How can we design life for ourselves?

Life is not something to be lived through; it is something to be lived up to (William G. Jordan)

A reader asks, “1. What is the exact purpose of life? I know you have written a couple of articles, but I fail to understand why we have been sent. We come and live our life. Try to set some good goals and work towards them, but is that all it consists of or there is something more to it? Its like I have a vague idea of what life is but am not exactly sure of what it is.

“2. What are the different types of goals people have? Do they consist of basically reaching their career goals and financial goals or is there something else associated? Can I have some examples of different types of life goals people have?

“3. How do we plan a life? In other words, how can we design life for ourselves? What if it does not go according to plan?”

I wish to congratulate our reader who left his native Pakistan, studied Hospitality & Tourism in Switzerland, now works in a five star hotel in Saudi Arabia, and is concerned with goal-setting and seeking answers to the big questions. Why am I congratulating him? He’s just 23 years old! He’s so young that he doesn’t realize how advanced he is!

When people older than our reader are asked what their goal is, they often reply, “To be successful.” They fail to realize that success is not a goal, but the result of achieving goals. Yet, our young reader instinctively realizes that we have to set and achieve goals before we can become successful. I can tell from what he writes and the actions he has already taken that he will be very successful.


This is almost a trick question because the implication is that there is only ONE purpose of life. I believe the more purposes we can think of, the closer we will come to the truth, so here are eight:

1. To help you discover yourself. That is, to discover your own greatness. Very few realize how magnificent they are. Oddly enough, we are quick to recognize the magnificence of a pod of whales, pride of lions, or herd of horses. Yet, we are slow to understand the greatness of humanity. You see, we are the answer we seek, but don’t realize it.

How do you discover your own magnificence? By acting kindly. By being compassionate. By helping others. By opening your heart. By making a difference. As we do these things, we discover our power and greatness. And life generously provides ample opportunities for us to practice, develop, and polish our skills.

2. To help you learn how you can contribute. We are not here to take from life, but to contribute to it. The purpose of life is to express its splendor through us, but it needs our cooperation.

How should you contribute to life? Well, the answer will appear after you take action. First, you must have the right intention and do your best to make the world a better place.

Many small acts of kindness equal one very large one, so there is an opportunity for all of us to become involved. The more frequently you practice, the sooner you will discover which of your unique talents are the most helpful and most in demand.

3. To awaken you to its grandeur. Life is a gift waiting to be unwrapped; it is a gift of boundless joy that few discover because they are busy chasing after trivialities. But if you soak in its beauty, leap at its opportunities, and hearken to its urgings, you will experience limitless joy.

4. The purpose of life is to lead a life of purpose. When we have a reason for being, life becomes meaningful. Life doesn’t impose a specific role or purpose on us, but provides us with numerous gifts that we can use as resources to create our own purpose.

Life is not a demanding parent telling us what to do, but a partner that delights in our own creativity.

5. Life is here to marvel at. Some of the greatest gifts life provides are wonder, mystery, and awe. It is liberating to accept the unanswerable and embrace the unknowable. Without mystery we cannot have faith.

6. “Life is a great school for the development of character, and all, through strife and struggle, vice and virtue, success and failure, are slowly but surely learning the lessons of wisdom.” (James Allen, 1864 ~1912)

7. “The purpose of life is to unlearn what has been learned and to remember what has been forgotten.” (Sufi saying) What has been forgotten? When we were an infant, we were trusting, courageous, and curious, yet now we are suspicious, fearful, and satisfied with the status quo. Isn’t it time to remember and return to our former glory?

8. The purpose of life is to keep breathing! Okay, I’m joking, but I do have a serious point to make. Isn’t the purpose of life to live? However, many prefer to prepare for the future or for a future life, rather than live right here, right now. Here’s what Father Alfred D’souza (Australian, died 2004) has to say on the matter:

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin-real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that those obstacles were my life….

“This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment that you have. And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time . and remember that time waits for no one.”

So stop waiting
until you finish school,
until you go back to school,
until you lose ten pounds,
until you gain ten pounds,
until you have kids,
until your kids leave the house,
until you start work,
until you retire,
until you get married,
until you get divorced,
until Friday night,
until Sunday morning,
until you get a new car or home,
until your car or home is paid off,
until spring,
until summer,
until fall,
until winter,
until you are off welfare,
until the first or fifteenth,
until your song comes on,
until you’ve had a drink,
until you’ve sobered up,
until you die,
until you are born again
to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy.
Happiness is a journey, not a destination.


Before we work on our goals, we should state our values or mission in life because goals are subordinate to our values. Here’s how understanding our values and mission can help:

John’s mission is to make the world a better place by encouraging, consoling, inspiring, and accepting everyone he meets. Because of the troubling economic times we live in, John not only lost his job, but the industry he worked in no longer exists. All of John’s friends from the factory are panicking because their skills are no longer needed. Confused, they have no idea of what type of job to look for.

John, on the other hand, is comfortable taking any job he can find because all jobs provide him with the opportunity to carry out his mission of being kind to others. So, when our mission comes first, we are in a much more flexible position and can respond to any opportunity that comes along. But when we are more narrowly focused on a specific goal or vocation, such as office manager, engineer, or brick layer, then our options are more limited and may be unattainable.

We can have many types of goals, including career, family, health, personal development, spiritual, hobbies and recreation.

And for a balanced life, it is wise to set goals in all areas.

Another way of describing goals is by how they make us feel. For example, it makes sense to choose goals that resonate with us, inspire us, uplift us, and make us better people. But our first goal must always be action, for without it we cannot achieve anything.

We also want to carefully balance our goals. By that I mean we want to have goals that stretch us, but we don’t want to overreach. For if we try to stretch ourselves too far, we will fail and that may discourage us, causing us to give up. Yet, if the goals are too easy to reach, there will be no thrill or excitement after their accomplishment.

But how do we know we are overreaching without first trying? We don’t. When in doubt, I prefer to ‘overreach’ because I may succeed. But if I don’t, I simply tell myself I haven’t succeeded YET. I then learn from the experience, make any adjustments that may be necessary, or carry out some intermediate steps that will take me where I want to go. Anything we can imagine is possible for us to do, but we need to be willing to overcome obstacles and persist.

When your primary goal is to receive, you become a taker, and receive little. But when your primary goal is to give, you receive much. We have to give away what we wish to receive. A moment’s reflection will reveal that it’s impossible to help others without helping ourselves.

Employers pay us money for our service, but life pays us with joy. So, whenever our reader provides useful service and enhances the enjoyment of the guests at his hotel, he is serving the guests, his employer, life, and himself. He serves himself because whenever we willingly do the right thing, we become joyful. This brings us to spiritual goals. If we wish to experience the divine, there is no need to study theology, all we have to do is hold the hands of the suffering and gaze into their eyes.


Our reader wonders how can we be sure our plans will work out.

The answer is, we can’t. Thank God! If everything worked out exactly as planned, where would be the adventure? Where would be the surprise? Life is filled with uncertainty for a good reason, life is a surprise party. Enjoy it!

A few detours in your road to success should pose no problem as long as you remain flexible. Consider these words by 0. Carl Simonton, “Goals are simply tools to focus your energy in positive directions, they can be changed as your priorities change, new ones added, and others dropped.”

If things don’t work out as we had hoped, what is there to fear?

After all, we can be happy and successful doing anything. Now, all good things come to an end, and this includes life. Most people don’t believe they’re going to die. But take my word for it, they will, I will, and most importantly, YOU WILL. Please grapple with that statement and fully experience it’s meaning, for it is only at that time that we begin to live.

Now a final word for our reader: Your job is not to find the answer, but to be the answer. So, when others watch your actions they will say, “Now I understand the purpose of life.”