Who You Are vs What You Do

Find Your Meaning by Understanding Your Purpose

If you want to find true meaning and purpose in your life, you have to learn the difference between who you are and what you do.

Lisa and I have been talking a lot lately about purpose, vision, mission, and big-idea concepts about the meaning of our life’s work. Looking at our lives from a zoomed-out perspective to focus on how and why we do what we do is helpful to our efforts to keep getting better. 

In those conversations, we talked about how I’ve pretty much pursued one vocational path during my adult years (neurosurgery), while Lisa has made a living in multiple professions (professional chef, interior designer, entrepreneur, business owner, medical executive). 

And since we moved to Wyoming, I’ve been doing what I’ve always done and she’s been a little bit unclear of her next move. That’s by default, since we moved here for my job. But it’s also difficult, since Lisa’s always had some job that was important and gave her a sense of place and purpose. 

But in talking about these things we’ve come across some truths that should be helpful to you also.

The other morning we were praying about purpose, and something dawned on me (actually, when things ‘dawn’ on you while you’re praying, it’s usually the Holy Spirit telling you something). 

Everything I do, from neurosurgery to writing and blogging and podcasting and mentoring men to raising my kids (and now grandkids) is about one thing: healing. 

And everything Lisa does and has ever done, from creating beautiful meals as a mother, a chef, a caterer and personal chef for famous people; designing lovely homes, productive spaces, comfortable environments and safe places; helping dress people and design looks and attitudes and a sense of identity through fashion; mentoring women and helping them see who they really are and what they can become; and raising children who know who they are and how they fit into their own skin and the world, has been about one thing: transformation. 

We realized that it’s critical to look at what you do, not the “I do surgery” or “I design homes” but the actual heart of it:

For me, I could say, “I take scared, worried, broken, weak, hurting, or dying people and point them toward healing and wholeness.”

Lisa might say, “I take people in situations of disrepair, despair, mis-identity; people who don’t know they are beautiful or smart or capable; places that are not everything they could be, or people who do not know how to make meals (or homes) that will nourish and lift them up, and transform them into their maximum potential.”

When we spent some time doing that, I realized something critical: 

There is no occupation or thing you can do that God did not establish first. 

In that context, God is the original interior designer. He designed the entire universe (Read Genesis 1-3, or Isaiah 40). And He’s not just the designer of the things you see, either. He designed your heart, how it’s supposed to be used and what makes it beat in this life. 

Read our friend Max Lucado’s book Cure for the Common Life if you want to learn more about how you’re designed to live in a sweet spot. 

And so, in Lisa’s case, when she finds joy and purpose in helping other people transform into who they’re supposed to be, she’s just emulating something God did first. After all, He said that he came
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness
(Isaiah 61:3 NKJV)

He also promised this:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you 
(Ezekiel 36:26 NKJV)

And for me, God is the Great Physician (John 5), the Healer of all our diseases (Psalm 103:3). 

This is a powerful exercise, and I promise it will help you. If you really think about what you do, or all the things you’ve done over your lifetime, can you boil it down into one essence, one essential thing that you would do even if you made your living doing something else?

For me, I’ve come to realize that if I had my arms cut off and couldn’t operate, I would still write and record and blog and try to help people heal. 

Lisa, no matter the context in which she’s placed, will always be about helping to transform people and spaces into their purest, most functional, highest version of themselves.  

What’s this all about, you might ask?

It’s about the difference between occupation and calling. Between who you are and what you do. 

In short, you’re not defined by what you do for a living. Your higher purpose is about living out your calling. Reflecting the aspects of God’s character He built uniquely into you.

Our purpose in this world is to honor God and help other people see Him more clearly. 

You can do that if you’re a plumber, an insurance agent, a stay-at-home-mom, a literary agent, a bestselling author, or a retired garbage man.

But in order to do it, you have to understand your calling, and how very different that is from your occupation. 

It’s a tough world out there. People lose jobs, they become disabled, they miss out on opportunities or fail to get into certain schools. And if those things happen, you can be crushed and feel adrift if you think you’re defined by your job.

So, my friend, start looking for your calling. 

If you’re working in your calling, the venue doesn’t matter so much.

Start honing in on your sweet spot, your calling. 

And start today.

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I'm Dr. Lee Warren. I'm a writer and a neurosurgeon.

I help smart people understand how they're wired, so they can become healthier, feel better, and be happier.

If you want to change your life, you have to change your mind first.

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