The Power of Purpose: Why You Need it in Your Life and Why You’re Unhappy When You Don’t Have it
“We can’t ALL just do whatever we want all day. If everyone followed their highest purpose in life, who would run the gas station? Who would collect the trash? Who would serve you at a restaurant? Who would repair your septic tank? There are people in this world that HAVE to be willing to do the ‘grunt’ work.”
This comment was left on a post I wrote about why you shouldn’t work at a job you hate.
I understand where she’s coming from. You don’t have time for dreams and purpose, right? How can you have pie in the sky ambitions when the ground beneath you is rocky?
Maybe you’re hate reading this post because you want something to point and laugh at so it’ll make you feel justified for juxtaposing yourself against me.
Or, maybe you agree with me, and you’re looking for a way out.
Either way, after a long period of thinking and writing about this topic, I’m pretty sure I’m right. And, I’m trying to convince you eiter way.
People need meaning and purpose in life — some form of it — else they’ll feel like something’s missing. You know what that quiet uneasiness feels like when you lack both.
So, why then, is there such a lack of meaning and purpose in the world? And what can you do about it?
The Rules of Society
Once you start to see society as a means of control rather than an altruistic and benevolent purveyor of wisdom, much of what didn’t make sense before makes perfect sense.
Freud realized this when he said, “Civilized man has exchanged some part of his chances of happiness for a measure of security.”
Someone — or some group of people — created this transaction and we live in a society where individualism is shunned, self-interest is seen as self-serving, and the idea of risk has taken on a hyperbolic tone.
The rules are as follows:
Failure is bad. You’ve been conditioned to have a negative view of failure since Kindergarten. The school system teaches you that failure is something to be avoided at all costs. In order to “pass,” you have to follow instructions and obey directions. This causes you to play it safe your entire life. An entrepreneur who makes the right decisions 60% of the time will end up being quite successful. But in school, a 60% is an F. To be successful you have to see failure as an opportunity — for learning, growth, and feedback. Failure is a stepping stone something better.
Don’t make waves. Don’t stand out from the crowd. Doing something different makes you vulnerable and subject to ridicule. Behave. Obey. Don’t be disruptive. You were brought up in an education system that was structured around the industrial revolution. There was a high demand for obedient workers who could sit still and perform tedious tasks. Times have changed. In today’s world, fitting in is harmful.
Be realistic. Choose a career that’s safe. Find a job with a nice salary and benefits. Don’t do anything “risky.” This is the old way of thinking. The paradigm shift has already begun. There’s evidence showing it’s safer than ever to be an entrepreneur. The ones who stick to the 9 to 5 route may be in trouble. With an uncertain economic future, it’s best for you to build something of your own.
The good thing about rules? You can break all of them.
Most of the people you look up to are rule breakers. They followed their own path. They sought a life with meaning.
You can be someone other people look up to. You can live the life you were destined for. You can find your life’s purpose. But it won’t happen until to leap.
Until you take the leap, you’re always going to be stuck. Stuck in a job you dislike. Stuck in a repetitive routine that drives you nuts. Stuck in a life you don’t want to be living.
Every last one of you has a purpose(s). There is (are)a specific reason (s) you were put on this planet. Your mission is to find it (them).
Why? Here are my reasons.
You Owe Us
I have a useful trick for when I feel doubt. I ask myself who I’m depriving if I choose not to do something.
If you start to look at settling for less as not only a disservice to you but to everyone else, you want to make as meaningful a contribution as you can make.
Why are things as good as they are in the world now? We have all these inventions and great businesses that make the world a better place.
What if these people had succumbed to doubt and failed to put their ideas into the world?
Maybe even more importantly, we are where we are because of all of the people who tried and failed, too. Some people put ideas into the world before they’re ready and fail, but their ideas create bridges to better ones or provide the foundation for the person who’s at the right place and the right time.
Nassim Taleb likes to use the example that the quality of restaurants is good because most restaurants fail — the bad gets weeded out.
Although I pursue ideas and avenues out of self-interest, I realize that my contributions mean little individually, but can contribute to the collective.
Conversely, the ones who act pious because of their constraint and risk aversion are actually the ones stealing — stealing from whatever potential piece of our evolution they were really supposed to provide.
We need the book you’re meant to write, the song you’re meant to sing, the disease you’re meant to cure, the movement you’re meant to start.
Your life doesn’t just belong to you. It belongs to all of us. You’re called to do something in your life that benefits other people. We need you.
You Don’t Want To Have Regrets
Let’s call a spade a spade. A lot of people lean on fake gratitude to rationalize their lack of ambition and productivity.
“I had a good life, good family, good friends, good times. I had a roof over my head.”
I’m calling bullshit.
You can tell when people mean what they said when they said that and it’s about one percent of the time.
I know you don’t want to be working at T.J Maxx or at the state department of revenue because nobody wants to do that.
Stop lying to me and stop lying to yourself. I try to write in a way that suggests instead of tells. I don’t know your life. But I have certain ideas I’d place my life savings on if bets were available.
Most people wish they were doing more and regret it when they don’t. Why do you think self-improvement is so popular? One, there’s a real need for it — even if all methods and practitioners are unequal — because self-improvement is difficult and repetitious. Two, because the vast majority of us are sleepwalking and we know it.
Today is the youngest you’ll ever be. You still have time, but the clock’s ticking. It’s difficult to peer far into your future, but if you don’t find your life’s purpose and live with meaning, you’re going to regret it.
This is what happens during a “mid-life crisis.” A small piece of your soul is taken from you each day you spend living your life without purpose. You don’t even feel it until it’s too late. All of the sudden regret punches you square in the face.
You’re always going to regret the things you didn’t do. You’re not going to regret pursuing your dreams.
You Deserve To Experience Flow
I have a hard time being happy because I don’t know exactly what it is. If it’s contentment, I don’t have it, because I’m never content. If it’s pleasure-seeking, I don’t have it, because I focus on work and productivity over play.
Actually, I feel happiest when I’m working, but only when I’m working on something I deeply enjoy because I feel flow.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term flow.
“During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.”
This feeling can also be described as being “in the zone.” You’ve experienced flow at some point in your life. During flow, you lose your sense of self and you’re lost in the joy of the moment.
You deserve to experience flow. Your goal should be to experience flow as often as possible.
Why? Because it’s one of the few forms of escapism that are also productive. People don’t drink and do drugs so much for the pleasurable feelings, but rather they do them to subdue the monkey mind, the stress, the constant thinking, projecting, rewinding, and fast forwarding.
Sex — other than feeling really good — shuts those parts of your brain off and keeps you in the moment, too.
Flow in the form of deep work provides the escape from chatter and usually produces something amazing — art, entertainment, health, ideas, businesses, careers, industries, breakthroughs, cures, profound insights. Flow and deep work tie into the former idea of making a contribution to the world.
Finding your life’s purpose replaces those moments of tedium, monotony, and boredom, with moments of full engagement and true happiness.
You’re Wired For Accomplishment
Human beings are the only animals who can imagine things that don’t exist yet and make them.
You are literally a member of the most insanely unique and powerful species on the planet earth — equipped with tools other animals couldn’t fathom. The dumbest humans are much more intelligent than the smartest members of all other species.
Why did we evolve this sentience? I don’t know exactly. That’s above my pay grade. But I do know this — not only is it in your nature to create, failing to do so is inconsistent with your wiring.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to chase empty fame and status, but ignoring your innate need to improve your competence goes against the way you were built.
Humans didn’t just decide to make tools, invent technologies, write books, explore the world, and all of the other great things we’ve accomplished. We had an unignorable urge to do these things.
We all have this urge, but many of us have sufficiently suppressed it.
Everybody would do more if they knew for certain they could do more. This is a fact.
You Only Live Once
I don’t need to delve too deeply into this point on this post, but I dive into it deeply and daily in my real life. I hope you will, too.
Think deeply about your mortality. You’re going to die — perhaps sooner than later. Do you want to spend your precious time on earth doing things that offer little engagement?
There are no “do-overs.” Each day brings you closer to your death.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day struggle. Sometimes you lose sight of how amazing it is to be alive. You forget that your life is a gift. You forget that you’re supposed to treat something precious with care.
Don’t squander your life away.