to look at the waves and trees asking, “I wonder what they mean by moving like that?” Or, “What is the purpose of this cool air?” Or, to point at the sand and sunlight asking, “What do you mean exactly?”
No. The idea (and probably the “meaning”) of a scene like this is to do the opposite—to get lost in it, to take it all in, and to not think. Right?
Riiiiiiight. And, when it comes to our lives as a whole, which include relationships, dreams, responsibilities, perceptions, surprises, challenges, and, of course, the unknown—things are bound to get interesting. Not only that, because no one else is us, things are bound to get personal.
Personal in the sense that we each ascribe significance to different things in different ways for different reasons. For that reason alone, looking outside of ourselves for our purpose or for life’s “great meaning” might prove fruitless.
So, looking in may be the better view. And our strengths are the lamp posts lighting the way. It’s one thing to know and understand what our strengths are. It’s another thing to practice them, cultivate them, and share them. It is only then that they become gifts. Our strengths are indicators of what we were born to do. We give the gifts of ourselves—and, because we are each unique, without us, our gifts would not exist.
That is, in a way, to say that we actually have a responsibility to grow in our strengths and to share them, because no one else (literally, no one else) is able to share them for us.
What value do we bring into the world? Is that our meaning? Is it our purpose? Whose value can we acknowledge and affirm? How are we unique from those in our circles? How are we similar? What is one change that we would like to make in our lives? What is the first action that we could take toward that shift?
Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.