If you follow me on Instagram, you may already be acquainted with the newest, fluffiest member of my family. This is Sokka (pronounced Sock-uh), an Australian Shepherd lab mix my husband and I recently adopted.
Living with a dog was uncharted territory for me until this guy came home to us a couple weeks ago. Yep, it’s true – I’ve been alive 31 years and I’ve never really lived with a dog, just kitties! I knew I’d have to learn many things once the pupster came home: how to teach him to sit and stay and poop outside, how to help him become friends with my two cats, even how to feed and groom him. And I’ve certainly been learning all that stuff.
But I’ve been learning one thing from Sokka that I didn’t expect to learn. I’m learning how important it is for an thoughtful, curious puppy to have a purpose.
And that’s led me to consider how important it is for a thoughtful, curious human to have a purpose.
In ways I didn’t know to expect, Sokka and I are very much alike. If he is left to his own devices without a constructive purpose, he will find decidedly more destructive ways to stay occupied (such as chewing on my slippers, chasing the cats, or eating poop).
And I’ve been realizing that I’m… kind of the same way. If I don’t have a constructive purpose, I also gravitate towards less savory behaviors (such as cynicism, dicking around online, or eating too much chocolate).
Neither Sokka nor myself can really thrive when we are aimless. As a dog, Sokka is innately wired to be productive: herding, solving a problem, playing a game. He takes noticeable joy in every opportunity to learn about the world around him (you should have seem him discover snow, which is now one of his favorite things that exists). It’s not in his nature to sit around doing nothing. He wants to be exploring, learning, engaging. He is at his happiest and best when he has a purpose.
I’m the same way. When I reflect on the times that I have felt the most satisfaction and happiness, they’re always times when I feel like I’m doing something purposeful. When I’ve put in a solid days’ work doing readings for clients, or when I’ve spent some time writing, when I’ve taken direct action towards accomplishing a goal…those are a few of the times when I feel the most aligned.
A purpose can be very broad or very specific. I could decide my life purpose is something open-ended, such as to heal and expand. I could decide my daily purpose is something quite specific, such as completing three tarot readings. I could decide my purpose in this particular hour is to write 500 words, or just to write with no quota. We can define our purpose however we want – the important thing is just that we DO define it.
There’s one main thing that I get hung up on when it comes to defining a purpose for myself, and I’ve seen the same phenomenon in my clients. I tend to get stuck by worrying too much about focusing on the “correct” purpose. Like, right when I tell myself “okay, Carrie. Your main purpose for December is to focus on building your new website,” another part of me replies, “but is that really what I should be doing? Am I even capable of building a website? What if I do it wrong? What about all the other goals I have, shouldn’t I focus on one of those instead?” And so on, and so on, until I utterly derail myself from gaining momentum on the task.
What I really admire about Sokka is that he doesn’t get bogged down by the inner critic and doubts that humans do. If I offer him his rope toy, he happily accepts that his purpose is now to play tug-of-war. And if after a few minutes his puppy attention deficit distracts him, I can easily remind him by waggling the rope that THIS is his current purpose.
This is one thing that is truly challenging about being a human. Many of us are privileged with a lot of influence over defining our purpose. But at the same time, many of us resist this autonomy, because autonomy is hard! Having a say in defining your purpose requires you to develop the right blend of self-discipline and self-love. It requires you to ask tough questions of yourself, and to regularly engage in thorough self-inquiry. It requires you to experiment, risk failure, and come face to face with your most gnarly inner demons.
What’s easier is having a church or a parent or society define our purpose for us, and then simply sticking to the status quo. Some people can find genuine happiness that way – but myself and others like me feel called to walk our own uncharted paths. And defining a purpose on your own terms is not easy! There’s often no rule book, no footsteps to follow. I think this is why some of us struggle with self-doubt and clarity around defining our purpose.
Sokka is teaching me how liberating it can be to quit over-complicating things, choose a damn purpose and then just FOCUS on it! Forget perfectionism, forget worries about making the right choice. Just pick something and tell yourself “this is my purpose right now.” If that chosen focus really does start to feel wrong, you can always re-define your purpose at any given time.
This is because we humans drain SO much energy by refusing to choose a purpose, or by doubting our choice, or by criticizing ourselves every step of the way. I’m asking myself to follow Sokka’s example: keep it simple, focus on something, re-direct yourself when you get distracted, find joy in the process, and move on when you’ve done what you need to do.
It’s really that straightforward – dogs know. Humans are the ones that need reminding!
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