Lately, I’ve been working on being softer toward myself. Kinder. Slower. Why? Because it just feels so darn good, but also because I’m feeling anxious. You might be feeling the same way.

Perhaps you’re reflecting on your life, and saying “Well, I sure got a lot done, but what’s it all for? What’s my higher calling? How do I stop spinning my wheels and get down to business? And to be even more blunt: What the hell am I supposed to be doing with my life?!”

I struggled with this, too, until I finally found my purpose (spoiler alert: or so I thought) with Crazy Sexy Cancer and then Crazy Sexy everything else. At first I felt very strong and proud. My feathers were fluffed. I had finally arrived spiritually. For the rest of my days I wouldn’t have to worry about the burning “what’s my purpose?” question. I used to tell myself, “Well, that’s one good thing that came from cancer …” It seemed pretty clear: My purpose was to help people get healthier and to teach prevention. Pretty rad. A karmic home run.

But here’s the rub. When our purpose is external, we may never find it. If we tie our purpose or meaning to our vocation, goal or an activity, we’re more than likely setting ourselves up for suffering down the line.

Your purpose has nothing to do with what you do. There, I said it. Your purpose is about discovering and nurturing who you truly are, to know and love yourself at the deepest level and to guide yourself back home when you lose your way. That’s it. Everything else is your burning passion, your inspired mission, your job, your love-fueled hobby, and so on. Those things are powerful and essential, but they’re not your purpose. Your purpose is much bigger than that.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot on a personal level lately. My deeper understanding of purpose feels right in my bones. It diffuses the ache of separateness I experience when my work isn’t appreciated or when my efforts are overlooked or criticized. Sometimes folks will treasure your work, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes you’ll get the gig, sometimes you won’t.

You’ll be on the marquee and you’ll be passé. You’ll be thanked and you’ll be taken for granted. You’ll give and you’ll get nothing in return. You’ll be “Liked” and you’ll be unfriended. That’s life. But, so then what? You have no purpose or meaning? Absolutely, positively not. Can you see how tying your worth to that circus will only make you feel depleted, depressed and even resentful? Anchor your purpose within, sweet friend. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself drifting out at sea again and again.

What if your purpose is very different than what you’ve been taught to believe?

What if your purpose is to build an everlasting relationship with yourself? To fall deeply in love with precious you? This isn’t self-centered or selfish, it’s self-expansive. Interconnected. Conscious.

What if your purpose is to forgive yourself and others? And by doing so, to allow warm waves of compassion to wash over the entire planet (yourself included).

What if your purpose is to gently heal all self-injury? And by doing so, to become a mentor and role model for others to do the same.

What if your purpose is to release all shame and feelings of unworthiness? Guess what you’ll find behind those feelings? Vulnerability. Roll out the red carpet for the V word because vulnerability is where your true strength and glory resides.

Shall we talk about perfection? Yes, I think we must. What if your purpose is to teach yourself that there is no such thing as perfection and that your never ending pursuit of it is destroying your life and your relationships. Let it go.

What if your purpose is to speak kindly to yourself so that you elevate your energy and the world around you?

What if your purpose is to develop an everlasting faith in yourself? To remember your holiness and treat yourself accordingly. The deeper your faith gets, the stronger your connection to a higher power.

What if your purpose is to take impeccable care of yourself so that you have the energy and joy to serve others?

And lastly …

What if your purpose is to bear witness to your suffering? To acknowledge it and embrace it in order to move through it. “They” say that “suffering is optional.” I’m not so sure about that anymore. I used to think that was true. But that was before I had a deep and layered experience with suffering. Today, I think suffering is essential. The trick is to learn how to move out of suffering once you get the nugget and are ready to apply the lessons. Note: Residue of pain may remain (and that’s OK), but at some point you can fully release the suffering.

Seriously, what if finding your purpose is about finding and nurturing yourself? Not an external to-do or accomplishment, even if that to-do or accomplishment is the most important discovery of all time. Because if you are the one destined to find the most important ah-ha of all time, you will probably find it quicker and easier if you feel good, loved and happy. Start there. It’s that simple.

Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t love my job (or you) or that I’m going to quit anyway. I cherish my work and all of my readers. And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start an orphanage or save animals or empower women or teach people how to file taxes. It means that you no longer need to connect your personal self-worth with a plaque on the wall.

Your self-worth has nothing to do with your craft or calling and everything to do with how you treat yourself.

I’ve met brilliant and effective activists who I have gallons of respect for but who are dirty messes inside. Mean messes. Bitter messes. Sad messes. And guess what? Their reach and impact reflects their attitude. Imagine what they could accomplish if they moved from loathing to love, if they knew that no matter how important their mission, their inner purpose matters even more. Folks are like plants, we all lean toward the light.

You are the light. Your inner purpose is to connect with that light. Everything else will follow in time.

Kris Carr is a New York Times best-selling author, motivational speaker and wellness activist. Back in 2003, she directed and starred in Crazy Sexy Cancer, an inspirational documentary for TLC that chronicled her journey from cancer diagnosis to juicy healthy living.