What is your life’s purpose? Does thinking about that question cause you to break out in cold sweats as you find it more and more difficult to breathe? Relax – I understand the panic about finding ‘who you are’, ‘what you’re meant to do’, ‘what direction should you go?’ and other perplexing thoughts, and so do thousands of other people. Today, the Denver Post ran an article about “The Sophomore Slump” in college, discussing how “sophomores feel anxiety about choosing life direction, deciding on a career path and picking a major; social pressure to find their place on campus, losing high-school friendship ties, questioning their identity and developing autonomy from parents.” All of this can cause anxiety and depression. Whew! That’s a long list of life-defining choices, and, as the article states and many of us have experienced, after the excitement of freshman year wears off we are often left to wonder: who am I? What I would like to share with them: “Relax! Enjoy college, follow your dreams, and you will find your place.”
These questions do not only hit at sophomore year of college. In fact, they can cycle into our lives at many different intervals. For some, these questions come to surface after college graduation as we wonder if we should go to graduate school or hit the job market. Due to economic strains and new opportunities in education, an increasing number of the adult population is embarking upon a midlife career change and these questions can spark and ignite fire: what are my core values? what are my personal strengths? which career path will make me feel most fulfilled? what other parts of my life have purpose — having a family, a home, spending time traveling the world? How do I make all of these fit into my reality, and how can they co-exist in a balanced way?
The Post’s article describes the “sophomore slump”, a time of transition between ‘new-and-exciting freshman year’ and adjusting to the pressures of making life decisions and managing growing responsibilities. It’s the year of finding purpose…or at least poking around for it. I remember my sophomore year of college vividly. I was following my passion and studying European history, but there was a persistent malaise brewing underneath my daily consciousness that whispered to me: “you know that this is not going to turn into a career for you. You do not want to be a history teacher. What are you going to do with this degree?”. I felt both overwhelmed and inspired by all of the opportunities presented to me in college, both academically and socially. I could choose from hundreds of courses to take and further my budding curiosity. I could choose to join the tennis team, or participate in theatre. It was like high school exemplified and glorified; so many choices, combined with my highly anxious and perfectionistic perspective, made me want to crawl in a hole and hide away at times.
How do we deal with the pressure to “be our best person”, to “make lots of money so that we can buy a house, a car, a trip to Europe”? And why do we need to listen to the messages that society tells us, saying that we need to do these things? Peer pressure much? Many people get stuck in jobs and careers that they are not passionate about because they have so many financial obligations that need to be met. What if you could meet those needs, as well as meet the needs of your soul and spirit — find a direction in life that is inspiring and energizing, a purpose that feels like home?
This may involve taking a risk. If you are able to do so, I encourage you to take that risk. Risk following your passion, pursuing your purpose. Have you always loved creating artistic pieces of jewelry but didn’t believe that it could ‘be a career’? Try selling some of your pieces and committing yourself to the process of feeling it out as a possible life transition. When we let go of some of the things that hold us back and stifle our energy, we may find that the world is open and ready for us to channel that passion into our authentic selves.
I took a risk and went to graduate school for something completely unrelated to my previous schooling focus. As I embarked on this new pursuit, that voice came back to me, and instead of whispering it shouted: “Here, you belong. You have found your place!” But it took many years of learning, experimenting, trying on different hats for my life’s purpose to finally be ready to surface. I believe that these unique experiences, in their somewhat unexplainable process, knew where they were leading me all along. I just needed to open up my heart to welcome my purpose. What do you need to do?