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  • Writer's pictureAbby Rosmarin


I recently saw a performance at the Public Theater about Joan D' Arc. (Written by David Byrne of Talking Heads). It got me thinking about her passion, her purpose for living, her raison d’être. In some ways, she had it easy (well, just on this issue) because she seemed to truly believe that she had a calling from God. They tried to get her to deny what she believed to be true and she died for her resolute.

Many of us don’t have that experience of so completely knowing what is our calling -- what makes one’s life truly worthwhile and brings us joy about being alive. The Japanese explore this issue when they search for their ikigai, meaning the "reason to get up in the morning.”

The urgency of understanding one’s raison d’etre, or ikigai, or purpose seems to be particularly important to consider at certain moments in life. Often it is an external event that prompts us to examine how we choose to live our life, and if who we are, what we believe, and what are skilled to do are all aligned. So for example, the initiation of a new venture, an opportunity to change in careers, or an impending retirement could all be such moments. So could the loss of a spouse or partner from death or divorce, a critical illness, or financial security. People can be scared of the possibilities in these moments and can be stymied in their reach because of a fear of making a change for the worse or any change at all.

American mythologist Joseph Campbell would advise otherwise. He encouraged people to “follow your bliss.” That is pursue what “you are truly passionate about and [attempt] to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent.” According to Campbell, “[i]f you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time."

Consider your bliss (what you love) as you also consider the intersection of

What you believe the world needs from you.

What you are good at.

What you can get paid for or exchange a value with others.

The diagram below is a useful visual to identify a way to your purpose.

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