What Are You Going to Do with Your Life?

After work, the four members of the marketing team went to the pub for their weekly get-together. Unlike the past, today’s subject was a heavy one, but expressed with a morbid sense of humor. Instead of talking about sports, politics, or women, they broached the subject of LIFE. Casper started. “You know,” he said, “life is nothing more than a sexually transmitted disease, and a terminal one at that.”

“You’re right,” Xavier chimed in, “all life is, is a substance that temporarily prevents our bodies from rotting.” On a more benign note, Spencer yawned and said, “Life is something you do when you can’t sleep.”

While pushing the frame of his eyeglasses firmly on his nose, Errol added, “Here’s what I think. A person who works hard and accomplishes a great deal meets the same fate as one that doesn’t, for they both die. So, what’s the point of it all if it all ends in death?”

Those who, like Errol, can’t help wondering what the point of it all is are focusing on the wrong thing, death. For if you focus on life, the answer immediately becomes clear. The point of it all is to live a life of exuberance, joy, excitement, and wonder. The point of life is to experience the excitement of discovery, joy of achievement, and wonder of mystery. The point is to take delight in the surprises that constantly come our way.

Simply put, the point of life is to ENJOY it; that is, to live IN JOY. Since we cannot give away what we do not have, it is important that we meet our own needs first. Ultimately, however, the reason for enjoying life is to make the lives of others enjoyable. For as George Eliot wrote, “What do we live for; if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?”

Adam Lindsay Gordon expressed similar sentiments in verse:

“Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.”

The point of it all is to make a point, to have a reason for being, to be a point of light by making a difference. In other words, the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. Usually, we don’t have to waste time trying to discover our life purpose because it is not to be found, but to be created by us.

If your personal calling is not obvious to you, be still for a moment and ask your inner wisdom for guidance. Franz Kafka explains: “Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come.”

What’s the point of being successful and having plenty to live on if one has nothing to live for? So, pick a cause, a belief in something greater than you, which will generate enthusiasm and make life worth living.

Some complain about the minor irritants and misfortunes that come their way. But so-called ‘problems’ are blessings for they provide the contrast that allows us to enjoy life. For example, Canadians love to escape from their harsh winters by visiting Florida and Hawaii. They find the contrast in weather delightful. So it is with the rest of life. The reason we enjoy the good times so much is because of the bad times. So, learn how to accept the ‘bad’ with the good. Or, as Roger C. Anderson put it, “Accept that some days you’re the pigeon, and some days you’re the statue.”

Others complain that life isn’t fair, but that hardly is the case. After all, rich or poor, male or female, young or old, we all receive the same allotment of 86,400 seconds a day. That’s fair isn’t it? If some choose to use that time wisely and others choose to squander it, that’s not the fault of life, is it? Also, what can be fairer than reaping what we sow?

Besides, as Lewis L Dunnington explains, “What life means to us is determined, not so much by what life brings to us as by the attitude we bring to life; not so much by what happens to us as by our reaction to what happens.” Thomas L. Holdcroft shares an equally valid view, “Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.”

Some believe in life after death, but what about life after birth? What’s the point of life if you’re not really living it? You probably agree with Philip Larkin who wrote, “Life has a practice of living you, if you don’t live it.” So, get involved with life by doing and experiencing as much as possible. After all, not to engage with life is not to live at all. Isn’t it better to die alive than to live dead?

Because of the brevity of life, the time to start living is now. Here are three quotes to forcefully bring home this message: 1. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:14). 2. “This life of separateness may be compared to a dream, a phantasm, a bubble, a shadow, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning.” (Buddha) 3. “When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation), sleep, eating and swilling, buttoning and unbuttoning – how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse.” (Lord Byron)

Yes, life is like a taxi. Whether you’re an active participant or not, the meter keeps ticking. But don’t despair, for today you still have 100% of the remainder of your life left. You still have time to act. You still have time to make the right choices. And while we’re on the subject of choices, remember that “There is a choice you have to make, In everything you do. And you must always keep in mind, The choice you make, makes you.” (John Wooden)

So, don’t take life for granted. Take it with gratitude. And leave it in better shape than you found it. Do you want to guarantee a successful life and peaceful death? Then follow the advice of Christian Fürchtegott Gellert who wrote, “Live as you would have wished to live when you come to die.”

Case Study

A reader asked me to write more about the subject of a life purpose and raised a couple of questions. So, I’ll try to cover the following points. Do we find or create our life purpose? Why is it important? How do we identify it? I’ll also answer two of our reader’s questions.

Do We Find or Create Our Life Purpose?

Some people neither search for nor create their purpose. Rather, their purpose is thrust upon them. Almost from birth they are driven to wholeheartedly devote their lives to a personal passion. Mozart is an example. He had no choice in the matter. Life picked him and expressed its grandeur through him.

For most of us, however, our purpose is not immediately clear. That’s because we need to pause and stop acting out of habit. Once we quiet ourselves and ask questions, the answers will appear. Here are examples of questions that can unlock the mystery of our true purpose.

What brings me joy?
What excites me?
What special talents do I have?
How can I contribute to the world?
What do I feel drawn to?
If I had unlimited courage, what would I choose to do?
If I would not fail, what would I choose to do?
What is tugging at my heartstrings?
What inspires me?
What have I been dreaming of doing for a long time?
What do I prefer to do above all other things?
What would I like to have people say about me at my funeral?

The answer that appears is not an intellectual understanding, but a feeling. For when we answer our call, we are driven by passion, work with enthusiasm, and spread excitement wherever we go.

To get a better idea how the process works, let’s use my own life as an example. I consider my purpose to be “to make the world a better place.”

It’s very simple and probably something you can relate to. But also notice that this simple statement is a bit hazy. It lacks clarity. To bring it into sharper focus, we need to “drill down.” That is, I have to ask another question to probe more deeply. So, I ask, “How will I leave the world a better place?”

The answer, in my case, is “by accepting, recognizing, and inspiring others.” Can you see how my purpose is becoming clearer? But we still need to dig deeper. So, I ask, “How will I accept, recognize, and inspire others? The answer appears: I will write articles, establish a Positive Thinkers Group, and do seminars. Ah, my purpose is growing still clearer, isn’t it?

Further questions remain. Questions such as “What topics will I write about in my articles? What subjects will I teach and what material will I produce for my seminars? What will be the goals of the Positive Thinkers Group and how will we reach them?

As you can see, as I drill down more and more deeply, my purpose grows clearer. But there is another important point. The deeper we drill (the more questions we ask), the more enthusiastic we feel. It’s like drilling for oil, but instead of striking “black gold,” we will strike an unlimited supply of passion. So, by the end of the process, we will know our purpose, have a road map pointing the way, and enough passion to drive us and get us over the bumps in the road.

By the way, just to be clear, in my case, the answers did not appear overnight, but over time. They came bit by bit as I responded to each opportunity that came my way.

Since we are all unique, even if we share the same purpose, we express it differently. We express it according to our talents and interests. For example, others sharing the purpose “to make the world a better place” may do so by healing the sick, visiting prisoners, working in a hospice, helping children with special needs, helping the homeless, and comforting those who are suffering.

There is a huge difference between a tiny seed and a fragrant orchid or a speckled egg and a bird of paradise. You and I are that tiny seed or speckled egg, for we are not yet what we can be. It is purpose that causes our seed to bloom or our egg to hatch. Our purpose will lead us to a new horizon. And once we get there, yet another horizon will appear in the distance. Our purpose points the way to endless growth, for we can always be better tomorrow than we are today.

Our reader asks, “In the past, I’ve have pursued my dreams and experienced success, but it was later followed by a series of catastrophic events that made my dream impossible. Doesn’t that mean we may not be able to live up to our purpose?”

Answer: There are two types of catastrophic events: real or imagined. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between the two. For example, let’s say you are a musical composer and lose your hearing by illness or accident. What is that, a real or an imagined catastrophe? A real catastrophe prevents one’s success while an imaginary one can be overcome. In 1824, when Ludwig van Beethoven conducted the first performance of his glorious “Ode to Joy”, he was completely deaf! When we are driven by passion, the impossible becomes possible.

But what if someone’s purpose is to become a leading violinist, and after considerable success completely loses both arms in an accident? What then? He would simply return to his purpose and drill down deeper. He would ask, “Why do I want to be a leading violinist?” The answer may be “Because I want to share great music with the world and connect with the audience.” This new answer may lead him to become a great composer and teacher, which will allow him to achieve his new dream.”

Our reader’s second question is “How can poor people in a third world country ever have a chance to follow their dreams if they are financially, geographically, religiously and racially not able to?”

Answer: This question is based on a false premise. Poverty, natural disasters, and handicaps of all kinds do not prevent people from reaching their dreams. Sufficient passion will overcome any hurdle. Every country, no matter how poor, has its share of great men and women. Heroes dwell in the midst of squalor and leaders rise like phoenixes from smoldering rubble. The barriers to success don’t lie outside of us, but within us. That’s why it is so important to dig deeply enough to strike the unlimited power of our passion.

I will conclude with a quote from someone who followed his passion: Buddha: “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”

Why Purpose Is Important

1. Purpose provides meaning and direction to our lives.

2. Passion transforms us from idle dreamers to purpose-driven men and women of action.

3. It provides the power to overcome pain, suffering, and difficulties.

4. It is the key that unlocks our potential.

5. It fills us with enthusiasm that wins us friends and opens many doors of opportunity.

6. It allows us to discover our power and act heroically.

7. It fills our lives with exuberance, excitement, joy, and happiness.

8. Despite the difficult and challenging times we live in, it fills us with hope.

9. It defines us. It explains who and what we are.

10. It challenges us to do what we never dared to and invites us to do what we formally believed to be impossible.

11. Purpose spurs growth. The Indian sage, Patanjali, explains: “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and your discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

12. We are at peace when we know our role and contribute to life. Our contribution is a way of thanking life for life.

13. Our purpose will strengthen all of our other goals by binding them with a common purpose.

14. Our purpose will help us overcome challenges and bear pain.

15. To travel in life without direction is to be lost and unhappy. To know where you are going is to have meaning and happiness.

16. When we have a purpose, we have value. When we do good, we feel good, and we are good.

17. Our purpose can provide transcendence. William James explains: “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

18. Our purpose makes us useful to others and the world, thereby giving our life meaning.

19. When we are aligned with a noble purpose, we are aligned with our Higher Self; when we lose sight of our purpose, we lose sight of all we can be.

Tips on Identifying Your Purpose

1. Remember to drill down to clarify, identify, and intensify your purpose.

2. Seek not what is merely interesting, but what is important; not what fascinates you, but what electrifies you.

3. Don’t be afraid to have big dreams, for they are the ones that will excite you. Small dreams are smoldering ashes; big dreams are raging infernos. Reach out for what is yet impossible for you to imagine doing.

4. It’s not what you do, but how you do it that counts. It’s not so much how busy you are, but why you are so busy.

5. As William J. Durant wrote, “To give life a meaning, one must have a purpose larger than self.” Make your purpose larger and grander than yourself; make it something to aspire to.

References

BOOKS

The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life’s Work by Nicholas Pearce

The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better by Richard J. Leider

Leading from Purpose: Clarity and the Confidence to Act When It Matters Most by Nick Craig

The On-Purpose Person: Making Your Life Make Sense by Kevin W. McCarthy

Get Out of Your Own Way: The 5 Keys to Surpassing Everyone’s Expectations by Robert K. Cooper

The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert K. Cooper

VIDEOS

Eckhart Tolle: Life purpose

Jack Canfield: How to Find Your True Purpose in Life

Adam Leipzig: How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes

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