Elizabeth Rivas

Struggling Student,

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What is your purpose in life and how and when did you come to realize it? In what ways are you now living towards your purpose?

After having lived for 21 years I would have assumed when I was younger that by this time in my life, surely I would have figured out my purpose. Of course, this is not the case. I have been thinking more and more about my life in terms of my true purpose. I may have a general idea where I want to go in life, for example, I am planning and studying hard so that I can successfully transfer to UCLA, my dream school. I also know that I enjoy working with children, learning about the biological sciences, writing poetry and fiction in my free time, and sharing my ideas. I was hoping I might be able to learn how members of this wonderful community called TED has come to learn their true purpose. Share with me with your lightbulb moments about the exact moment when you realized you found your calling? Or maybe share your not so lightbulb moment. Maybe it took you years and years to discover your calling in life. Either way, I am eager to hear from you and how you not only learned what it is you want to do with your life but how you are implementing those desires today

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    Apr 15 2013: When I first came across TED and read a number of conversations and replies .... I felt as thought I had a purpose in life. In almost every reply was a super liberal waiting to burst free on radical opinions. In those first days there were maybe only five or so that dared to speak up for a alternative belief.

    It is we the few who are destined to present a balance approach to the arguments of the Atheists, marxists, communists, and super liberal democrats.

    If you think being a stuggling student is bad try being a political independent in TED .... Now that is a minority.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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      Apr 15 2013: I'm happy you found a purpose through TED! Also I see what you mean about how difficult it is to decide to split from the group and have a different view or take on issues, and especially being a political independent on lol. That part made me laugh. Thanks for your well wishes.
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        Apr 15 2013: Elizabeth, As a high schooler I was a big fish in sports .. in a small pond. I found out quickly I could not do sports at the next level .. I did try. To be honest I was lucky that I got to do what I wanted because I was in the right place at the right time. I think that is the key.

        They were going to throw a captain out of the service because he had no degree ... he took a quicky course at college in pottery ... got a quick fast easy degree ... a few years later the space program came along and he was in demand. He went from worthless to valuable because of timing and just plain ole dumb luck.

        As adults we do what is necessary for our families and survival. Mothers tend to make more sacrifices than anyone else. Ladies with brillant minds and degrees put their life on hold to raise a family. These are the true heros and the backbone of the strength of America ... I salute these heros. PS my wife has a sign that says .. "my husband is the only one of my kids who did not grow up and move out".

        When you go home .. hug your mom and tell her you love her. Don't forget dad either. He had dreams that may have come true or not. But together they did it all for you.

        I continue to wish you well. Bob.
  • Apr 16 2013: There is some good advice on here. What I have learned in my short time is that I do not have one true predestined purpose. Your purpose is what you want it to be. Ideally we have many different purposes that we pursue at different times/places in our life. It is ok for it to seem discontinuous at times for we can usually clear up the path in hindsight. Absorb the positive around you and reject the negative. Project positivity and truth with every word and action. If you're feeling aimless, try doing simple things to help others with no thought of reward.

    Ultimately, WHAT we decide to do isn't as important as HOW. The happiest life is spent in the pursuit of one's greatest potential in all activities, occupations, relationships, and dreams. Don't leave stones unturned and explore to the fullest any aspects of life that interest you.
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      Apr 17 2013: Definitely! Everyone who commented had something really great to say about purpose in life. It's been really nice to read encourageming words too. I'll keep that piece of advice in mind about doing simple things to help others if i'm feeling aimless. As long as I am helping others in a compassionate way without the aim to gain something in return I'm fulfilling one of my life's purposes. The rest will play out as my studying continues.
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    W. Ying

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    Apr 16 2013: .
    My answers to your questions:

    My "purpose in life" is to keep my and humankind’s DNA alive.
    "come to realize it" when I was retired
    I am “now living towards my purpose” by means of doing things for my offspring and their symbiotic society.
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      Apr 17 2013: That's an interesting purpose, definitely one that is needed haha. We don't want humankind's DNA to disappear. Although i'm thinking we're actually overpopulated...Hm...
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        Apr 17 2013: .
        Thank you!

        I think the problem of overpopulation is easy to solve
        if we reduce or quit our invalid (ineffective, harmful) happiness.
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    Apr 15 2013: Hi Elizabeth,
    I thought I had it all figured out in my 20s, and when reality proved otherwise, I decided that in the 30s I would have it all figured out. Along came the 30s....well this is NOT what I thought it was going to be! Then we moved into the 40s.....more surprises!!! One day, chatting with a very good friend who was in her 50s as I was at the time, we came to the conclusion that life is an exploration. Everything may not always be as we planned.

    For me, there is one main purpose, which is to explore life fully. I have known that since I was a child, and always felt like an adventurous explorer in this earth school. The main goal is to learn, grow and evolve as an individual while contributing to the whole.

    There have been various other "purposes" along the way, and at each stage of the life adventure, one or the other purposes takes center stage, and gets my attention in varying degrees, depending on priorities in the moment.

    When I was a wife and mom, for example, that was my priority....everything revolved around that purpose. I had careers, and various activities that I participated in, and EVERYTHING revolved around the family.

    When the kids got older, and didn't need my physical presence as much any more, I focused a little more on my development. At that time, I faced a physical challenge, so a lot of my focus and activities revolved around strengthening the body. I still had family of course....careers, and various activities, and pursuing physical strengthening to support a physical challenge was my priority.

    I'm suggesting that our purpose and focus can change at various times in the life experience. It sounds from your description Elizabeth that you want to do it all, which mirrors my perception of life. We CAN do a LOT in the life adventure, and we may not be able to do it all at the same time...follow your heart in each and every moment:>)
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      Apr 17 2013: Aw, thank you for sharing this. This has been the most helpful and reassuring comment. I will continue to work towards achieving everything it is that I aim to be and share.
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        Apr 18 2013: You are welcome Elizabeth.....my pleasure....glad it was helpful:>)

        I think it's great if a person follows one clear purpose all his/her life, and it's also great if we have lots of "sub-purposes" at different stages of our life. If we have an underlying "purpose" to learn grow and evolve as individuals, while contributing to the whole, EVERYTHING can be included in that. Perhaps it depends on how one defines "purpose".

        I'm sure you will do GREAT....enjoy it......whatever "it" is:>)
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    Apr 15 2013: What are some of the things you already do that bring you the greatest joy? You have mentioned some interests. Do you see any underlying features or themes?

    I think some people think in terms of a purpose in life and some think more in terms of things that they feel like they would always like to be doing. Many people try a range of things over years and hone in on something over time.

    One of my daughters knew exactly what she wanted to do when she was maybe ten and stuck to that course until she was about twenty four and then switched to a path in which she thought she could more fruitfully use some of the skills she had developed over that time. Often multiple fields use the same fundamental skills and some offer more opportunity than others.

    My other daughter had a research opportunity between her sophomore and junior years in college that set her course.

    For some people, purpose and career mean the same thing and for others it is an approach to life that runs through their work, social interactions, and so forth. For example, for some people, it might be taking every conceivable opportunity to lend a hand. Or it might be to record the life experience visually, or something broad like that.
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      Apr 15 2013: I get the greatest joy from knowing I've helped inspire someone to follow their dream or even just to believe that tomorrow will be a brighter day.I've definitely noticed an underlying theme of helping others though.

      I would see myself being in both of those groups because I see purpose as something that will help me maneuver through life and also just help me continuously do what it is I love to do.

      That's true and I agree with you that there's the same basic skills in many different fields but then again there's more chance for opporunity or growth maybe in some more than others. I know that I'll be more happy in something I can improve and grow upon.
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        Apr 15 2013: It seems you will be able to work your greatest joy into any career and life in which your days involve some social interaction, as any life that involves interacting with others will provide such opportunity.

        You probably don't want to be squirreled away in an activity that is just you and equipment, working solo for long periods of time.

        Maybe it is hard for you to decide a direction because what appeals to you most will be a characteristic of so many pathways you might take!
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          Apr 17 2013: I think I would go insane if I had to work in a cubicle. I don't understand how people do it. I would much rather be out and about and exploring the world thank you very much! Haha yes, I think you figured it out for me. I am troubled because the careers in life that appeal to me and the directions I want to go in have similar characteristics. I think I shall try and use this to my advantage :-)
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        Apr 17 2013: I have never worked in a cubicle, but these days working in a cubicle means working in a room, typically, with lots and lots of people! I am told it is much less isolating than traditional offices.

        Of course people in a workplace don't stay all day in their cubicles.

        One of the TED talks about creativity and play shows lots of work spaces in the Silicon Valley that look kind of like indoor amusement parks.
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    Apr 19 2013: I suppose one finds one's purpose through a variety of means--living, reading, talking to people, working, dreams, and other ways. I somewhat found my purpose by being exposed to the Maasai people of Kenya. They are famous for only living on the products of the cow--milk and beef. Gradually, I have become more Maasai. For example, for the last five years, I have been living on milk. Every day, I drink between one and two gallons of milk, and I don't eat or drink anything else. I enjoy telling people about this diet and how good a life I think dairy farming is. I don't dairy farm myself, since I live in Glendale, California, and the city codes forbid dairy farming, but I think about how I could dairy farm here (I don't move to a more agricultural area because I like living near my mom, sister, and brother, who all live in Glendale.) I enjoy thinking up new uses for milk, like when I want to put a picture on the wall, I dip it in some milk and put it up there, and it sticks.
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    Apr 16 2013: There are natural endowments in each individual, talents, abilities, dreams and aspiration, and more importantly, one's experience.
    These are pointers to one's purpose.

    I love the arts; it touches me in the depths of my being. I love stories; I love storytellers and I love telling stories.
    At some point in my early 20s I realized that storytellers have a responsibility to use their influence wisely and for good. Then it finally hit me.

    If you are so talented, and creative, and influential, why dont you use your power for the good of humanity?
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    Apr 15 2013: I always hated the question because I've always found it to be malformed.
    Its like asking 'where do you go after you die'.

    Its assuming a foundational fact and you're supposed to answer accordingly, but the 'fact' hasn't been established that its even true, so its a false question.

    If you want to ask 'what is the purpose', then you have to prove that a purpose specifically exists.
    Ironically, doing so answers your question, so you ultimately invalidate the question either way..
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      Apr 15 2013: Well doesn't every one of us human beings have a purpose in life? I don't believe that we wander around aimlessly like chicken without heads. And in choosing what to do with the rest of our lives, maybe we don't think about it in terms of something that serves a purpose at the moment, but like another commentor said, we only realize our purpose in retrospect.
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        Apr 16 2013: I am just drawn to reply to your comment....yes everyone has a purpose and no purpose is greater than the other. Sometime the purpose might to lying down lazily enjoying the moment...and feeling the bliss...other times we might be hooked in our cubicle or internet networking and sharing ideas and feeling "alive"...life purpose is a continuous river...do what you do best at the moment..then move on to the next thing...study hard and transfer..that is your purpose for now....study subject of your interest that would be your purpose.....love yourself and others and don't forget to take a break and do nothing...that still a purpose....the job you get..give it your best...and so on...
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          Apr 17 2013: I think you explained purpose beautifully by saying that it's a "continuous river" and that we should do what it is we do best at the moment and move on. I appreciate your comment just like everyone else's comment, it's been helpful.I'm very glad I asked this question because it's a topic everyone can talk about. We're all on this planet working towards something
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    Apr 15 2013: I would recommend focusing on what your goals are. What do you want to produce? If you could only produce one thing what would that be?
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      Apr 15 2013: What I want to produce most is inspiration. I think that if I can inspire others and help keep the world a more positive place I will die happily knowing I made a difference in that way.
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        Apr 15 2013: How could you make that into a goal that could be measured?
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          Apr 15 2013: I'm thinking that teaching is one of the ways I can take what I want to produce into something I can measure because. Teachers can be very inspirational in the ways that they teach and interact with students on a daily basis.
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          Apr 15 2013: I also think I can be inspirational through writing stories. Of course I need to practice my writing but I think that books are very inspirational and it's something I'd try doing.
  • Apr 15 2013: Finding your true calling in life usually involves figuring out how you can survive, be happy, contribute to society, and best use your skills, talents, and energy. Your true puroose in life often turns out to be more of a retrospective question than something you use as a life plan. I think you take your best guess/gut feel for what you think is the best balance of opportunity and career preparation to find an answer to the first statement. Then as life provides new opportunities, challenges, events, or circumstances, then you re-evaluate the first statement and make any course corrections you think necessary. When you make it to 50 or 75, then you might consider what was your purpose in life, but my guess is it still may be an open question, or have an answer with many competing parts.

    Here is a trick, enjoy the search for your purpose! Stay in balance with your beliefs, integrity, and sense or right and wrong. Treat all people with respect and cherish both family and friends.

    Good luck with your studies!
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      Apr 15 2013: Wow,that was amazing advice.Thanks for your insight on this question. I feel a little more assured of how to discover my purpose in life and simply enjoy my search. It's like the saying "Life is not about the destination, it's about the journey"