Purpose can be so hard to find, that it’s nice to know that once found, we keep it for the rest of our lives, Right?

Indeed, a given purpose can stay with us for long time—years, even decades. It can also change, both substantially and dramatically. Purpose changes with age, with life transitions, and with personal growth. Purpose evolves as we do.

Richard Leider, in his wise book The Power of Purpose describes the different questions of purpose that drive us at different ages. For example in adolescence, we ask “What do I want to be when I grow up?” In young adulthood, we ask “What is my calling?” In older age, we ask “ What is my legacy?”
This pattern of changing, evolving purpose is common in the lives of people who live with great purpose. Mother Teresa, for example, had her sense of purpose change during her life. For her first twenty years of being a nun, she was a school teacher and headmistress at a convent school in India. Then, after two decades, she heard a call in her inner conscious. It said to serve the poor by living with them. So, she relocated to Calcutta where she opened up hospices for the extreme poor and lepers and homes for orphans. Her new mission was to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society.“

In one sense, Mother Teresa’s calling remained stable. She was a Catholic Missionary in India. In another sense, it evolved over time. By the end of her life, Mother Teresa headed a religious order—the Missionaries of Charity—and ministered to suffering worldwide.

Author and teacher Stephen Cope summarizes that “callings are more fluid than we would like them to be. They can change maddeningly.” Just when we settle into a calling, we get upended.



Photo credit: Ian Schneider