To begin with, I searched “finding your purpose.”
After a lifetime of not knowing, it’s the kind of thing you want to shorthand, so naturally I was drawn to How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes. Here’s the gist of it (though you might want to check out Steve Pavlina’s post for a Bruce Lee anecdote, not to mention a pretty terrific blog).
You write at the top of a piece of paper, “What is my true purpose in life?”
Then you write down the first thing that comes to mind. Then the second thing that comes to mind. The third, and the fourth, and so on. In fact, you don’t stop until the thing you write down makes you cry.
Here’s the one that got me: “Forgive myself for being imperfect.”
Great. One more reason to feel guilty.
Where is the love in forgiving myself for being imperfect?
I believe The Beatles — that all you need is love — so it stands to reason all I do (i.e., my life’s purpose) should be to that end. But where is the love in forgiving myself for being imperfect? Yes, it’s loving myself, but shouldn’t my purpose in life include loving other people, too?
Granted, this is just an exercise that could very well be wrong. Maybe my true purpose is something completely different. Maybe there’s a part two that will come after a semi-colon. Because as it stands, this purpose has none of the selflessness (i.e., love) I want my true purpose to include.
Or does it?
If I can forgive myself for being imperfect, I can go through life as me, no apologies. Telling the truth about myself – here, there, and everywhere. I can drop my guard and let people see the real me and find true intimacy. And I can more easily forgive others of their imperfections, too.
I like to think all of that that would inspire other people to do the same, a loving act all around.
In fact, this purpose of mine probably couldn’t be any more closely aligned with love thanks to one of my nastiest mistaken beliefs:
Being imperfect = Being undeserving of love.
And as long as I believe the real me is undeserving of love, I’m probably not going to show you mine until you show me yours first. Otherwise I’m risking rejection, which will only reinforce that mistaken belief that my imperfect self isn’t good enough to be loved. But here’s the thing about that….
If that’s how relationships were meant to operate, how would we ever experience any real intimacy at all?
I don’t dare love them more than they love me
If everyone only moved as much toward me as I moved toward them, outside of my family I’m not sure I’d have any meaningful relationships at all.
And I don’t just mean romantic love. This goes for friendships too.
If I’m making more of an effort than them, I must be mistaken about the depth of our relationship. If I’m the one texting, calling, or initiating plans most of the time, it must mean I love them more than they love me, and that hurts.
Of course, that’s ridiculous. Maybe in some cases it’s true, but not across the board. Because I’m not the only person in the world scared of rejection. I may feel limited in my ability to reach out to other people, but some of those other people may feel even more limited than me. Or they’re busy. Or they have different expectations of relationships than I do.
I miss friendships that just happen
I miss how easy it used to be, making friends before self-consciousness set in.
It all came so easily with my 1st-grade best friend, Lisa. My 3rd-grade best friend, Kellie. My 5th-grade best friend, Audrey. My 9th-grade best friend, Brandy.
Those friendships just happened. But in high school, college, and ever since, friendships have required effort. And by effort, I mean making myself talk to people when all I really want to do is crawl into a hole. That’s my social anxiety for you – fear that I’m not fun, funny, smart, interesting, or cool enough to be someone other people want to be with, much less love.
Unfortunately, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When all you’re worried about is how you’re coming across to people in a conversation, you can come across as someone who’s disconnected from what’s actually going on. That’s not fun, funny, smart, interesting, or cool. It’s uncomfortable.
Or, you come across just fine, with people telling you they’d never guess you have a problem with anxiety; it’s just you that it’s driving crazy, preventing you from enjoying yourself in social situations that others apparently think you’re enjoying plenty. In a way, that feels even worse, because it means they’re not seeing the real you, for which you have no one to blame but yourself.
I tried to be an extrovert
For half my life, I used alcohol to get over my social anxiety. (I’ve been sober since December 22, 2009.)
When I moved away to college, I tried to be an extrovert and, for the most part, it worked out okay. Drinking helped, but that was college for you, meaning it wasn’t evident at the time I had a drinking problem. I still felt awkward, like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. But I joined a sorority, acted in school plays, and built a foundation of friendships with women who managed to get to know the real me.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 2010, I only knew a couple of people, so I tried to repeat the forced extroversion process – as a sober person, mind you – introducing myself to strangers, throwing parties, and just generally being a social butterfly. I managed to form a group of girlfriends this way, but it was an inauthentic persona I couldn’t keep up and the majority of those friendships have since faded away.
I was too uncomfortable to carry on
The beginning of romantic relationships has always come a little easier, as it’s customary and perfectly acceptable for the girl to let the guy make the first move. So with the exception of drunken flirtations back in the day, that’s what I’ve usually done.
It’s in the early stages of a developing romance where things have gotten murky.
I’m in a committed relationship now, but in the past if I sensed that I liked a guy more than he liked me, I was too uncomfortable to carry on, at least for very long. Yet, if every guy I’ve ever dated would have done that – bailed because he sensed he liked me more than I liked him – I might never have fallen in love at all.
But what about when you’re really in the thick of it – when you’re in love, and it feels like you’re loving each other equally? What a relief and a comfort that is. It’s also terrifying because, as every break-up has taught us, the balance of love can always shift.
Then you’re back out there, looking for love.
I don’t believe a woman needs a man, so it’s an unsettling feeling to be single and find yourself behaving otherwise.
Since I was 14 years old, the times I’ve been single have almost always felt wrong. Whether it’s what I was seeing in the media, hearing from my girlfriends, or making up in my own head, whatever my purpose was when I was half of a couple suddenly took a backseat when I was alone, as it was time to make room for the almighty purpose of finding love again.
Why did that feel so wrong, if the highest purpose is love? Because it felt desperate I guess, based on the lie that I’m not enough on my own.
It’s not a question of love, but personality
Family is a whole different animal, immediate and extended. There are definitely those of us who reach out to one another more than others, but it’s so ingrained in the way our family has always worked, that it’s a given and not something to be fought against. We may talk about it, and wish it were different, but we don’t expect it to change.
More to the point, I wouldn’t end a relationship with a family member because I think I love them more than they love me. In fact, it’s not a question of their love for me, but a question of their personality. (Now if only I could put that wisdom to work outside of family.)
How do I get there?
How do I forgive myself for being imperfect so I can lay a path for the highest purpose…love?
First, I accept it will probably take my entire life.
Third, I take more risks in relationships. Not in a forced extroverted sort of way, but in a quiet, courageous way that might be scary, but at least it’s me.
Fourth, I listen more. Not to the broken record of negative, deceitful voices in my head, but to the voices of real people who are capable, and deserving, of love.
How has the developing of relationships changed for you over the years? Do you find it harder now than when you were a kid, or just the opposite? Either way, how does it feel and why do you think that is?