How to Know When You’ve Fulfilled Your Life Purpose

My friend Britt once joked that perhaps her Life Purpose was cheesecake. “What if,” she said, “when I’m in my 70’s, I make a cheesecake that changes someone’s life? And that is actually the reason I was born?” 

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As we laughed, I enjoyed the notion that what we’ve come here to do may not be as grandiose as we imagine. Somehow, this idea took the pressure off. What if I quietly fulfill my Life Purpose in an instant, without my knowledge, as I serve up late night chocolate chip pancakes to some friends?

Britt, I like the way you think.

But the relief I felt was temporary. I could still feel us both wanting certainty about our calling in life, wanting to know for sure that we were on the right track. Will we ever find and fulfill our mission in life? Deep down, I was still hoping my Greater Purpose meant doing something outstanding someday. That’s how you know your life has had meaning, right? When you’re on The New York Times bestseller list. Or nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But really, what is enough to make me feel satisfied with my life? How will I know when I’ve arrived?

I’ve accomplished all sorts of individual and professional goals. I’ve dedicated time and energy to my personal and spiritual growth. I’ve contributed to the wellbeing of my friends, families, and community.

And still, at times I wonder if I’ve done anything worthwhile with my life . . . 

Not knowing why we’re here

The other day at a Conversations on Death & Dying gathering I attended, the facilitator guided the discussion by asking us “Why were you born?” I could feel most people in the group inhale at the same time, as if to get enough oxygen to take in this quintessential question.

Why was I born?

I’ve lived, thus far, what I consider to be a purposeful life. Social issues have motivated me since my youth, and I’ve tended to be focused on one mission or another for most of my life. I have often asked myself the question “what is the purpose of my life?” in order to guide my decisions. Given this, my answer surprised me.

“I don’t know,” I said.

I didn’t mean my life thus far has lacked meaning. Nor did I mean I am currently flailing through life without purpose. I meant what Britt meant about the cheesecake. That perhaps figuring out the reason we’re here isn’t the point. That we can choose to live our lives trusting that even one seemingly insignificant moment may satisfy our Life Purpose and entire existence. I’m willing to accept this.

Then again, what if I don’t know why I was born because every moment is a Cheesecake Moment?

Knowing why we’re here

Days before my life-partner Kate died of cancer at age 42, she also said she “didn’t know.” But it wasn’t about not knowing why she was born. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

“I didn’t know,” she said over and over, “I didn’t know.” Tears streamed down her face as she laid on the sofa that had become her bed.

For weeks, I had been reading daily messages to her that people posted on a CaringBridge website we had set up to communicate about her health situation. On the site’s guestbook, friends, family, and sometimes even strangers shared about what Kate meant to them. Some shared sentiments about her presence, her laugh, her hugs, and some said what a wise teacher and joyful role model she had been. Others offered details of times in their lives when Kate said or did one specific thing that changed their lives.

“What didn’t you know?” I asked, looking into her watery eyes.

“I didn’t know,” she said softly, “that I touched so many people. Just by being me.”

The most important part

I squinted at her in disbelief. How could she not know this? She was such a bright light who clearly was adored by so many people. The influence she had on others seemed so obvious.

We cried together at this profound and beautiful truth. I had witnessed what I consider her moment of “self-realization.” Kate’s entire life – every bit of it – now had meaning in the deepest way possible. For decades, she often wondered what her Life Purpose was and if she would ever find it. Since she didn’t have one focus or career path, she thought she may have missed the Purpose Boat altogether.

With the heartfelt words of others pouring in, Kate discovered she HAD lived her purpose, to be who she had been born to be . . . Herself. It had been right under her nose all along, so simple she had almost overlooked it. She could finally let go of any notions that she’d be “incomplete” when she left her body behind.

The morning after Kate died, I sat at the kitchen table writing her obituary. I wrote about her being an organic farmer and tie-dye artist in Vermont, about being a Laughter Yoga teacher, energy healer and painter. I wrote about her beautiful smile, upbeat and playful nature, and huge loving heart. And then Kate’s spirit chimed in: Tell them the most important part.

With her guidance, I added: “Most notably, Kate made a difference in the world by simply being herself.”

I could see her spirit smiling at the words. Not because it was about her, but because this was her message to everyone else. Be who you are. That is enough. That is everything. I felt like she was jumping up and down saying “You’ve all already fulfilled your purpose! Isn’t that amazing?!”

Embodying your life purpose

Over a year after her death, Kate’s spirit communicated with me again about the realization she had just days before she died:

I didn’t truly complete or live my soul purpose until that moment, because while I was being me before that, I hadn’t yet fully embraced that I was enough. Then it all came together. I did it! I embodied myself for the first time. And you know what embodiment is? Unconditional love. For the first time, I didn’t judge myself. I loved ‘what is.’ I loved me as I am.”

So perhaps it won’t be your perfect flaky homemade crust that transforms the world. But perhaps it will be the love baked in to that apple pie. Or the smile with which you offer it. Or the kindness with which you serve it.

While we may, in fact, make a cheesecake someday that touches someone’s life in profound ways, it’s more likely that we have spontaneously made hundreds and thousands of life-changing “cheesecake moments” without even knowing it. This is Kate’s message to us all. Being you is enough. Being you is your birthright. Being you IS your life purpose.

Which means you fulfilled your Life Purpose the moment you were born . . . and that you’ve been living it ever since. Congratulations! 

Question: Who would be surprised to find out they touched your life in a meaningful way, just by being Who They Are? Consider telling them today! Let’s remind each other that being who we are IS our Life Purpose. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Jennifer Mathews, M.A., is a writer, spiritual cheerleader, and change maker. She currently calls both Bristol, Vermont and Mount Shasta, California home (when she's not traveling elsewhere, that is).

Based on her own exploration of death, grief, joy and optimism, Jen offers life-affirming perspectives and practical tools to support others on their journeys. In her personal and unconventional TEDx Talk, “Death is Inevitable – Grief is Not,” she invites us to break free from the limitations and language of a grieving process and change the way we think about and respond to the death of those we love.

Jen is a founding member and organizer of the Ashland Death Cafe and the Living/Dying Alliance of Southern Oregon. As part of the Community Outreach team of the award-winning film Death Makes Life Possible, she has facilitated conversations on death, dying, and the afterlife in the US, the UK and Ireland.

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37 thoughts on “How to Know When You’ve Fulfilled Your Life Purpose

  1. This is going to sound really crazy. Lately I’ve been doing some soul searching. I’ve been trying to figure out who I am and what my purpose is. I’m a mom and a wife but I felt like I needed more. I realized the key is to love yourself. Accept yourself and not be afraid. I would really love to be a motivational speaker one day. But the just a moment ago I was talking to a friend about life and the bigger picture. As I was talking to my friend it was like I went into a trans and I felt a spirit or god or something talk to me telephathically. Saying you fulfilled your purpose and it scared me. Some weird feeling came over me. Long story short I googled do we die after we fulfill our purpose and I came across your blog. Your blog about your friend has answered my question in life. Just be yourself. I hope you know the joy this blog brought me and just thank you for sharing this. I hope you read this.

    • Hi Marie,
      I’m not sure how I missed your comment long ago, but I finally posted it and wanted to say how grateful I am that you took the time to write! What a blessing for our paths to cross! I’m so glad to hear that my words could be of service to you. Yes, just be YOU!!!! I hope that your journey has continued to be more and more fulfilling everyday. Smiles, Jen

  2. This was a nice reading. I was searching for something that supports my thought about being satisfied with my life so far at 57 years old. I raised three children, got divorce in 1998, and I am still working as a marriage and family therapist. I went through depression when I got divorced and it took me over three years to be able to move on and see “the sunlight” in my life again. I became very sick about three years ago and got very closed to the feeling of dying. I appreciate more every day since then and at the same time that illness is a daily reminder that I have lived my life to the fullest, I have helped many families, couples and individuals as a therapist and that is gratifying, that’s why I love what I do. Of course, I would like to enjoy seeing my grandchildren growing up and spend retirement life with my husband but if I die any time soon, I am pleased with what I have lived. I see death as an eternal sleep without worries, physical or emotional pain, it sounds good, I’m not afraid!

    • Thank you, Maria, for sharing! May you recognize the sunlight that you are and bring every day! It sounds like you have been a gift to many people. Lovely to hear your journey and your peacefulness about having lived (and living) and fulfilling live. Blessings to you! Jen

  3. Loved this! I have struggled with this same question for a long time now. Thank you, Thank you, Kate! Blessings…

  4. What a beautiful writer you are, Jennifer, and so grateful our paths have crossed. Thank you for your blog, I love it! This is the first column I have read so far, it touched me deeply. Thank you again.

  5. I absolutely had tears streaming down my face by the time I had finished reading this. This touched me to my very soul. I hadn’t ever thought about it that way. Thank you Jennifer, for such a touching glimpse inside….

  6. Dearest Jen, what a beautiful story! Having known Kate and having experienced my own precious moments of being with her when she was “just” being herself, I can truly say that she was even more than “enough”, that in those moments, she was everything that there could be. In the field of unconditional love, nothing is lacking and everything IS. I remember the first time that I really heard it when someone said to me that I was “enough”, that I could let go of struggling to be better and to fix myself, that I wasn’t broken, that I couldn’t get it wrong if I tried. I cried great big tears of joy, relief and appreciation as I let that sink in and wash through me. Some days I am able to embody that knowing. Other days, wonderful reminders show up, like reading your blog and then expanding back into the awareness of “enoughness” or wholeness. Thank you for showing up, for being your magnificent Self through your writing and in all the other ways that you do just that. Love Always!

  7. Thanks for this article Jen! I cried a few times with the tears that come from deep healing. This question has always been a struggle for me and to think that i am already there! That maybe i do have purpose, and i don’t have to DO anything, just be. Just be me and do the thing i love to do which is connect with people and animals and be kind. WOW! ill keep joyfully reminding myself of this one! Thanks Kate!

  8. This is such a great reminder!!! Thank you Jen. I love you so, and Kate too. You both mean the world to me…as friends, authentic and heartful communicators, supporters of community, lovers of life and grand adventurers. Your friendship and wisdom inspires and nurtures me. Blessings on your journey… xoxoxoxoxoxox Bay

  9. Thank you friend! 🙂 Beautiful expression of the reminder that I am enough just as I am. That what I do will ‘be’ enough…Grateful for you today Jen! and thanks Kate…as always, love hearing from you! Ha, ha, ha!!!

  10. Thank you for sharing this. It had profound meaning to me at this particular time since I’ve been searching and struggling with the next phase of my life. One could say you’ve fulfilled YOUR purpose today be reaching ME! Your dearly departed partner is smiling down on you for sharing this. Blessings.

  11. Wow! A perfect message at the perfect time. I have searched endlessly for my Life’s Purpose never feeling I found it …until today. Your words hit home and I could not be more grateful that I heard this message when I needed it most.
    So sorry for your loss of your life partner at such a young age. Blessings to her and that she shared her wisdom with you and you shared it with us. So simple, yet profound. I feel my sense of “lacking something” melting away.
    A million thanks.

  12. Thanks so much for sharing this Jen! I struggle with this question often and it it so helpful to let my self off the hook. My life purpose right now it to be enjoying a chocolate PB&J tortilla and feeling grateful! Thank You.

  13. Yes! I’m so on board with the practice of “being enough.” There is actually a community of us who engage/have actively engaged in that practice and conversation. There used to be a community called the Global Sufficiency Network which is now part of my colleagues’ business-Seven Stones Leadership. What you write about here is such an important concept. Thank you for sharing it to beautifully. This is a paradigm shifter.

    To Randy’s moving comment-I wonder and kind of have a hunch that perhaps Randy’s dad might have figured out his purpose… it may have come to him at or after his passing and gave him peace. That is my hope and prayer.

    • I remember you sharing the Global Sufficiency Network a while ago. Sounds fantastic! Would love to chat with you someday by phone. Here’s the manifesting that . . . xo

  14. Thank you for sharing this…you have touched a part of me that until this moment has been bogged by guilt and a myriad of other emotions. I have been “searching” like many do. And maybe, this is where I was supposed to come today just to read this. Thank you for being the beacon for me. Thank you also to Kate, for helping me today. Perfect timing. Love R.

  15. Jen, you so beautifully allow Kate to shine into our lives again and again. Kate knew that to simply be herself is her gift to all of us. May all know that this is enough…

    I remember in my birthday circle last year someone asked, ” What dreams do you have for the coming year?”. The first words that popped out of my mouth were, “I am so simple really”. In those words I was aligned with Kate: filled with the glow, the compassion, the joy of simply “being”…

    • I, too, remember you saying that at your birthday, and it reminded me of Kate. And then I thought that we’re all so simple, really, but sometimes we complicate things. I love your simplicity of being and find it very inspiring!! Thanks for being you.

  16. Beautiful and touching … tears still leaking from my eyes. What a blessing to share this insight and special moment with us! Deep down we all know this truth, that we came here to be ourselves and that the being of US is good enough, but it sure is sweet to be reminded.

    Just earlier this morning I was thinking about my dad and a special moment we had a few weeks before he died. I was running energy on his head for sinus issues, he was almost at the end of his process of dying of heart issues and he had no energy and nothing good to say about anything. He told me that he felt like a failure there at the end of his life and I felt so bad for him! I told him how he had succeeded in providing a home for his family and showing me how to manage money and be responsible. But it was weak, I could not for the life of me think of anything noteworthy to bring up at such an important moment. I remember just feeling sad and loving him so much but having nothing to offer. If the situation ever comes again that I have the opportunity to relate a life-affirming message to a dying person, it will be this one, the one you’ve shared with us today.

    Thank you so much~

    • Thanks, Randy. Wow, the ultimate compliment that you were moved to tears. And thanks for your touching story about your dad. I imagine it’s a common situation. My hope is that the more we consider things related to the final stages of life, the more comfortable and easeful we’ll feel in various situations, like the one you describe.

      And perhaps the more we’ll tell each other regularly how we touch each other in daily life. YOU and your enthusiasm, honesty and commitment to inspiring others has certainly touched mine!!!

  17. such a beautiful point, jenn…. that our purpose is the living of our lives authentically as ourselves. this topic is so UP these days in conversation. so many are wondering about life purpose and clear direction which is a sort of looking forward. i love that we can bring it home to this moment of breathing and being exactly with what is happening and the feelings flowing through. thank you for the gift of such an apt reminder.

    • It reminds ME, too! Funny how we can “know” who we are matters, but then to actual be okay with the being enough is something I need to remember over and over again. Thanks for witnessing me, and allowing me to witness you as well ; )