The purpose driven life is the ideal life for productivity and control. If you know your true purpose in life, all you have to do is chart a path and work towards fulfilling that purpose. You may hit some turbulence along the way but that’s okay. You’ll deal with it in due course. Your sense of purpose will overcome those temporary disruptions.
People who have a true sense of purpose are also congruent in their expressions. They are easy to trust. They emit confidence because they know why they are doing what they are doing. They charge forward with certainty and exactitude.
Sounds great. But what if the sense of purpose has not solidified for you? How does one arrive at an understanding of purpose? How can a person really succeed in business or relationships or life in general without some sense of purpose? Tough questions for sure.
I’ve always struggled with these questions. I’ve invested tons of time and energy into solving them because I have found that having a purpose makes life so much easier. Of course, throughout my life, my sense of purpose has changed. Like Joseph Campbell’s Hero, different stages of life have revealed different identities and so different purposes.
If you are struggling with that “in-between” stage such as what to do as retirement is approaching; how to adjust now that the kids have left the home; just married; recently divorced; starting a new career; here are some ideas that have helped me chisel out definitions of purpose over the years.
How to clarify the Purpose of Your Life
Purpose is unique to all people. You’ve got to find a path and articulate it all on your own. You can borrow one, but it won’t last, especially if you are older than twenty-one. Modeling the success of others can only get you so far and eventually you will have to find your own way.
While in transition, you can still have a sense of courage. Courage is necessary in order to be vulnerable and creative. Be open to explore your greatest dreams. Allow your imagination to run wild.
A purpose can last a lifetime or may require some updating depending on individual circumstances. We only know what we know so our sense of purpose is based on our best wisdom at the time. Every moment we are gaining new wisdom so it is likely that our purpose will change.
It usually takes some effort to pry inwards and explore those things that are most sacred to us. I would recommend allocating some time and space alone, away from all those external distractions like phones, emails, television, social media, etc…
The best way to know is to do. Experiment through trial and error. Intentional activities will build a wisdom from which great, personal insight will arise. Spending some time in private contemplation is good. Spending all your time in philosophical mumblings has never worked for me. It can be fun but is rarely productive. There are so many mysteries and trying to think about all of them cannot replace applied living. The best classroom or laboratory is to engage in the real world. This is a bit like wandering the desert but with a purpose to discover purpose.
Get the ball rolling
When you do put some time aside for deep contemplation, here are some tips to help get the ball rolling:
1) Write down your most awesome experiences or events. What were the best times in your life? What were you doing? Who were you with? Where were you? Find trends and common elements or rhythms.
2) Write down your worst times. The toughest or most miserable moments. What were the circumstances? What did you learn from that experience? What did you appreciate as a result of that experience?
3) What were your recurring dreams or fantasies as a child? What were you fascinated with while growing up? Did you enjoy being outdoors? Did you like competing? Did you want to be a princess, a king, a wizard?
4) What would you do if you had more than enough time and money? I mean crazy rich and you could do anything. What would you be doing? Where would you be doing it? Would you be learning, consuming, giving, serving, building, or creating?
Once you have the ball rolling, it’s good to write down the top five possible directions and meditate on them all at once. Does one bubble up above the rest? Take that one and wear it for a week. Tell yourself “This is my purpose!” Then review it after a week. It may feel odd because you are playing with your sense of self-identity. Be courageous, bold and playful.
Give it some time. If it doesn’t work try a different purpose. If you are feeling frustrated with the whole process, that’s ok. There’s a bunch of things going on:
1. You are very close and you should push on through the discomfort or,
2. You are totally wiped out and you need a break. If this is the case, give yourself permission to drop the exercise for a few weeks or even months. Revisit the process with fresh energy and fresh eyes.
3. You may have a wide variety of passions and interests and no one “Purpose” captures them all.
Multiple Passions – Multiple Purpose
If after some experimentation, one clear path does not reveal itself to you, that’s fine too. In fact, it’s time to celebrate. The likelihood is that you have more than one purpose at this time. You can be passionate about multiple paths or interests. This is a good thing. The more options the better. Recently, I viewed an interview with Randy Komisar. Randy is a very successful, purpose driven man who has a great perspective on using passion to drive choices and actions. He has been passionate about many things, which is how I’ve always seen the world too. His approach allows you to keep your passions alive while being actively engaged in purposeful activities. After all, the point is to live a meaningful life.
Here’s the key. The most important reason to have purpose:
The purpose of your life acts as a temporal reference. Your purpose can be placed in the future, as a marker, so you have something to strive for. You can be passionate about your purpose and simultaneously seize immediate opportunities in a sensible manner.
Imagine you are staring out over a vast ocean and rising on the horizon is the morning sun. Now, imagine the horizon is like your future and the rising sun is your passion, your purpose. The ocean represents time. The sun is your overall target or destiny.
Now, as you look in the direction of the sun, notice that at any given moment, there are opportunities or circumstances that are between you and the sun on the horizon. Your task is to select the best opportunity now and take actions to seize the opportunity. The opportunity will be aligned with your main purpose and congruency is maintained.
As you commit to the immediate opportunity and venture out on the ocean towards your destiny, you will notice that new opportunities appear that were not visible prior to this commitment. Set a goal to achieve this new opportunity. As you accomplish a goal, commit to the next opportunity that is in alignment with your cluster of purposes and move in that direction.
Over time, you will have made great progress that can only be appreciated in hindsight. Your chosen path will seem brilliant after you’ve followed it. However, as you look forward, into the future, you will see an abundance of awesome opportunities, all of which you could pursue with passion and focus. Your task is to make good decisions about immediate opportunities. You will proceed with passion and focus as you move in the direction of your purpose.
This is an important exercise and needs to be done from time to time. If you know you should do this but are avoiding it because of fear or laziness, give yourself a playful slap on the side of the head, take a deep breath and get on with it.
A purpose driven life is highly productive and much easier to operate.
Once you’ve nailed down a workable cluster of purposes. Commit to them! Write them down and make it your mantra. It’s not poetry. It’s more about function than fashion. Wear them everywhere and be actively engaged in the best opportunities that are between you and your select cluster of purposes.