The 5 Stages of Finding Purpose

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Inspiration, painting a day by Caroline Allen, carolineallen.com

I believe when you’re called to purpose, and when you answer that call, you become one of the healers of the world. As you align yourself with your higher calling, you become an example to others. Often the call we answer goes further than just finding ourselves. Often we’re called to go out and help others. I describe this call to purpose as I follow one protagonist around the world in the coming of age series I’m writing called The Elemental Journey Series. On my own path, and in my work as a coach, I see very clearly how following the call to purpose aligns with the five stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These are exactly what one goes through in owning and living purpose. There was a reason we put away our dreams as a child, and when we’re called to purpose, those dreams resurface and all of the grief and fear of “giving up on ourselves” rises to the surface. We want to close that drawer, not look at how much we’ve lost.

Read my story to get an even better idea of how these stages have played out in my life, in finding my calling as a novelist, visual artist and coach to others. Here are the five stages of grief as they apply to finding purpose:

Denial
The gods knock. If you ignore them, they’ll knock again, and again and again. And if you ignore that, their knocking will become the clash of mythological fists against the rock of your resistance.

You pushed her down into your belly, and now she wants out. At first, you put your head down and get back to your normal job, your normal day and pretend she isn’t wailing beneath the surface.

Many people know my story of denial. I was so unhappy. Depressed. Living in rainy Seattle, roaming around lost. I was given a tarot reading and was told: “You are a visual artist.” I snorted, chin in hand. There went $65 down the drain.  Afterwards, I roamed the Capitol Hill district, smoking cigarettes, in a dark funk.

It would take five more years before I’d pick up a paintbrush and start my career as a visual artist. I was an artist as a little girl, winning awards almost every time I entered a show. I’d forgotten about her, buried her deep inside. My parents roared against the concept of me becoming an artist. What do you want to become a bag lady? It wasn’t stated, but implied. Art was something you gave up. Like hope. Like your heart.

Anger
With the call to purpose comes a rage so monstrous you cannot breathe. How dare I be put in a straight jacket for 30, 40, 50 years? How DARE you make me hate my life for so long, parents, school system, unfair economic system.

We are enraged with ourselves for wasting so much time, half our lives. We are enraged with parents who themselves didn’t follow their purpose, who didn’t have the courage to nurture themselves first, and then the wherewithal to nurture us.

Oh, how we’d rather not feel so much rage. Oh, we’ll self medicate, or use pharmaceuticals or play online games for hours, anything but to FEEL. We must honor the anger. It’s one of our best friends. It’s pointing the way to our transformation.

I’ll tell you, my rage was so epic it could’ve destroyed whole cities. I wonder sometimes if all the world’s rage doesn’t come down to this, all the war and crime and destruction: Are we so angry because we’ve been told we must lose ourselves that we’d prefer to destroy the entire planet than look at ourselves?

Bargaining
I gave up journalism to follow my path of bliss as an artist. I worked in newsrooms in Tokyo and London. People picked up when I called. I jetsetted around Asia and Europe. Doors opened for me.

When I gave up journalism, I gave up the perks too. I gave up London, one of my favorite cities on the planet. I gave up travel. I gave up seeing my name in print all of the time.

I didn’t know that exploring myself would be so hard. I started writing fiction and expected to have a book published in five years. Hilarious! Apparently finding one’s lost self takes a lot longer than five years.

So, fed up with how hard it all was, I got another job in journalism, at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Newspaper. I bargained with the gods: Just let me do this for a while, get my ego back, have a wild life like I used to. OK? Please?

Within two months, I was sitting at the monitor in the newsroom, when both of my arms went dead. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. It would take three months of intense physical therapy to be able to move my arms at all. It would take another 10 years to heal it. I would never work in a newsroom again.

Bargaining is when you try to go back to the boyfriend you broke up, and it all becomes much worse than it was before and you have to extract yourself again.

Bargaining is necessary. We have to learn the hard way, that there is no way out to the other side but through.

Depression
You want to follow your purpose, but it’s so hard. You don’t have any extra money, you’ve lost your old lifestyle, you outgrew people on your journey toward authentic self. You’re alone. It’s too hard. The world is so horribly messed up.

You’re right. The journey is difficult. The world is a mess. You’re depressed because it IS all depressing.

I believe in the darkness. I am not one of those people who asks people to deny their depression. I believe this darkness can be a very honest friend. It’s only when it goes on too long that it’s a problem. Only then do we need to get up, exercise our bodies, go to an art gallery, do whatever it takes to move the energy, so we can get on with the hard work of living our purpose.

Acceptance
How can you get to a place of acceptance? This is your path and you’re going to commit to it, despite the ups and downs and financial insecurity and loss of friends. If you’re like me, you cycled through anger and depression and bargaining for a long time. I want to accept this path fully. How? Shaking fist at the heavens. How?

The world NEEDS you. You’re a hero. You know it deep in your soul. This is what it means to be a hero. We’re globally flushing ourselves down a toilet, and we need you to find your way, so you can show others the way out of the whirlpool of destruction.

How do you accept this path? I have found rescripting your life story into a heroic journey goes a long way toward acceptance. Look at the events of your life from the perspective of compassion for all parties. We’ve all been duped in giving up our souls. Have compassion for yourself: this is a heroic, epic journey you’re on, and nobody ever said it was going to be easy.  Here are some examples of rescripting:

My parents were so hard on me. “Look at how hard my parents were on themselves. They were so frightened of their own creative spirit. In healing myself, I begin to heal my family from this great loss of self.”

I can’t stand my job. “My soul so deeply wants to follow its authentic purpose, and the love for this call to purpose is so great, no ‘normal’ job is going to make me happy.”

I hate being so broke as I figure out how to align my passion with making money. “I am part of a new paradigm that is going to change the entire world, away from doing work we hate, to doing work we love. I’m part of that exciting new paradigm, and I’m working hard to find my way.”

My husband/boyfriend left me.  “As I become more authentically aligned, I will outgrow people. This is why this is the heroic path. It takes courage to grow. I have tremendous courage.”

Of course, you won’t go through the above stages in linear fashion, and you won’t only cycle through them once. The good news is this: If you’re now answering the call to purpose and really going through it hard (most of us have found this to be the most difficult thing we’ve ever done), know this: It will change. You’ll still have the hard times, but you get used to it, you learn how to ride the waves. You start to see what a difference you’re making in your own life and the lives of others, and that gives you the boost of confidence and energy to keep going.

I will not diminish how hard this path is. But I will say: You are doing what you were put on this planet to fulfill. You are living a life you can look back on with deep pride and deepest gratitude. You are saving the world. And isn’t that worth it?

Caroline Allen is a creativity coach and a book coach. carolineallen.com, artofstorytellingonline.com

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