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Where are we going without it?
Have you ever watched a young child figure out how to use features on your phone that you never knew existed? What’s their secret? How do they manage to find those buttons and widgets that were hiding from us in plain sight?
Young children are aware of two secrets that we as grown-ups need to relearn.
Secret #1 is Play. Play is the highly enjoyable state of being in which a person is fully absorbed in an activity, freely experimenting within the rules of the game towards the self-contained purpose of that activity. The skateboarder doing tricks plays around — first she tries leaning forward more, then backwards more, bending knees more, bending knees less — everything matters towards nailing the trick — the question is which combination is best. She’ll keep trying until she gets it.
The same is true with my five year old on my phone. She becomes totally engrossed in the fun of sending emojis and gifs to her aunt Sarita. She can’t read yet, but she will play around until she figures out that the gif button is tucked into the right side of the text box as a light gray icon (did you know that by the way?).
Secret #2 is Purpose. Underlying the state of play is a rich sense of purpose, which has usually been ingrained into the player’s instincts and intuitions. It is precisely what allows them to play. Unlike adults, who have been anti-trained to assume many things have no reasons, children by default assume everything has a reason for being there, which is why they infamously and relentlessly ask:
“Where does _____ come from?”
However, if and when adults blow them off by barking at them — “because that’s just the way it is!” and “because I said so” — eventually, the sense of the purpose-of-all-things becomes muted, and they move ever closer towards becoming jaded adults.
Our mental operating systems are programmed with purpose. When a child spots a tiny triangle at the bottom of the phone screen, he will not ignore it. He will invariably assume it does something. He’ll tap it, double click it, press and hold it, and swipe it in all directions until he figures out what it does.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the human mind intuitively applies the same logic to ourselves. As we discover our bodies, personalities, natural strengths, and spiritual abilities, we instinctually, and I believe rightly assume that they were given to us to do something with them. And the more we appreciate how magnificent our gifts are, and how deep in our soul they run, the more epic we realize that something must be.
Every person senses that their gifts were given to them not to gather dust, but latent with the energetic, outward momentum of purpose. We all feel somewhere in our psyches that we have what to give — that our gifts are meant to be given to others, and ironically that only when we pay them forward, that’s when we truly feel them as being ours.
Every person has a nagging sense that he or she is here to do something. Some people learn to ignore it, some figure out how to occupy themselves perpetually to be distracted from it, some people just let themselves become anxious about it, can’t sleep thinking about it, others simply sad that they’ve never found the courage to pursue it, and then there are those people who lean into the question of what their purpose is, and commit to living according to their best understanding of it.
I believe that personal purpose today is grossly misunderstood. Many young people I meet are under the impression that finding their purpose is synonymous with creating a start-up or having a viral youtube channel. Purpose must be so much more than this. The proof is that when people hit these coveted benchmarks, the longing for purpose doesn’t go away. It’s usually deepened. “Success” highlights our profound desire for orienting our gifts towards a purpose that is eternally worth pursuing.
May we relearn what we knew as children — that everything has its purpose. That life has purpose beyond our wildest imaginations. And that we have purpose.
And may we have fun figuring out how we can give with every single one of our gifts in a way that does justice to the magnificent meaning with which they were given to us.