How Do We Find Ourselves?

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

J.R.R. Tolkien

It seems like my mom was born with a paintbrush in her hand. She always knew she wanted to be an artist and that’s what she’s always been. On the other hand, I was born with a pocketful of confusion. By the time I finished grad school I’d switched majors a half dozen times and had twice as many jobs. Maybe it was short attention span, but I like to think of it as curiosity. In the moment, however, not knowing what I should be doing or where my life was headed felt desperate and painful.

And so it goes, those of us who weren’t born with a paintbrush in our hand go on a search for meaning. We sit by summer ponds with dog-eared copies of Thoreau and Frankl. We hike through Europe and dabble in psychedelic mycology. We run out of money and move back with our parents.

Are we heeding a basic human instinct to go looking for that something that will trigger clarity of purpose? And if there’s a way to find it, why didn’t anybody tell me?

Philosophy wasn’t one of my many majors, so Sartre this is not. But in my career (Look, Mom, I found one!) I am witness to how everyday people pursue, nurture, accept, or happen upon their sense of purpose, direction, and identity. Here are 15 ways:

1. Travel. We escape the anguish of inner seeking by stepping outside ourselves and experiencing new people and…

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