Recently a friend sent me a link to a Radio Lab podcast about the relationship between fungus and trees with a brief note: “Definitely listen to this! It’s unbelievable!” Because I trust her, dig RadioLab, and am a geek, I tuned in.


After reflecting with wide-eyed fascination on the mind blowing (and purposeful!) relationship between these two living organisms, I began to ponder…What does it mean to live with purpose? Many of us have oft asked the question “What’s my purpose in life?” And if you run a Google search on this very question, you’ll uncover countless articles, books, websites, and “experts” claiming to have your answer.


But if, instead, we look to the symbiotic relationships in nature (like the one between trees and fungus) as examples of how to live purposefully, a more relevant question might be this:


“What is life demanding of me right now?”


If you ask this question and listen intently to the world around you, the answer will be clear. The answer you receive is your purpose.


Unfortunately, at times, the answer may not be what we want to hear (I’ve been there). And we don’t always get to choose our purpose. If we did, it would undoubtedly involve feeling happy and fulfilled 100% of the time. But, in my opinion, life isn’t simply about being happy. It’s about being useful. We can look for the truth of this message in nature – it’s telling us over and over again.


Not to fret. Life is nothing if not ever changing (another message we find in nature). While our purpose may change day to day, and sometimes even moment to moment, the common thread will usually align with what we have to offer.


So the question I have is this: Can we quiet our thoughts long enough to listen to what life is demanding of us, and answer by responding with what we have to offer? Can we find fulfillment in our usefulness?


In the context of business: an organization can define its mission (purpose), but a mission is ill-fitted if there is no attention paid to what the market demands. And a mission, too, is ill-fitted, if a business does not pay heed to what its people have to offer (which includes their potential).


The same is true at the individual level: we can define our own mission, our purpose, but a mission defined without consideration paid to what the world needs, without consideration paid to what we have to offer, lacks, well…purpose.


So what is life demanding of you right now? What do you have to give?


Melissa Draper is a systems thinker and skilled consultant with over 15 years of experience planning and implementing organizational change management initiatives, improving business processes, and managing global learning programs. She is passionate about yoga and mindfulness meditation. Melissa completed her RYT 200 training with Ana Forrest in 2010 and currently lives in Portland, OR with her husband and young son. She remembers with fondness her years in Santa Cruz teaching at Luma.