Does just thinking about purpose for your life give you anxiety?

I write a lot about the need for people over 50 to have purpose in their lives because, I assume, many people like the idea of having a central purpose for what they’re doing at this stage in life.

However, an article in Forbes magazine said thinking about and trying to describe a sense of purpose can produce anxiety in some people. Although I never thought about that, I can see where it may be a problem.

When I was struggling to find a useful purpose for my life a few years ago, I dreaded the question, “What are you doing all day?” Truthfully, the answer was “not much.” It was embarrassing because I didn’t know how to respond to questions like that, especially around people who seemed to live busy, productive or charmed lives.

There is a built-in expectation in that question because it assumes people should be doing something productive or meaningful with their time. If all you did was sit home and watch TV or surf the internet all day, it could be embarrassing to admit that.

That’s especially true in a group setting where others were actively involved in jobs, businesses, volunteer work or other projects. My mother suffered from that. She felt her life was boring in comparison to others, and didn’t like to talk about it.

According to Forbes, your purpose must be made up of not just words, but actions. What action are you taking, today, to express your purpose? How are you seeing evidence of your purpose in your daily life?

“You can claim anything as your purpose, but that doesn’t make it true, relevant or compelling,” business coach Chris Westfall wrote. “Evidence of your purpose is they key. Words without actions are just dreams. Or hype. How are you turning your purpose into a daily intention, that results in consistent action?”

So, if you’re taking action on something purposeful, then tell others what you’re doing. But, what if you have no action to talk about, like I did for nearly three years?

It’s okay to admit you are still “exploring options” or “contemplating” what to do. In fact, you might turn the conversation into seeking advice about things you have thought of doing. You might get a surprise response that breathes new life into your dream.

Even if you don’t have a clearly-defined purpose at the moment, you can describe your values and how you’re looking for something to do that is in line with those. Describing your values reinforces what’s meaningful to you and opens your eyes to seeing, and your mind to thinking about what is possible for you to do.

In citing a stress study conducted by Stanford researchers, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggested simply communicating your values to others has power. Speaking about their values works to make people “feel more powerful, in control, proud and strong., as well as more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others.”

Simply exploring your values is a means of self-affirmation in that you are confirming your own value and assessing your worth. From there, it is just a matter of time before you find something to do that aligns with those values.

When you’re looking for things that match your values, desires, skills, experience and natural talent, opportunities in those areas will stand out so you can more easily see them. Next time you’re driving somewhere, think about yellow cars and you’ll be surprised how many seem to pop-out.

The bottom line is that thinking about or talking about your purpose doesn’t need to produce anxiety. If you’re perfectly happy doing nothing all day, then there is nothing to worry about, is there? Admit it and don’t apologize. Who knows, the overly-busy people you’re talking with may be envious.

But, what if you want to be doing something meaningful, but aren’t doing so because you haven’t found the right thing to pursue? Instead talk about your values with others and seek suggestions on what you can do that aligns with those values. At the very least, you’ll have something interesting to talk about.