What if I don't know what my "purpose" is in life?

I vividly remember being in high school and having this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that I really needed to know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I read “What Color is Your Parachute” (twice) and filled out the corresponding workbook and I enthusiastically completed all the surveys our guidance counselor recommended in hopes that it would give me my Answer to life’s grandest question: What Is Your Purpose? What are you here on this Earth to accomplish, create, carry out, cure, do?

Of course, the only answers I got from these books and quizzes were varied and unrelated, which only confused me more. One test said I should be a social worker, while another recommended “business owner” (vague), and still another mentioned teacher, which has been the predominant thread that runs through everything I’ve done in my career so far (so they weren’t too far off!). It seemed many of my friends in high school had a fairly good idea what they would be going to college for, while others (like me) planned on majoring in something general like Communications and then “figuring it out” at a later date.

(Side note: college was a non-negotiable for me and everyone in my friend circle. The thought of not going to college was not only looked down upon, but unheard of. I don’t agree with this line of thinking and definitely don’t think college should be expected for everyone. I’m a great example of someone who is currently not using any of my degrees and if I ever have children of my own, they’re gonna have to convince me why they want to go to college in the first place. We need to stop pressuring kids into going into thousands of dollars worth of debt for degrees they don’t really care about. Ok, end rant.)

I guess you could say my parachute was multi-colored, and according to Michelle Obama, that’s quite alright. In her book Becoming, she says,

“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child— What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

But now, at 34, with an undergraduate degree in Spanish, a Masters in education, and multiple certifications in everything from yoga to health coaching to aromatherapy, and experience in retail, education, health, non-profits, and food & bev, I still have no clue what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve had multiple quarter life crises trying to find the answer to that one question and the more I pushed and tried and forced the answer to come, the more frustrated and depressed I got.

What if I don’t have just One and Only Almighty Purpose and Passion Forever and Always that I should be working diligently toward? Throughout my life I’ve had many things I’m interested in all at the same time and often felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day to pursue all of them. So I’ve sorta become a Jackie of all Trades, Master of None, and only until very recently have I become not only okay with that, but proud of it.

I recently listened to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, on one of Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations about what she refers to as the “curiosity-driven life” and she summed it up perfectly. Basically, there are two types of people in the world: the Jackhammers and the Hummingbirds.

The Jackhammers, which is what Gilbert says she is, are the people who know at a fairly young age exactly what they want to do in life and then go after it with gusto. They’re very clear on what their passion is and stay focused on that one thing for most of their life without ever veering too far off that path. They’re driven, passionate, and have a single-pointed focus. They can also have a hard time understanding the Hummingbirds…

Which brings me to the Hummingbirds (i.e. ME)…

Hummingbirds have many topics they’re curious about and interested in, but don’t feel like they have One True Purpose that’s guiding their life. They can sometimes feel scattered, flighty, or frustrated with their Jackhammer friends who seem to have it all figured out. They’ll often follow a passion only to find out they don’t feel so passionate about it after all. And then they’re back at square one feeling defeated and defective because they just can’t seem to crack the Purpose Code, despite all the soul searching and personal developing they’re doing trying to figure it out.

According to Gilbert, “Hummingbirds spend their lives doing it very differently. They move from tree to tree, from flower to flower, from field to field, trying this, trying that,” Gilbert says. “Two things happen: They create incredibly rich, complex lives for themselves, and they also end up cross-pollinating the world.”

When I heard THAT, I literally breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! Someone gets me! I’m a Hummingbird! And I don’t have to be *bullied into thinking that I’m somehow defective or less-than because I don’t feel like I have One True Purpose. It’s fine to have many things you’re curious about and to follow them all at the same time. In fact, like Gilbert, I encourage you to. You may not follow through with many of them, but those little sparks of curiosity are serving you. And who knows… by following those bread crumbs, they just might lead you to your Purpose… (aha!).

*To clarify, no one has ever actually “bullied” me about not having One True Purpose in life. It’s just a figment of my imagination. I’m very aware that I’m my own worst bully in my own mind.

Katie Daehler