My past year has been made up of bad days (when I felt utter despair about the state of the humanity) and good days (when I felt slightly less utter despair about it). I’ve awoken on countless mornings confronting a sense of powerlessness. A feeling that despite statistical proof that things are getting better, we’re taking five steps back for each one step forward. And I don’t think I’m alone in the harsh realization that there aren’t any heroes coming to save the day. If there are to be heroes, they will have to be us.
Knowing this, I’m more motivated than ever to carve out my own little corner of positive impact on the world. But for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to be born with an all-consuming passion or clear understanding of our reason for being, how do we figure it out?
Whenever I picture the quest for self, I imagine a hermit, climbing up his mountain in the dark, guided by a small light. I envision solitude and quiet making way for epiphany and inspiration. Journaling and meditation offering a map for impact. But somehow, as I traversed the path to purpose, all I felt was alone (which seems strange, given how many of us are struggling with these universal questions around why we are here).
Having self taught my way through high school, traveled in a couple dozen countries on my own, and worked from home for several years, I thought I knew the ins and outs of all the self stuff. But digging in to dreams and aspirations, fears and insecurities, offers access to whole new layer of loneliness. Taking time and space away from all the milestones can leave us without tangible proof that we are on the right path. And what if we don’t have the luxury of leaving our day job? What if we’ve got a maxed out schedule, with no appointments left to hole up with our inner awareness for weeks on end?
It wasn’t until I started gathering groups of people to explore these very personal questions that I realized the search for self is social. By that, I mean two things:
- Becoming self aware enough to discover your purpose is for the social good.
- It’s much easier to endure the inconvenient search for self when you’ve got company.
We get fit with our friends. We learn to write and read and do math with them. We worship together. We dine and drink and dance together. We travel and get sober and lose weight in groups. We sweat our way through Soulcycle, pilates, swim aerobics, and soccer practice with others. But when we search for our purpose we are a party of one. (Unless, of course, we are rich enough to have a therapist and a life coach and a week long meditation retreat in Costa Rica to help guide the way.) Why do we think one of the most fundamental journeys of our life must be a solo one? Maybe the reason so few of us have found our purpose is because it’s too hard to do it alone.
What if we practiced our self-awareness like we practice our hobbies, on lunch breaks with friends and captured in selfies when we reach a goal? Or if companies offered ‘group help’ sessions as part of career development? And set aside physical space for it, like the corporate gym or the airport meditation room?
What if our colleges had emotional fitness centers? And finding our Ikigai and intrinsic motivation was like going to a cooking class. But instead of recipes, we got questions and exercises to journal on together? And we talked about our answers, the process, and what we are learning with others?
The world desperately needs people to fulfill their purpose. To step up and use their unique experiences and talents and passions to create meaning and positive impact. It’s in no one’s interest for the search for self to be something that only a privileged few can afford.
And to be clear, I’m not suggesting that we don’t need some “me time” as we delve into self discovery — you won’t get very far without that. But after you’ve dug deep inside, be sure to share with others. The search for self is social. Don’t do it alone.
Kacy is a recovering education and employment innovator. She can be found in Santa Monica, CA, working on her book Burn the Ladder at odd hours, in strange places, and on the random scraps of paper she finds when inspiration hits. Follow her on Twitter for updates about the book and links to self-discovery questions.