What Your Purpose Is Not

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Every night I take it to bed with me, wake up with it, and feel it breathing down my neck when I’m not giving enough attention to it.

(No, it isn’t an overly affectionate labrador.)

It’s my purpose.


Sometimes purpose manifests itself in different ways throughout our lives and sometimes as one activity that drives us, brings us joy, and is the hardest work we do.

What is it for you? 

Maybe marketing your business or designing buildings or counseling teenagers.

For me, it  has always been writing, even in the midst of more important work, like raising my children.

Poet and scholar Francesco Petrarca expressed his relentless need to write in a letter to a friend:

This inexorable passion has such a hold upon me that pen, ink, and paper, and work prolonged far into the night, are more to my liking than repose and sleep. In short, I find myself always in a sad and languishing state when I am not writing, and, anomalous though it seems, I labour when I rest, and find my rest in labour.”

Even with the exhaustion and pain brought on by writing, Petrarca said his “tireless spirit” seemed to be “reclining upon the softest down.” 

That is how I’m feeling right now as I type. Despite the strain on mind and emotion, I sense a purposeful euphoria.

I recently took an informal survey and asked people about their sense of purpose.

The responses confirmed that purpose is deeply personal and unique to each person. But they also revealed what purpose is not.


Purpose is NOT

Our aphrodisiac–My husband, a missionary to India for 20 years, said he and other young Christians became passionate at one point about sharing Jesus with a tribal group. Despite their passion, they never carried out their good intentions. Likewise, we may feel called to a task, but we become more enamored with the idea of it. We pour our efforts into dreaming and planning but never act. 

All about us–I recently interviewed a student for her college’s alumni magazine. She compared her college experience to a line-up of dominoes. “What I do in the place I have been set will touch the next person and the next.” Ultimately, the work we are purposed to do affects a broader community. Our responsibility is to carry out our purpose, to work hard, and to trust that it means something to someone.

About being Moses–Most of us don’t have a “burning bush” moment of biblical proportion. No hot minute in our desert when a voice comes out of a flaming shrub and proclaims, “Hey, you, I’m God and I’m sending you on this mind-blowing mission that will alter the course of humanity!” Even after this supernatural encounter, Moses doubted. I imagine that one more irritating “but Lord” from Moses, and the mission may have been passed on to the next sandaled guy. Which makes me ask myself, Have I answered the call to my purpose with a resounding Yes! or am I squeaking out a response that prompts the universe to not expect so much of me the next time?


A version of this post first appeared on Living Between the Lines.