One of the most brilliant minds of the scientific world, Dr. Albert Einstein, told this story about himself. He had boarded a train and was seated near the window when the conductor came through checking the tickets of each of the passengers. Einstein had looked through his briefcase and in his pockets, but couldn’t come up with his ticket. The conductor, who recognized Dr. Einstein, said, “It’s all right, sir. We know who you are. You don’t need to show me a ticket.” Dr. Einstein looked up and said to the conductor, “Thank you, sir. I may not need to show you a ticket, but I need to know where I’m going!”
In the midst of all the advice — sometimes conflicting and confusing — many of us may feel we need a ticket to wherever it is we are going. One wag running down the street cried out, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I am making a lot of progress.”
Some very important questions may help us to determine who we are, where we are going and why we are here. The question of identity is extremely important, particularly in a world where gender identity may be an uncertain issue. Perhaps the labels we put on ourselves and those that others use to describe us are not as important as what we feel deep within. Looking into a mirror helps us to define the physical characteristics we and others see, but it is far more important to gaze deeply into the mirror reflections of your soul and discover what your inner being is reflecting. Too often we settle for answering the question of identity (who am I) with a description of what we do. You will hear people say, I’m a salesman; I’m a housewife; I’m a politician; or I’m an actress! I wonder if these responses actually reflect who we are?
At other times, like Dr. Einstein, we may not be sure what our direction in life is. Many of us are being swept along with the pressures of life’s tide and not stopping to analyze exactly what that means in terms of life’s direction. In these days of GPS systems and wonderful mapping capabilities, finding a direction is not so difficult, but making sure it is the right one requires far more contemplation.
When we have clearly brought the question of identity — who am I? — into focus; and when we have wrestled with the question of direction — where am I going? — we need to add the third major consideration to our thinking: “why am I here?” The struggle to define one’s purpose in life is perhaps the most demanding.
Many of the people who came to my office for therapy really felt an absence of purpose. A man who said he was depressed and wanted a divorce sat down with his wife, who felt blindsided by her husband’s decision. As the details unfolded, he described his desire to be the president of his company. That was his aim. Realizing that the son of the owner was a bit younger than he was and knowing he would not reach that goal, he felt “locked in.” That was when he decided to get a divorce! When he couldn’t change his outlook on a future business position, he decided to change his partnership with his wife. Acknowledging what was causing him to struggle with circumstantial depression, he decided to work on his marriage relationship. By redefining his purpose in life, he not only felt relieved but he and his wife had a much better relationship. Not all cases are quite this obvious but I can assure you that this couple has been much happier over the last 20 years!
Examining some basic questions in your life may bring you new insights and offer new options. Try these three questions for starters: who am I? Why am I here? And where am I going? Identity, purpose and direction help us to determine what really matters in our lives.