Rudder broken?

Kari Swanson

Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and day you find out why”. Have you ever wondered why you were born? What you were placed on this earth for? What your purpose is?

Thomas Carlyle said “The person without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder”. A rudder is a flat piece hinged vertically near the stern of a boat or ship for steering. Have you ever felt that you were just drifting in life with no apparent destination or unsure where you were headed? Having a rudder allows for steering and helps to guarantee arrival at a destination. If your rudder breaks then you are free-floating in a big ocean where the destination ahead may not be where you want to end up. This can change the entire course of your life.

In my counseling sessions, over the years, I have encouraged people to find their purpose in this world. If you do not feel you have a purpose, that you matter in this world, that you have something to give, that you are a piece to the puzzle then oftentimes you lack motivation, a sense of belonging and self-goals. Do you want to exist or do you want to live with a purpose?

Living with a purpose is intentional. Some people have a clear vision of their purpose early on in life. It’s as if the path was laid out for them and they simply had to take the first step. However, for others, the vision is unclear and the path a little bumpy. Even those who seem to know the way have, at one time or another asked themselves the same question you may ask yourself: Is this the life I was meant to live?

Studies have shown that there are some key concepts that can be impactful in your quest to live with purpose. The first one is to pay attention. When you pay attention, you become an active participant in your life. You start to notice the things that make you happy and it’s easier to reject the things that don’t. Think back to a time when you felt fulfilled in life. This could go as far back as childhood. Then ask yourself: What were you doing? Who were you with? What emotions were you feeling? Did you have moments when you lost track of time because you were doing something you loved? Then use your relationships to help you identify your gifts. Take cues from what your friends, family, and co-workers have said or currently say regarding your skills and talents. When you hear the same thing several times from different people that may indicate a talent you have possibly overlooked. If you can recognize the common themes in your life, you will be able to access vital information that will help guide you toward finding purpose.

Sometimes rephrasing the question “What is my purpose?” to “Who is the person I am trying to become?” can help shift your perspective and open yourself up to an abundance of creative ideas and fulfilling experiences you may have never thought possible. Identifying characteristics and values that are important to you also help in finding a purposeful life. How can I use these values and characteristics to influence or help others? I think of high school seniors trying to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives. There are definitely people who at age 18 knew what they wanted to do and are currently doing that, but honestly, I believe the higher percentage goes to the people who thought they wanted to do something at 18 and are currently doing something completely different. It helps to take a look at the common themes you can identify that you are good at and visualize yourself as this person. Maybe you see yourself as a writer, or a teacher inspiring young minds or an entrepreneur starting that business you have always wanted. What do you look like when you are doing this? Are you happy, content, vibrant and surrounded by like-minded people? Are your important characteristics of being able to shine through?

A third concept is taking time for stillness. This is not an easy one in the world we currently live in. Everything feels fast. It seems nobody waits for anything anymore. My children will be still and they call that “boredom”. We are in a world of constant stimulation and busyness. Cultivating stillness and silence is a powerful way to restore your balance and energy. Figure out what stillness means for you. It could be taking a walk, reading a book, gardening, turning off gadgets, journaling or sitting in silence. I am someone that needs stillness. I get overwhelmed with too much stimulation. I thrive best when I am able to recharge by being still each day and I make that a priority for me because I know that is what works best for me. Whatever practice you prefer, it is important to access stillness every day, even if just for a few minutes. Accessing stillness creates inner clarity and expanded awareness that will help you discover yourself with greater ease and understanding. Helping the youth of today find stillness is important as their lives are very fast-paced and I am a believer that fast-paced lives can lead to anxiety because you are not giving yourself time to recharge and just be.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that you should “do one thing that scares you every day.” This is especially important when you are on the path to self-discovery. Living beyond your comfort zone helps you embrace uncertainty and unlock your true potential. If you say “yes” to projects, experiences, or activities that shake up your sense of security, that can lead to the discovery and confirmation of your talents. When you strive to live outside your comfort zone, you will find yourself confronting limiting beliefs that stem from fears. This is perfectly natural. Move through those fears knowing that you will come out the other end having grown as an individual who is closer to becoming the person you were meant to be. Full disclosure here, I am not good with this concept. I live in my bubble, I am happy in my bubble and I do not branch out of my comfort zone well including ordering different things off the menu! Maybe in 2020, I will start with ordering out of my comfort zone…hahahaha.

The last concept I want to discuss is giving back. Once you have discovered your unique gifts and talents, begin to think about how they can be shared with others. Sharing your life’s purpose will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Life functions with effortless ease when you allow yourself to not only receive but also to give. Many people live with limiting beliefs they learned while growing up. Now is the time to let go of such conditioned thought patterns and open up to new possibilities. Allow yourself to be conscious of what makes your heart sing and do that.

My wish for you as we approach a new year is that you repair a broken rudder and allow yourself to steer your ship to the destination of your choice. Happy 2020.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.


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