The Surprising Power of Purposelessness

Mar 27, 2018


If I had a dollar for every woman who has asked me to help her find her purpose,

I would be a “six figure coach.”  Ha!


There was a time when women would ask me this

and I would practically salivate.


After all, I felt as though I had found my purpose,

and it felt really good.


I thought it would also feel really good to help other people find theirs.

I wrote blog posts about purpose, and hell, I still have a (yet to be edited!) exercise in my online program, SeaCHANGE, that is all about finding your purpose.


But I’ve changed my tune.  Here’s why:



Most of the women who have come to me searching for their purpose have been in deep distress.

They feel lost, aimless, and sometimes even worthless because they don’t know why they’re here.  Like, on earth.

There are a great many coaches and other entrepreneurs who actually kind of love hearing this from potential clients.  In marketing speak, this kind of distress is called a “pain point,” and the deeper the pain, often, the deeper the pockets of the person who will do anything to resolve it.

It’s no surprise, then, that a great deal of money is spent by a great number of folks to convince us that we all need a purpose and you suck if you don’t know your purpose, and knowing your purpose will magically solve all your problems.


In working with so many women who want to find their purpose, I’ve noticed a few key themes (other than generalized feelings of despair and confusion):


–>  They often define their purpose in terms of finding occupational bliss.  That is, they feel as though they will find their purpose through their work.

–>  When probed further, women’s desire to find their purpose often has more to do with how they define themselves and, albeit perhaps unconsciously, their social utility, in the world.  Having a purpose, for many, is about having a smart one-liner about what they were put on earth to do.

Snappy categories like this are valued by our capitalist society where we witness, thousands of times a day, various companies and entrepreneurs attempting to sum up their purpose quickly and dynamically so as to stand out in a flooded market.  But snappy categories aren’t just about selling goods and services:  they’re about being able to succinctly define who you are and therefore where you belong (and that you belong).

And we all want to belong.


But here’s the thing.

I don’t know about you, but as I get older and possibly wiser, I have less and less tolerance for thoughts, behaviours, people, circumstances and cultural messages that cause suffering toward me and the people I love and work with.


And so I started questioning the idea of purpose.


The underlying narrative that I was hearing as I was holding space for the pain of women’s experiences of purposelessness was

I am not enough.

And I recognized that narrative immediately.

It’s the one that is incessantly perpetuated by the patriarchal, capitalistic culture within which we live.


The idea that we need a purpose in life

(and that we need to define it in some way)

is fundamentally rooted in the idea that we aren’t worth much to the world if we don’t have one.

It’s rooted in the idea that just being isn’t good enough.

That we must do and achieve and hustle for our worth.



And don’t get me wrong:  it is really lovely to see people who are on purpose.  People who are singularly focused on a personal mission are awe-some to witness.  They do good things in the world.

But I think it’s time for the rest of us to stop thinking we’re somehow not as good as they are.

That we’re lost

and value-less.

That we need to justify our existence to the rest of the world.


Because I also think Purpose can be incredibly limiting.

–>  Purpose’s common association with vocation is a remnant of our work-and-productivity driven culture, and ignores the value of all the other incredibly important roles we play as mothers, activists, friends, community members, makers, and sisters.

–>  Purpose ignores our complexity.  It asks us to oversimplify our talents, curiosities, experiences, and capabilities.

–>  Purpose feels really big, and big things are hard to move.  It’s natural for us to evolve (and it’s kind of boring when we don’t), and being attached to Purpose as a Definition of Self can manifest feelings of failure and crisis if, due to completely normal shifts in our life circumstances and worldviews, your so-coveted Purpose no longer resonates.


And so I wonder what it would feel like to delete “Find My Purpose” from your to-do list


and start wondering if maybe you’re good enough as you are.

Just you

taking out the garbage, making a lasagna for a friend in need, reading to your children.

Maybe the idea of this feels freeing


but it could also feel scary.  

After all, we have enormous amounts of social conditioning and personal narrative that warn us against the despondency of purposelessness.


But if there’s any part of you that senses, as I do,

that purposelessness may actually be more powerful

more full of possibility

than a life spent searching for something that might happen

outside of the sacred mundane

of taking out the garbage, tending to a friend in need, raising children

then I wonder...


What might happen if you embrace the surprising power of purposelessness?