Instead of always asking, “what is my purpose,” we should instead ask “in light of my purpose, what should I spend my time doing?” It’s too easy to do nothing meaningful while we wait to discover what we anticipate will be our perfect purpose. If my purpose is to love God and love others, I should be seeking out ways that I can most effectively do that. Stop asking “what” and start asking “how” and “why”. As a Christian, I’ve believed that loving God and others is my purpose, but I’ve also waited for something more specific before taking action. I love to write and I’m good at it, so I should write in such a way that loves God and loves others. It doesn’t matter so much what I write or which format I choose or whether or not I make a living writing, but it matters why I write. In the same way, when I go to work and do something I’m not passionate about, I can still do it with purpose and in a way that shows that I love God and love others. When I work at pursuing excellence, honesty, and humility in my job and in my relationships, I am already living out my purpose.
What is the purpose of life?
This is a question many people have asked throughout human history and have come up with many varied answers. For some, its about achieving inner peace and tranquility, for others its about gaining power and wealth, and for many, its all about pursuing personal happiness and contentment. In the U.S, its apparent that the pursuit of happiness is at the top of most people’s list of how to live life. You need to look further than the advertising industry to see that products are marketed in such a way that they promise a little piece of happiness to the consumer. These products will make you look younger, help you lose weight, whiten your teeth, give you more energy, improve your performance in everything—and the list goes on infinitely. Effective marketing taps into the consumer’s desire for happiness and cleverly presents how a specific product or service fits into achieving that goal. Now, I’m not suggesting that all marketing is wrong or deceptive, but when you consider the staggering amount of consumer debt (credit cards, cars, etc) in this nation its easy to see that something is broken. The marketing and advertising business is doing well, but its the beliefs and goals of the individual that are broken. But there’s a lot more at stake than just money.
When happiness makes you un-happy
When happiness is elevated to the level of being your life’s purpose, it has a tendency to end up making you miserable. Here is what I mean: whenever you chose which job to take or which college to attend or what to study, you probably asked the question “what will make me happy?” Or maybe you just asked “which job pays the most?” or “which college will get me the best job?” or “what area of study interests me the most?” These were good questions to ask, but ultimately they came down to the same question of happiness—they presupposed that the higher paying or “better” job would make you happy, or even studying a specific area would lead to contentment. However, if you have lived life for a while you probably already realize that jobs, money, and college degrees might make you happy but they don’t keep you happy for long. There’s always something wrong, some deficiency, some yearning for more or different. We take jobs like we’re ordering at McDonald’s—we look at the menu, consider what we’re in the mood for and what special deals are being offered and pick something. After all, if we don’t like what we picked we can just get something different next time. In the US people change jobs and even careers more times throughout their working lives than ever before in our history. But it gets worse. We choose friends and even spouses based upon what will make me happy and end up using people for our own benefit over and against meeting their needs. If you need evidence, just look at the divorce rate in our country, domestic abuse, and other relational struggles. There are millions of unhappy people disappointed that someone else doesn’t make them happy all the time. My point is when we live our lives in such a way that our goal of being happy drives everything from our smallest to our biggest decisions, we end up being self-centered, unfulfilled, and unhappy people.
In the film The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith portrays the real Chris Gardener, a single dad down on his luck who decides to take an unpaid internship at a stock brokerage firm in 1980s San Francisco. Throughout the movie, Chris struggles to make enough money to buy food for him and his young son, who eventually get evicted from their apartment and spend several nights in homeless shelters and even one in a subway restroom.
If you’ve ever seen the film, you know things turn out well for Chris and his son financially because he excelled in his internship and was rewarded with a well-paying job. Chris gives his commentary at various points while telling his story, talking about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He makes the observation that the writer of these words must have known that happiness is not guaranteed and people would merely have the right to pursue it, not necessarily achieve it. As the story unfolds, we see a man who becomes increasingly desperate, visibly stressed and exhausted, and by all definitions unhappy.
My purpose in sharing a little bit about Chris Gardener is to demonstrate how personal sacrifice for the sake of another leads to something more than happiness. Self-giving love is far more important and lasting than any form of happiness. When life got really tough, Chris’ girlfriend left him and their son in pursuit of her own happiness. Regardless of what she may have found, she wasn’t there to experience the joy that came as a result of Chris’ perseverance. The purpose of life isn’t to try to be happy; its to love and be loved. To love God and love others is the greatest purpose to which we can aspire and the only one that will ultimately bring us lasting joy—in addition to plenty of real happiness.
So whenever you feel a sense of happiness or the sting of disappointment, remember the true purpose of your life is found in the love you give to others more than the happiness you may or may not experience in this moment. Whether its in relation to your job, your family relationships, or your stuff, sometimes its OK to be unhappy on your path to serving a greater purpose.
When was a time you were on the receiving end of someone’s self-sacrifice?
If you love dogs you have to watch this video. It will put a smile on your face for sure!
My father-in-law worked for an airline in their baggage department for forty three years. His job consisted of loading and unloading luggage and various tasks that go along with that process. It was a good job that offered decent pay, good benefits, and a flexible work schedule. I remember asking him how he managed to stay at a job so long since most people don’t really do that anymore. He described it as a good job with a steady paycheck that allowed him to be home with his family regularly and be involved with his kids’ school and sports activities. The most interesting thing he said was that he never really took his work home with him—once he was home for the day or weekend, he didn’t really think or worry about work. Obviously, he thought about what time he had to leave the next day or when he was going to request days off, but he didn’t let his work spill over into his family life.
I don’t know if it was the type of work he did or just the type of person he is, but what my father-in-law describes is rarely true for most people. More often than not, people let their work life affect their home life and their home life affect their work life. I am one of those people and I’ve seen this play out in my own life as well as in others both for better and for worse. Maybe you can relate…
Lets start with for worse
- having a bad day at work always equals a bad evening at home
- disagreements with your boss or coworkers often leads to petty arguments with your spouse
- You often find yourself depressed and/or irritated on Sundays (or the day before you go back to work)
- Its difficult for you to enjoy vacation or days off because you dread returning to work
- When you’re dissatisfied with your work, you tend to feel dissatisfied with your marriage
- You feel embarrassment or shame when you think about your spouse or kids seeing you at work
- When you return home from work, you feel like you have nothing left to give to those you love
- When you’re talking to your family or friends, you often feel disengaged or distracted
- Your job keeps you away from your family for long periods of time
- Your family’s daily routine doesn’t include you because you’re so rarely available
- When you have an argument with your spouse it often affects how you relate to coworkers
What does for better even look like?
- Your work boosts your confidence and makes you a more pleasant spouse and parent
- Your work energizes you
- You are often excited to share your work with others, including your family
- Your job provides well financially, but also allows you to be with your family and involved in your kids activities
- You feel valued and respected both at work and at home
- Since you rarely worry about work, you can be more engaged with your spouse, your kids, and friends when you’re with them
- Your love for your family drives you to do your job well
- You believe your marriage actually makes you a better employee
Which of the above—better or worse—do you relate to most?
Of course its not always cut and dry, but I’ll assume that you resonated with more of the worse than the better. I’ll also assume you know that you’re not alone. Most people in real life see their work affect their family negatively more often than not and vice versa. Maybe you don’t recognize that argument with your wife had nothing to do with her and everything to do with your boss. Or maybe your poor performance at work is really be caused by the turmoil in your marriage. I’ve seen marriages end in large part because of the husband’s crazy work schedule he wasn’t willing to give up. I’ve seen businesses lose customers and fail because of the negative influence of infidelity and broken marriages. I’ve heard of many people losing jobs as a direct result of letting their personal life influence their work negatively. Maybe you’re in a situation right now in which you fear some of these things happening or maybe you have already experienced them first-hand. Either way, if want to avoid these negative consequences or start changing them, I believe there are three main areas where you must focus your attention.
- TimeTime is the only currency we can never get more of or store up to use later. Our time is far more valuable than money and we never know when our time in this life is up. Therefore, its extremely important that we spend our time wisely and give plenty of it to the things—and people—that matter most. The amount of time we spend working is always going to be significant, but it shouldn’t rob us of quality time with our family. I know some jobs require more time than others and maybe yours even keeps you away from home a lot. If this has created a problem in your marriage or in your relationship with your kids, you need to make a change. That may mean changing your shift, taking a different position, or changing jobs altogether. You don’t have to quit today—or maybe you do—but if you want your work and your family to improve, you do need to evaluate your priorities, consider your options, and communicate with your family.
- Attitude and BeliefsYour attitude toward work and your family will always affect your evaluation of them. And your attitude is rooted in your beliefs. If you think your boss is a moron, for example, its probably because you believe you are smarter or could do the job better. Your beliefs influence your attitude and your attitude determines your actions. Attitude is also closely connected with your mood; a good attitude can put you in a good mood, but a bad attitude usually yields frequent bad moods. If you want your work and your family to improve, evaluate your attitude and analyze your beliefs.
- Money Why are you working in the first place? You work for the money but ultimately that’s not good enough. All too often we fall into the cycle of working to provide money for our family, but neglect to provide some of the more important things. Getting paid for our work is great, but a paycheck will never truly satisfy. Its often said the more you make, the more you spend—and I’ve found this to be true in my own life. How is it that I used to live on half as much as I do now, yet now I’m just getting by? If you spend your money wisely and manage your personal finances well, you will have more flexibility in the kind of work you do and the amount of time you spend doing it. If you manage money poorly, you will find yourself working more hours and making more money, but still feeling poor. This usually leads to a poor attitude at work and at home and ends up in burnout. If you want your work and your family to improve, consider why you really work, evaluate your spending, and create a budget and stick to it.
Now that you have considered how your work affects your family—through your time, attitudes and beliefs, and your money—its time to take action. If you really want to see positive changes in your work and your family, its imperative that you actually take some time to evaluate your current situation accurately and make a plan for the change you want to see. Take 5 minutes today to actually write down your thoughts. Then make time to talk to your spouse this evening if possible, and talk to your boss this week. Your life may not change overnight, but if you will take one small step today and another tomorrow and decide in your heart to never give up again, you will see that a better way of life is much closer than you realized.
In what other ways does your work affect your family? Do you have any good stories or practical tips to share on this topic?
(I’m using this random video to test out my video uploading abilities.) Me and my wife saw this nice sized bear a few weeks ago while out driving. As she was trying to get a good picture of it, I jokingly said to her, “why don’t you put down the window and ask it to come closer?”