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Updated: Aug 23, 2023

How I Escaped the Optical Illusion of Purpose

Purpose. A reason for being. The thing that gets you up in the morning. Ikigai. The dictionary definition of purpose is “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”

I’m going to share a secret with you. Nobody knows how, and what life should be. Yet we are taught from a young age that we “should” know certain things. Between age 16 and 18 we are made to choose school subjects based on the next few years of our education that will then lead us to what we will have as a career. A career that is supposed to last a lifetime. We are also influenced by family, friends, strangers, and the media that success, happiness and purpose mean getting married, having children, buying a house, buying a car. The list goes on, outlined by society. I myself bought into this view of purpose. I had a full time job. I got married. I bought a house, and then had a daughter. I have no regrets about this, as each day I lived my purpose of being a good mother, earning money to help support my family, and enjoying being with my friends and family. I’m not saying any of these “reasons for living” were wrong. I just didn’t realize I was living an optical illusion of purpose.

I now live on a thirty-four foot boat, nothing grand, just a practical space that makes me happy while providing everything I need. I moved from the UK to California to start a new life, now living in the states for eleven years, on my boat for the last five. A friend, who lives in the UK, came to visit me recently and asked when I would be getting a bigger boat. She went on to explain that a bigger boat would not only mean extra space, but also represent to society that I had more wealth and success. And the higher I looked in society’s eyes, the more opportunities I may receive and the more items I could afford. As she spoke, I realized what she was getting at. She was buying into the optical illusion of what society believes success is, representing the illusion that many of us are faced with. But in reality, I was already happy living my creative purpose, no matter the size of my boat.

I believe we have the ability to step away from our society’s illusion of what purpose and success are.

Almost everyone is influenced from a young age to live a certain way. We are led to believe the illusion of what happiness, success, and purpose should look like. With the right mindfulness tools, I was able to break down this illusion for me and finally live a healthier, more truthful lifestyle.

Purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once personally meaningful, and at the same time, leads to productive engagement with some aspect of the world beyond the self.” — Anonymous

When looking at your own life for your purpose, it is simplest to look at what you love. Love can be an immeasurable, irrational bond that has the power to break through society’s illusion of “right” and point you towards your true purpose.

I can remember every detail of my midlife transformation (aka my midlife crisis) at age 40. I’ve always been different. I thought it wasn’t a good thing when I was growing up. I didn’t understand why I did things differently or thought about things from a different lens. I simply kept trying to “fit” into society. It wasn’t until I looked at my life and what I truly loved as an adult that the materialistic things in my life fell away and all that was left were my daughter, my dog, my creative spirit and a few joyous possessions. Taking a necessary pause to understand myself, I found my truth. This led me to realise my authentic values and my beliefs. I finally understood what made me tick: freedom and flexibility. What was equally important was discovering what I didn’t like or enjoy or when I felt fear. I learned what sucked my energy and was then able to live intentionally in my true purpose.

So how did I actually break down that illusion?

1. Self reflection (on happiness, purpose and idea of success)

I reflected on myself in various ways: Going paddleboarding, being in nature, reading, writing, and general solitary time. I thought about what truly makes me happy, what I felt called to do with my uninfluenced heart, and what success I wanted to achieve along my ever-changing journey.

If looking for your purpose, keep in mind that your purpose doesn’t always correlate with something you’re “good” at. Part of the optical illusion is that your purpose should be something that society has told you you’re good at, something you started to follow by a certain age, and/or something specific in the way that you do it. You may be a natural talent with your purpose, but don’t write off your true purpose if you aren’t.

2. Adjustment of life

Once finding my purpose, I had to sync my outer life to reflect it. I removed the pressure to constantly prove my worth to others. I stopped forcing myself to go to parties and social events for exposure & false hope and instead looked inward for self-validation and confirmation that I was following my purpose.

This can be hard for many. There is a possible risk to shifting one’s life, but the reward can be greater than the risk. The more interwoven with others and outside aspects, the harder the adjustment will be. Remember that some shifts might not be visible to others, but can still have a profound impact on your life. A life adjustment could be anything from a career change to telling someone “no”.

3. More mental check-ins

Now living in my purpose, I still have to ensure I continue to be truthful with myself and my intentions. Along the way, I’ve reassessed friendships and relationships to weed out those I was using for selfish gain. I’ve had to push forward despite huge doubts from myself and society. I’ve pushed through fear and panic with the unknown to keep living in my truth.

Constant check-ins are necessary to ensure you keep perspective by not placing unattainable expectations on yourself or being drawn back into society’s illusion.

At the end of my friend’s trip, once she had experienced my life on my boat, seeing how I truly happily lived, her comments shifted. Representing society’s illusion, my friend’s views had shifted upon seeing me live in my truth. Rather than be influenced by outside forces to change who I was, I stayed in my truth and society eventually accepted me.

The optical illusion of purpose can be altered. Just look at my life now. Stay in your truth and your reason for being. Hold tight to your reason for getting up in the morning. It may not always be easy if your purpose is fr from society’s illusion, but you will live a happier, more truthful life living in your purpose. If we only have this life, why let an illusion trick you into being anyone but yourself?

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