Patricia Holbrook

A life without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” — Charles Kingsley

The term “the golden years” was coined in 1959 in an advertising campaign for America’s first large retirement community, located in the middle of the Arizona desert. The advertisers targeted couples, 55 and older, who would embrace retirement as the crowning achievement of a lifetime of hard work by traveling, playing golf, and doing anything but work. The campaign was a success and launched a brand-new, thriving industry focused on helping people achieve their dream of retiring in style.

No wonder Sun City’s model was a success. The idea of a thriving retirement community filled with activities and likeminded people sounded like the perfect solution. Back in the ’50s, retirement was viewed as a time of decline and loneliness, and many seniors would find themselves struggling to find new purpose in life.

I believe the issue is still prevalent today.

Empty nesters who longed for the time when their children would become independent may find themselves staring at vacant bedrooms, feeling dreadfully lonely, abandoned, and even depressed.

Retirees who planned and prepared for their “golden years” with faithful zeal, may find themselves packing suitcases for their next adventure with less zest than anticipated.

But I don’t think the issue of lack of purpose is confined to the “golden years.”

A quick internet search of books on life’s purpose renders an extensive list. Whether secular or faith-based titles, the market seems to be saturated with authors attempting to share their understanding of how to find meaning in life.

A cynic may summarize life as a collection of appointments, to-do lists, good times and heartbreaks. However, that concept completely changes when one finds a higher purpose. More than words in a book or an idea in Scriptures, it is evident that God created us with a longing to make a difference … a heart that yearns to aim for a destination.

A life without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder. Or like Alice in Wonderland. Bear with me.

If you’ve read the book or watched the movie, you may remember a conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat, when Alice asks: “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” The elusive cat answered: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” the cat replied.

I believe many of us are living like Alice. We may have started the course with a clear direction. Then, life happened. We became too busy. Too tired. Too angry. And then, we lost focus.

The direction, once as bright as a summer day, now lacks clarity. God’s voice, once loud and decisive, becomes fogged by the weight of our doubts. We are confident we belong somewhere, but simply do not know how to get there.

If you are a person of faith, you may be wondering … Is there sin in my life that prevents me from finding the path back to a clear purpose?

Maybe. Then again, maybe not. I would like to offer a different possibility.

Could it be that the destination never changed, the calling was never withheld, but rather, you stopped moving toward the right direction by becoming distracted by less important things? Could it be that what you lack is simply focus?

Fulfilling life’s purpose is not an undecipherable mystery. It is a deliberate pursuit.

Intentionality and focus propel. Procrastination and confusion stall. One of these pairs will inevitably become protagonists of every story. That idea alone should challenge anyone whose life lacks purpose.

As a big birthday greets me next week, and even though I am still a bit far from the “golden years,” I am challenged to keep intentional about God’s calling to my life, and not become distracted with what everyone else is or is not doing. I am challenged to focus on my God-given purpose, keep my ears tuned to his voice, that I may not miss one single step along the way.

Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Visit her website For speaking engagements and comments, email

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