One of the most common questions many of us find ourselves asking at some point in our lives is: What is the meaning and purpose of my life?

A few years ago, I picked up the book by Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For?  It was on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 90 weeks. The title spoke directly to my heart and where I was at in my life!

I was SO excited to dig in! I settled in with a cup of tea to read it and before the tea was cold, my heart sank as I knew that the book didn’t resonate with me. It was just way too inside the Christian box for me. For someone who identifies with being spiritual but not religious, this book wasn’t a fit.

So instead of trying to figure out what my purpose was by reading a book, I put the whole notion of purpose away for a while and just began experimenting with things that I was curious about.

And slowly over time and with patience, persistence, and an inner pull from my Soul, my purpose began to reveal itself to me.

I want to share with you what I found was helpful on my journey in the hopes that it stirs something in you. Some clues about where to look to connect with why you are here.

I learned that the reason I wasn’t able to put my finger on my “purpose” was that I was looking in all the wrong places.

And because of the way life works, it was my dark night of the soul that showed me how my life had become meaningless with a lack of purpose.

I had to experience a deep inner ache to begin uncovering the gold nuggets that were hidden inside of me.

These gold nuggets are in all of us.  We are all here for some purpose!

Steve Jobs referred to these nuggets as dots. One of his most famous quotes is:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

Although I’ve always loved that quote, it seemed to confuse me and left me feeling like the future was out of my hands and that I had to trust in the dots.

Then I had an epiphany when I was reading Simon Sinek’s book, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” He explained that our “why” which for me equals “purpose” comes from our past. It’s our life experiences that are uniquely ours. It becomes the “why” behind everything that we do, believe and value. And the “why” is about something bigger than ourselves.

Although we are conditioned to believe that our “why” or reason to get out of bed in the morning is to make money, our Souls have other ideas. This isn’t to say that money or the material comforts aren’t nice to have or necessary for survival, but they won’t cut it for a “purpose.” And like all things, we often don’t realize that until we have all the “stuff” that we need and feel empty.

So, when the inner longing of the Soul gets loud and wants to connect with a deeper purpose, where do we look?

With the consistent message coming from social media that we need to let go of the past, I found that advice to be a big roadblock for connecting with my deeper purpose.

I learned the hard way that in order to connect with my why, I needed to take a deep dive into the shadows of my past.

And through this process of looking back, my future became clearer.

My purpose began to reveal itself to me- just as it will for you. The little dots or gold nuggets that are glistening inside of us are longing to be discovered.

To be honest, it was challenging and painful at times but through the journey, I became aware of my PURPOSE!

It is through doing “the work” to stare directly into our pasts and bringing it ALL into our conscious awareness that the Universe rewards us with the clarity of our purpose.

My purpose has and always will be to help alleviate the “suffering” in the world. It’s why I became a nurse and worked in palliative and end of life care. It’s why I now mentor people who are suffering because they don’t know how to find and live their purpose. As long as I can use my gifts to do that, I am a happy and fulfilled camper.

There’s one thing I know for sure: You were born with a purpose and if you’re not living it you will suffer!

Regardless of what IT is, we need to look to our past and extract the meaning and then use it in service of how we live our lives today and create a vision for our future.

Our purpose doesn’t have to be some huge thing, for many, it is the small but mighty ways we contribute.

I can think of people whose purpose is to share their gifts of listening, or finding beauty in the ordinary, or bringing a calm presence to every situation or sharing their art. Those are huge gifts!

One of the biggest reasons so many people feel like their purpose is just out of grasp is because it takes courage to connect with your purpose. It takes courage to look at your past and begin the sifting process.

It takes courage to unlearn what many of us are taught about what should be important in our lives. It often involves going against the grain and creating a new path!

But the truth is our purpose will only reveal itself to us after we’ve done the hard work of reconciling our pasts and integrating it into our present.

It’s why it becomes our purpose. Because it matters deeply to us. It’s a beautiful process of spiritual alchemy where we allow the nuggets from our past to provide direction and hope for the future- hope for ourselves and hope for others!