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Family Counseling: Finding Your Life’s Purpose

This fall, many recent high school graduates headed off to college. There, each will attempt to discover a life purpose that will make them happy, motivate them to achieve some higher goal, and help them discover their self-worth. Indeed, finding a purpose in life is a task for all of us.

To seek your purpose, ask yourself some questions: What challenges me? Do I have an untapped passion or skill? What areas do I want to explore — including those that involve a different direction than previously considered? Is there a person or event that has inspired me to pursue a specific course? What do I find enjoyable or exciting?

As many who have tried can attest, finding a life purpose can be difficult. You may be surprised when or where a life purpose reveals itself. A person I know watched a TV special about aluminum, which prior to the show, was a topic he had never thought about. He quickly realized that he had no skills or education in this area; he required knowledge in metals and experience in sales to advance. To gain the necessary background, he acquired an internship that helped him confirm that he had found his particular purpose. Besides education, he also sought out a mentor who had already found success in his desired field.

Beyond knowledge and skills, you need appropriate demeanor and attitude. That is, having a temperament that is proportionate to the job demands, as well as being tolerant of others who are not as far along on their search for a purpose.

Moreover, learn to become a self-starter who demonstrates initiative and motivation. Show that you are someone who can work independently with little or no supervision. Any of these competencies will expand your opportunities, moving you closer to your purpose.

For centuries, children have followed in the line of work of their forbearers; their purpose, therefore, was predetermined. This is easily noted in family names like Tailor, Cooper or Smith. Even today, many children go into the family business or take on the family profession.

The movie Punchline, starring Tom Hanks, demonstrated this reality well. Hanks’ character is in medical school only because everyone in his family are doctors. Unmotivated as a medical student, he aspires to be a standup comedian. Similarly, Sally Fields plays a stay-at-home mom who also wants to move beyond her humdrum life to make standup comedy her life purpose. Eventually, both choose comedy despite what their families think.

Ironically, some people don’t think they have much to offer, so they never explore the idea of a life’s purpose. In fact, they often reject such a search out of hand. They may take low-level positions below their abilities to assuage any fear of success. Yet, desire and ambition can counter self-doubt. Especially at entry-level positions, hard work and a positive outlook can bring untapped talents or instincts to the fore.

In our time, most people have the freedom to choose their life’s purpose with little question or influence of others. Selecting a purpose can be scary, particularly if one’s choice conflicts with family expectations or others’ opinions.

Some people yearn for that “one big break,” find it hard to imagine that there will be numerous opportunities to realize their purpose. Many change direction multiple times, even in older age. Others find an encore career, their real purpose, when they approach retirement. Artist Anna “Grandma” Moses, for example, didn’t begin to paint until she was 78.

No matter where you are in life, find a purpose that will provide you with happiness and esteem. When you invest in yourself, you can achieve the goals on which to construct your life. Take on this challenge.

Daniel Rosenbaum, Ph.D., LMSW

Dr. Daniel Rosenbaum is a clinical social worker at Counseling Associates Inc. in West Bloomfield, where he counsels children, teens and adults experiencing family or personal psychological problems.

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