But what shapes a person's life if they don't know their true purpose? We all have two purposes in life; two powerful forces that can shape our lives at any given moment. One becomes formed early in our lives, from about the time we start to talk to our mid-teenage years. This purpose becomes formed quietly in the background of our awareness so much so that it may feel like we were born into it, which is why I refer to it as the Inherited Purpose.
In our early formative years, many factors begin to shape who we consider ourselves to be -- factors such as our parents, siblings, where we grow up, whether our family was religious or not, our socio-economic position, the media, just to mention a few. It often feels like the circumstances of our lives determine who we are. But what really begins to shape our outlook on life is the meaning we give to what happens in our life, and that meaning also becomes part of Inherited Purpose.
Our one true purpose is divinely inspired. In other words, the very basis from which our true purpose arises is the attractive force of Universal Love, which means for many people, their relationship with God or a Higher Power, or their spiritual nature. But the Inherited Purpose isn't based in Universal Love. Instead, it is based in fear, a sense of lack and a need to struggle to survive.
As we go through life, some of the things that happen to us makes us feel threatened or unsafe. It can be something large and traumatic, or a series of small incidences that make us think the whole world is out to get us. We begin to think, "I'll never be good enough," or "I can never trust people." And before we know it, these beliefs become a trap that shapes the rest of our lives.
My own life took a dramatic turn just two weeks before my seventh birthday when my dad suddenly died of a heart attack while on a fishing trip. Not expecting to die at 43, he left us with no life insurance or any real savings, so suddenly my mom was all alone to raise her two sons. For the next several years, we struggled to get back on our feet and during that time, my own Inherited Purpose became, "I must be smart and have all the answers (or pretend that I do), and I must work really hard so I won't be poor and people won't leave me."
And for the next two decades, this mantra shaped my life, particularly whenever I felt threatened or unsafe. By the time I was in my mid-thirties, while to the outside world, I was a successful veterinarian and prominent member of my community, inside my life felt so empty and meaningless that I contemplated suicide. That's how dangerous the Inherited Purpose can be if it's allowed to grab hold of your consciousness.
Just knowing about the Inherited Purpose is the first step to moving beyond having it shape your life. Remember, the Inherited Purpose isn't who you really are. Rather, it's the lie you've been telling yourself and the world. But once you've uncovered it, you can recognize it whenever it tries to take over your life. Then, you can begin to allow something else like your divinely inspired life purpose shape your life instead.
To start the discovery process, pretend that you are a movie reviewer watching the movie of your life. Your job is to determine the theme. What has been the theme of your movie? Look at the particularly challenging times in your life as you were growing up. They don't have to be large, traumatic incidences. They may be small things that made you feel unsafe or threatened.
For example, a few days after my father's passing, a well-meaning neighbor came over to offer her condolences. Upon seeing me she said, "Well, I guess you'll need to be the man of the family now." But my dad was my hero. I could never be as big or as strong as he was. But I could be smart and to make up for the loss of my father, I put a lot of unfair pressure on myself.
As you view the movie of your life chronicling the time you felt threatened, ask yourself, "What did that event mean about myself and life?" In the process, you'll be pulling the Inherited Purpose from the background of your awareness to the foreground. In those moments, you can then choose to allow your true, divinely inspired purpose, "Your Life on Purpose" take over the steering wheel.
Dr. Brad Swift is the author of the new book "Life on Purpose: Six Passages to an Inspired Life" (Elite Books; 2007; $24.95;) and the founder of the Life on Purpose Institute (www.lifeonpurpose.com).