What does it mean to live a purposeful life? Carl Rogers, a pioneer in the humanistic approach to psychotherapy, suggests that living a purposeful life is about being the person you truly are. But what if you don’t even know who you truly are? I mean, most of us do not know, otherwise we would be living purposefully, right?
Fortunately, Mr. Rogers provides some further insights into how we may move towards being the person we truly are. He contends that by moving away from the expectations of society and other individuals and towards self direction and self definition we may find who we truly are, and thereby live purposeful lives.
The process of becoming a purposeful being
In doing so we undergo a process by which we shed the burdens imposed on us by our environment and other people and undergo a process of “being.” This is a complex concept and is not easily described, but the heart of it is a shedding of fixity and an acceptance of change in ones self.
During this process we accept the changes that occur within ourselves as we grow. We accept that our moods, attitudes, perceptions and even values may change as we progress through life. We replace static states of being with fluid states of being, and minimize emphasis on “figuring things out.” In short, we accept that we are constantly evolving as purposeful beings, we are constantly in the process of “becoming,” and we adjust our thoughts to accept this process instead of focusing on a final outcome.
Radical acceptance and mindfulness
Fully engaging in this process of becoming a purposeful being requires a radical acceptance of the process itself. During this journey we must accept that we are complex beings and embrace this complexity, accepting the dynamics of the process.
Although mindfulness therapy was not en vogue during Roger’s time, it is clear to me from his writings that remaining in the moment, and accepting one’s self in any given moment, is central to the continuation of this process of living a purposeful life.
When we fight against this process, and seek to live up to society’s expectations, or the expectations of others, we abandon this process of evolving and growing, and can never achieve purpose in the sense of becoming who we truly are. Instead, we become who society or other people would like us to be.
Openness to experience
In order to undergo the process of becoming a purposeful being, and living a purposeful life one must develop a sense of openness to new and diverse experiences. In order to be open to new experiences we must be accepting of those experiences, and of the changes that are occurring within us.
We must learn to live with our faults and with our strengths, on our own terms. This does not mean we cannot seek to better ourselves through improvement. By accepting our faults as well as our strengths we develop a stronger sense of self, and are better able to engage in the process of healing and correcting our flaws. Instead of running from our flaws, or denying them, we accept them and seek to understand them. We become more self aware and more capable of change and personal development.
This openness to experience applies not only to our own internal being, but also to others, and to the world around us. As we grow closer to becoming purposeful beings we learn to not only understand and accept ourselves, but to understand and accept others for who they are at that moment.
We learn to accept their experiences, and their interpretations of their world, even if they are very different to our own. We shed fear and do not feel threatened by differing perspectives on the world that we share with others. In a sense, we accept the notion that “the map is not the territory.” In doing so we are better able to adapt to others and to our world, and learn from them.
We develop behavioral and cognitive flexibility, and a greater trust in ourselves to adapt and achieve our goals. In doing so we become free to be the person we truly are, and to live as purposeful beings.