The era of personal development in which we exist, echoes the message 'You are here to find your purpose'. The implication is that once we find our true meaning and purpose for living, we unlock the key to health, abundance and happiness. Anyone responding to that call finds themselves on a path of self-discovery in search of the holy grail of one's unique purpose and meaning. There is no shortage of information, direction, processes or value systems beseeching us to heed their solutions. Nor is there any overriding system enabling us to evaluate the merit of their claims. We find ourselves alone in this pursuit, journeying alongside others who equally seek this seeming nirvana. What myths surround this ubiquitous search for meaning? What are the unquestioned social and cultural assumptions that limit how we approach this experiential journey?

I suggest the following myths about the nature of finding purpose in contemporary western society:

1. Purpose must be altruistic or for the good of others

When people talk of finding their purpose, there is invariably an association of its philanthropic or altruistic nature in the service of others. Purpose is often associated with achieving something for the good of humankind or contributing to something bigger than us. When someone chimes up with 'My purpose is to be happy' responses or validation to this position are couched in 'Yes, when you are happy you can be of value to others, if only in terms of how you teach or inspire others by how you live'.

2. Money and purpose are diametrically opposed

Purpose is seen to be above the accumulation of wealth or riches. Those who achieve great monetary wealth often meet with cries of 'But will it make you happy? What is it all for?' Dr. Jo Vitale, author and contributor to the film The Secret says 'I tell people that the spiritual and the material are one. They are two sides of the same coin. Anyone who says a material anything isn't spiritual is being self-righteous. The Divine created it all, including you, me, and really nice cars'. (Vitale 2008: 17)

3. Purpose is the most valuable existential pursuit of individual meaning

Individualistic cultures impose another limitation, the pursuit of self-actualisation, upon those seeking purpose. Despite the altruistic focus on evaluating purpose, the individual is implored to 'find themselves' before they can contribute meaningfully to others.

4. Life has meaning and purpose and once we find it, we will be satisfied

The pursuit of ease or peace is considered the goal of meaning making. Pain or suffering, if seen (within one's value system) as important lessons along this path of meaning-making, is seen to be rewarded with recognition later in this life or beyond.

5. Purpose is singular and having multiple purposes reflects an inability to fully embrace the sole purpose of our existence

The desire for definitive answers limits how we consider purpose, as if it must be focused, singular and clear. This limits us and negates us tapping into our uniqueness and ways in which we could have multiple purpose, albeit with imbued with common values.

These and other myths limit our ability to objectively consider the infinite possibilities of what purpose might look like. It is as if when 'All we have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail'.

Dr Jo Vitale, (and I paraphrase), challenges people who say 'I don't know what my purpose or passion is'. He responds with 'I don't believe you; you are lying!' Whilst his response might be seen as perpetuating the mythology of purpose seeking, I believe his response offers an opportunity to view purpose differently.

What if we consciously or unconsciously make purpose seeking inaccessible (by hoodwinking ourselves by these myths) in an effort to relinquish our responsibility of what finding it would really entail? What if rejecting a more complex and expansive view of meaning making assuages the anxiety we fear will result once we no longer have an excuse for anything we want to create. In considering your purpose or the purpose of the very nature of Being, step back and try to bracket the myths and assumptions that limit how you view this worthy ideal.

Author's Bio: 

Clare Mann is a psychologist, author and professional speaker based in Sydney Australia. She is the author of "The Myths of Life and The Choices We Have" and co-author to "Awakening the Workplace". Clare sees individual clients for therapy and counselling in Sydney.