The Difference between Purpose and Productivity

It’s 9.58am and my eyes creak open through the crust nestled in my caruncles, uprooting me from a blurring dream of love and sadness; One where I cradled a painfully beautiful baby of my own, softly thumbing their white cotton hair, but also my Dad died. Disappointment swept over me. Not because I awoke enough to realise my Dad is still alive- thankfully, but because I had wasted a night’s sleep on a bad dream; A lost opportunity to manifest the life I desperately want to live. I put so much pressure on myself to live purposely that I am annoyed at my mind’s questionnable imagination whilst I’m semi-conscious. For someone who memorizes almost every dream without exception, that’s a lot of frustration to feel over something I have no control over. The wave of disapointment casually drew back with the tide of awakeness, only to flow steadily once more, this time with a stronger current of deflation. As I lay in my bed at 10.14am I start to wonder why I had bothered to wake up at all. Not in an ‘I wish I was dead’ way, but with a definite feel of ‘What was the point’. I feel as though I could have slept for 48 hours straight and nothing significant would have changed. I have woken up just to exist in this day. I will eat. I will shower. I will spend seven hours switching between Apple devices and glaring at a set of screens which unlock access to 300,000 followers living behind my finger tips. I will post something on Instagram which will give me a sense of importance for a while. That is until the ‘likes’ on my photo sit lower than 1,000 and only three of my friends reach out after I post a woah-is-me story about loneliness. Sometimes I forget that I’m not the centre of their universe. That sucks too.

Keep at it.’

‘You’re bloody great. Keep doing your stuff.’

‘Hang in there, you’re doing amazing work’. 

These mesages of encouragement weren’t from my friends, but from strangers I’d never met. Most of the time messages from strange men on the internet make me squirm, my tolerance level tarnished by photos of Darren’s 48 year old chode in my inbox or the bombardment of messages from the try-their-lucker’s after I chose to respond once as a genuine thank you to a kind message. But some days, today being one of them, these random notes of validation that I would usually roll my eyes at offer a reason to smile and feel seen in a World where I can sometimes feel intensely alone. Is it shallow to gain an ego boost from random usernames on the internet? Maybe, but it’s not the empty compliments about the way I look or stream of fire emojiis that I take great pleasure inIt’s the ‘You’ve got this!’ messages which ping into my inbox and embody the tone of a supportive drunk girl in the nightclub toilets that I choose to slurp up with the same excitement as a Tango Iceblast. In this moment, social media gives me a sense of worth, some purpose in a day which otherwise holds a diary void of any work tasks, face-to-face meet ups with friends or the gentle touch of a lover. That is until some family man with a toddler in his profile picture leaves a comment insinuating I’ve put weight on and punches me back into my self-depricating mood. 

‘Feminism must be high in calories’ it read.

It’s also high in I’m sure your kid will be real proud his Dad is a cunt-ies. 

To have purpose is a strange thought. Is it something we can own? To hang up in the wardrobes of our minds like the must-have Celeb Boutique dress of 2014. If you think about it too much it will keep you up at night, if you don’t think of it at all then you might just lose your way. The author Darius Foroux noted in an article for “The Purpose of Life is not Happiness, it’s Usefulness” and if you’ve ever had one day roll into the other where the most useful thing you’ve done was slather enough marmite on your bagel that it is seeping onto your fingers and remembered to cut your toenails before they start to dig into your skin, then you will relate to his claim. I wouldn’t say I’m lacking happiness in my life. The last week of my life alone is scattered with examples of happiness;

I met my girlfriends for drinks in a gin bar where I attempted to grasp the concept of ‘rummy’ whilst being intoxicated by three large Merlot’s and the gratitude of being out of my flat. I cooked a garlic-chicken spaghetti dish topped with home-made rosemary oil from my time in Croatia that was so tasty, I patted myself on the back with a level of ‘I would pay for that in a restaraunt’ satisfaction. I binged four hours of Schitt’s Creek. I remembered to give myself a face massage with my gua sha. I spent hours on Facetime talking nonsense with my Mum. I ordered two new dresses from Topshop (posh) even though I have absolutely nowhere or nothing to wear them too. I walked hungover in a downpour, sipping a Yahoo milkshake and smiling at the smell of the raindrops hitting the concrete. I had a sit-down shower whilst listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits on repeat. I even booked a job with an exciting new client and had confirmation of a huge commission. No, happiness was not a problem in my life. So why did I feel so sad? 

Throughout recent years I have grappled to find my real purpose in life. Tiltering on the edge of several different job roles and re-launching myself time and time again as I try to slot the ‘me’ into a meaningful life. A vlogger, a blogger, a food Instagrammer, a travel influencer, a researcher, a brand mananger, a creative director, a model, a presenter, an activist, an advocate. The ‘cool’ girl, the girlfriend, the casual hook-up, the one who doesn’t have a boyfriend, the one who doesn’t want a boyfriend. I have tried to bend and squeeze and fit and mould myself into something I think people want me to be, and someone I thought I wanted to become. But when the jobs dry up along with the Whatsapp chats, everything and everyone I have based my usefulness on disappears and I am left to wallow in the feathered walls of my king-sized duvet as I question the entire purpose of life. I think freelance life is partly to blame for this unnerving feeling of being un-useful. Jobs can come and they can go, and weeks or even months can pass by without any paid work. With no routine or tasks to do and my Netflix ‘Saved’ List exhausted, I can quickly find myself feeling like an empty sack of shit. A lazy slob who isn’t making anything of themselves. If you’re not working, you’re not earning, if you’re not earning, you are not worthy. I hate how much of our purpose-ness and our identity is placed upon the job we do to simply pay the bills. Our purpose and useful-ness in life should stretch so much further than the tasks we do for eight hours a day to simply put food in our bellies. 

This is the sign you've been looking for sign: If only it were this easy!
Ugh, if only it were this easy!

In Matt Haig’s book ‘Notes on a nervous planet’ he writes about a time when he visited a homeless shelter in London. This shelter didn’t just provide a roof over the heads of it’s guests, but it built a sense of community amongst the residents. They would prepare their meals together before sitting down and enjoying them with eachother, they tended to the shelter’s gardens and volunteered within the community. The reason behind all of this? To provide a sense of purpose in life; a reason to live. The lives of the residents were stripped down to their bare core and a roof over their head- a reflection of all material things in our lives – was simply not going to be enough to get them back on the road to happiness and health. Purpose is what makes us feel like we belong on this planet, that we are contributing to make the World a better place. But what I am slowly learning is that purpose doesn’t have to be a fancy job or becoming a house-owner, it does not have to be a nobel-peace prize or fifty-thousand likes on Instagram. Purpose can be found in the smallest tasks, like keeping your cactus alive (yes, I really managed to kill a cactus) and making a friend laugh when they’ve just found out they’ve got an STI- buuurn, literally.

We live in a World which tells us we can be anything, that the World is our Oyster, that we can achieve everything we want if we just work hard for it. This attitude can be a great thing, but it can also lead us to feel unhappy with who we are and what we have in the present moment. We become anxious, annoyed, frustrated at ourselves for eating spaghetti hoops in bed instead of fighting for equal rights or banking our first million pound cheque. If we are not being productive, we are not serving our purpose. But that isn’t always true. When I was younger and up until I was about seventeen, all I wanted in life was to find a partner and have my own babies. Sure, I wanted to be a model, I wanted to be rich and drive a nice car and not always have to shop in Primark for my holiday clothes. But these were side-line dreams to what I innocently thought was my purpose in life. To be loved, and to give love. Of course being a mother or a wife is not a woman’s sole purpose for being on this Earth (my 27 year old feminist-self strongly opposes this view!) but we could all do with re-connecting with our naiive childhood wonder around life and it’s purpose in our pursuit for eternal occasional happiness. As a child, a day in my pyjamas eating ice-cream and watching cartoons felt like a dream instead of a guilt-trip. My sense of usefulness went as far as helping my Nan make kebabs for the BBQ and braiding my best-friends hair. I would cling onto my Dad’s back as he made his way up the stairs on all fours pretending to be a horse and carriage and my Mum would tuck me in and stroke my forehead until I fell asleep. I felt loved, I felt useful and my life certainly felt like it had purpose. And there was no promotion, house key or engagement ring insight. 

Adult life can take away our innocence and blurs the lines between purpose, pleasure and paying the bills. Although it may not seem it when we lay in an isolated slumber of crisp packets and empty email inboxes, there is always purpose in your day, in your life, you’ve just got to find it. Perhaps try searching in the small spaces instead. 


Read. Reading opens up your imagination and can trigger a bright idea or educate you on something you weren’t aware of that you can pass on to others.

Seek out something new. To experience awe makes us feel connected to something larger than ourselves. Try climb a mountain to see a totally new view, or observe a master of their craft in a topic/subject/career you’re interested in trying out.

Buy a plant. If babies are waaay in the distant future and your landlord won’t let you have a puppy (kill-joy), looking after a plant will give you something to nurture and look after. Alternatively, there are websites out there such as BorrowMyDoggy and TrustedHouseSitters where you can look after other people’s pets without the huge committment and endless shit scooping.

Volunteer. Helping others is a guaranteed way of making yourself useful and providing purpose to peoples lives. Seek out a community around you who would benefit from your kindness.  

Cook for someone you love (that someone can be you!). Preparing a meal from scratch takes love, patience and care. It is a display of affection and the end result provides huge satisfaction for the person eating it. Plus, it serves an important purpose as any in life – to literally keep your body alive! 

Published by Jess Davies

Claiming a tiny corner of the internet as my safe space to share my thoughts, opinions and jibber jabber.

2 thoughts on “The Difference between Purpose and Productivity

  1. Some food for thought. I wish I were able to be this introspective or at least able to document my thoughts as such. Nicely done.


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