Is Purpose Only for the Privileged?

Sometimes when I talk to people about ideas around work and purpose, I get resistance. That resistance often comes at me in the form of purpose shaming…

People push back with questions like: Isn’t it selfish or self-indulgent to be going on about this whole purpose thing when there are people in the world who are starving? No one wants to hear about our first world problems. Stop complaining. Why can’t we just be grateful to have a job? Millions of people in the world can barely meet their basic needs. It’s annoying to listen to well-educated, well-situated people whine about not being fulfilled or self-actualized.

I hear people dismissing the voice inside their heads that is nagging them to align with more meaningful work. They shrug it off as something that is elitist to entertain, or spoiled to even want. They say that purpose is a problem that only privileged people have. They point out that the poverty-stricken and the starving are not concerned about purpose. And so on.

It is true. They are absolutely right.

Purpose is a privilege.

Purpose seems too reserved for a few of us, the lucky ones. Those of us born in a safe, stable economy. Those of us living in relative peace, under relatively functional governments. Those of us who received adequate healthcare standards to grow up strong and vital, without debilitating diseases. Those of us who are given access to education and opportunities.

It is important to recognize these kinds of supportive circumstances as the blessings that they are.  We can do the most good when we are grateful for what they provide: opportunity. People who don’t have these basic foundations for their day-to-day lives certainly aren’t worrying about finding or expressing their purpose. They have more pressing concerns for survival.

And that is exactly why it is so important that we engage with it. That is exactly why it is so critical that we investigate the unanswered questions of our hearts and minds. That is exactly why it is not only our desire, but also our duty on some level, to find the courage to open ourselves up to the unknown. Not everyone can. Of those who can, not everyone will.

Seeing that purpose is a privilege is not something that should make us shy away from inviting it into our lives. True, Only a few have the opportunity to entertain aspirations of meaningful work, to choose their work, beyond what puts food on the table. And, if you have the privilege, it is also your responsibility. Because being on purpose, living on purpose, working on purpose… It is all ultimately about being in service. It’s about creation and contribution.

We have so many problems that need solving in the world. There are so many issues and injustices that need healing. I don’t need to list them here. There are far too many. Your heart is aching to give back. Maybe you even feel the pain of ignoring that call for many years.

If you are one of the privileged ones, I will acknowledge that it is easier to ignore the call. It is easier to stay with your head down, nose to the grindstone, collecting your paychecks, and acquiring and accumulating and spending and distracting yourself to oblivion. I did this myself for a really long time. Maybe you know you’re not contributing as much as you could. Maybe you know you’re actually helping perpetuate ills that you would otherwise stand up against.. But it is easier to pretend you don’t know. It is easier to stay where you are. It is easier to stay stuck.

Purpose is not for the weak. It is not for the fearful. And it is definitely not for those who are content to be merely comfortable. Purpose is for the bold-hearted, the steel-willed, the thick-skinned. It takes immense courage and incredible trust to step out of security and comfort and choose the on-purpose path over the regularly scheduled program.

For the sake of all those who don’t have the privilege… please…

Let your privilege strengthen your commitment to service.

And choose purpose over the program.